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Home / India News / Under fire and bleeding, Maoists want snipers in their ranks

Under fire and bleeding, Maoists want snipers in their ranks

Maoists have so far mostly depended on ambushes using improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and then engaging security forces in close quarter combat with an assortment of automatic and semi-automatic weapons.

india Updated: Nov 16, 2019 12:02 IST
Snigdhendu Bhattacharya and Ritesh Mishra
Snigdhendu Bhattacharya and Ritesh Mishra
Hindustan Times, Kolkata/Raipur
Maoists have not used sniper rifles on a regular basis but  are now trying to push for their extensive use.
Maoists have not used sniper rifles on a regular basis but are now trying to push for their extensive use.(HT File Photo)

In a major tactical shift, the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) has asked members of its armed formations to undergo training in the use of sniper rifles and improvised artillery to combat new methods adopted by security forces that have inflicted heavy losses on the rebels in recent years.

Until now, Maoists have mostly depended on ambushes using improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and then engaging security forces in close quarter combat with an assortment of automatic and semi-automatic weapons.

“Comrades chosen for all combat units need to be trained in the use of sniper (rifles), booby trap and remote technology and turned into experts in these matters,” says a 22-page Maoist document in Hindi circulated among its cadre which HT has seen.

The document was published by the central military commission of the CPI (Maoist), India’s largest terror group active in the states of Chhattisgarh, Telangana, Bihar, Odisha, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and the tri-junction of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Dated October 3, the document came into circulation at the end of the month.

“The mine warfare needs to be intensified taking the primary, secondary and basic forces together. Police, paramilitary and commando forces need to be eliminated by forming small units including sniper teams,” reads a paragraph in the document.

“To achieve successes in war initiatives, improvised artillery should be used extensively,” it says.

The central military commission is in-charge of the Maoist party’s armed wing, People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA), the deadliest guerrilla outfit in India. Maoists have not used sniper rifles on a regular basis but over the past few years, the security forces got hints that the Left rebels were trying to push for their extensive use.

Security forces claim they are aware of the Maoists’ quest for snipers.

“I have read the document and I believe that they are lacking in ammunition due to the damage we have inflicted on them in the last couple of years. Hence, they are moving towards snipers and booby traps. We are well aware and ready with a counter-strategy to tackle these snipers,” said Sunderaj P, inspector general of police, Bastar Range, which covers areas that are worst-affected by Maoist insurgency.

Maoists apparently have derived these new strategies to minimise losses. A paragraph in the document says, “The enemy for the past few years has been using mortars and under-barrel grenade launchers. However, over the past two years, they are also using rocket-propelled grenades and are shelling us heavily.”

A senior police officer engaged in anti-Maoist operations in Jharkhand for a long time said that the security forces would need to upgrade the standard operating procedure to effectively counter the changing strategy of the Maoists.

“Since their numerical strength is coming down, they are shifting focus to improving technological capability and use sniper rifles and remote devices to lessen losses at their end and increase losses at our end,” said the officer who did not want to be identified as he is not authorised to speak to the media.

According to Global Terrorism Index, 2018, India consistently figured in the top 10 in the list of countries worst affected by terrorism between 1998 and 2013, topping the chart twice – in 2000 and 2003. The situation improved in 2014 when it did not figure in that unenviable list. But it was in the list at the seventh spot in 2017 with 384 recorded deaths, a 12% rise over 2016. India’s high rank is mostly attributed to Maoist-led insurgency.

“Maoists were responsible for 205 deaths and 190 terror incidents in India, or 53 per cent of deaths in 2017,” the Global Terrorism Index 2018 reported.

Jharkhand police spokesperson M L Meena said the use of snipers has been rare among Maoists in Jharkhand. “Snipers are used against targets at a long distance but in Jharkhand, the jungle terrain is such that Maoists can attack from close distance. We, however, are updating our strategy according to theirs,” Meena said.

According to an intelligence officer in Chhattisgarh, security forces recovered in the past two years two German-made Heckler & Koch G-3 rifles that can be adopted for use in sniping although these are not purpose-built sniper rifles. One was recovered during raids in Sukma district in May 2018 and another in Kanker district in June 2019.

In 2018, the Narayanpur district police in Chhatisgarh recovered eight rifle-mountable telescopes from a Maoist camp. Police believe these were used for sniper training.

“As their ammunition is gradually getting exhausted they are trying to improve their shooting skills. Earlier, some Maoist camps imparted training on sniping but recent documents suggested that they are focusing more on BSR (booby trap, sniper and remote EID),” the officer said.