At least 22 Indian security personnel were killed and 30 injured in an ambush by Maoist rebels in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh, the deadliest incident of its kind in four years.
Officials said on Sunday that security personnel belonging to the Central Reserve Police Force’s elite CoBRA unit, the District Reserve Guard, and the Special Task Force were attacked on Saturday in the tribal-dominated Chhattisgarh state during an anti-insurgency operation.
“We can confirm that 22 of Indian force members have been killed by Maoist fighters,” said a senior government official in Raipur, the capital of mineral-rich Chhattisgarh.
They were killed in firing that lasted for four hours in the border district of Sukma, 540km (340 miles) south of Raipur.
Om Prakash Pal, a senior police official in Raipur said combing operations to trace one missing security force member was being conducted.
The death toll was the worst for Indian security forces battling the far-left guerrillas since 2017.
On Saturday, senior police officer DM Awasthi said hundreds of police and paramilitary soldiers raided a hideout in Bijapur district after receiving intelligence that a large number of rebels had gathered there. At least five security personnel were killed in the incident.
The Maoist rebels, inspired by Chinese revolutionary leader Mao Zedong, have been fighting the Indian government for more than 40 years, in a conflict that has killed tens of thousands of people.
More than 10,000 have been killed since the year 2000, according to data from the South Asia Terrorism Portal.
The rebels claim to defend the rights of indigenous tribes and other marginalised groups, while the government calls them India’s biggest internal security threat.
The Maoists, also known as Naxalites because their left-wing rebellion began in 1967 in the Naxalbari village of the eastern West Bengal state, have ambushed police, destroyed government offices and abducted officials.
They have also blown up train tracks, attacked prisons to free their comrades and stolen weapons from police and paramilitary warehouses to arm themselves.
Last month, a roadside bomb killed at least four policemen and wounded 14 in Narayanpur district of Chhattisgarh state as they were returning from an anti-Maoist operation.