Anti-Maoist operations by the Maharashtra police in 2015 resulted not only in zero casualties among security forces but also the recovery of the largest ever cache of explosives from the insurgents.
These records were accompanied by third milestone — the surrender of 56 guerillas, the highest in any of the past 10 years.
By comparison, the police lost 11 of its men in anti-Maoist operations in 2014 and six in 2013. Most of these deaths were caused by improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
“The timely detection and disposal of explosives turned the tide against the insurgents last year,” said Special Inspector General of Police Bipin Bihari. He added that over 240kg of explosives (used in IEDs) were recovered from various parts of Gadchiroli, the district worst-hit by Maoists in the state, in 2015.
This helped prevent many ambushes by the People’s Liberation Guerilla Army (PLGA), as blowing up police convoys has traditionally set the stage for their attacks.
“The quantity of explosives recovered [in 2015] was twice what we seized in 2014 and many more times what we had recovered in previous years,” Bihari said.
A source in the state police said that in December 2013, the Special Ops wing carried out an analysis of its strategy to reduce casualties during anti-insurgency operations. It was found that the majority of the 150-odd fatalities among security forces in the past decade were caused by IED blasts.
Since the merger of the People’s War Group (PWG) and the CPI (Maoist) and the formation of the People’s Liberation Guerilla Army in 2004, insurgents have used IEDs to inflict heavy casualties on security forces. They use a rudimentary concoction of ammonium nitrate and gelatin as the explosive material in their IEDs, which are detonated manually.
Many anti-Maoist teams would run over these IEDs, primarily because of their inability to spot or identify them. Even those that managed to spot an IED had to summon a bomb-disposal team from the district headquarters, often miles away. “This would give the ultras an opportunity to either trigger the device or disengage from the battle,” said a source.
“To overcome this handicap, we decided to train groups of our regular combatant force in bomb detection and disposal,” Bihari said. In February 2015, arrangements were made in the Maharashtra Intelligence Academy, an advanced training facility in Pune that collects terrorist-related intelligence and teaches urban warfare, to train police constables from Gadchiroli district, the C-60 Cobra battalion and even Central Reserve Security Force (CRPF) personnel in detecting and disposing IEDs.
“Within three months we had at least two to three personnel at each police station (and commando platoon) in Gadchiroli who were trained on par with the bomb squad. When the teams went out for area-domination patrols, the trained personnel could not only detect explosives but also diffuse them without having to wait for specialists. This prevented many casualties and also boosted the confidence of the forces,” Bihari said.
The results showed up in subsequent months. Even though security forces came face-to-face with Maoist dalams (platoons) as many as 33 times and exchanged heavy gunfire, they suffered no casualties or even injuries. The police also killed two insurgents in the first week of 2016 without suffering any losses.