India steps up anti-Maoist operations after 22 policemen killed

Indian security forces intensify operations against left-wing rebels after they killed 22 policemen in an ambush last week.

Security officers carry the body of a colleague killed in an attack by Maoist fighters, during a wreath laying ceremony in Bijapur in Chhattisgarh state [Reuters]

Indian security forces have stepped up operations against ultra left-wing fighters deep in the forests of a mineral-rich central state after they killed 22 policemen in an ambush over the weekend, a top police officer said.

At least 30 other members of the security forces were wounded in the four-hour gun battle with Maoist rebels that took place in Chhattisgarh state on Saturday, the deadliest ambush of its kind in four years.

“The operation will be intensified,” said Om Prakash Pal, the deputy inspector general of police, who is leading the fight against the rebels in Chhattisgarh, on Monday.

The Maoists, also known as Naxals, have waged an armed struggle against government forces for decades. They say they are fighting for the poor who have been left behind in India’s economic boom.

Chhattisgarh, one of the fastest-developing states in India, has 28 varieties of key minerals, including diamonds and gold, a government website said. It also holds 16 percent of India’s coal deposits and large reserves of iron ore and bauxite.

The Maoists, considered by the government as India’s biggest internal security threat, operate in mineral-rich territory in the east and south of the country known as the “red corridor,” which has shrunk in recent years because of heavy operations against them.

But last week, some 400 Maoists armed with grenades and automatic rifles attacked a police raiding party in Bijapur district of Chhattisgarh.

Pal said the rebels also suffered losses and local media reported that drone surveillance showed them taking away bodies.

“They are definitely trying to strengthen themselves but the forces put a lot of pressure on them. Now they are confined only to very few pockets. In their core area they are shrinking very fast,” Pal told the Reuters news agency, adding security forces were stepping up their intelligence-gathering efforts as well.

Security experts say that police forces need to be better equipped to deal with the fighters who are often as well-armed as the police.

In the latest encounter, the Naxals carried AK-47 assault rifles, rocket launchers and under-barrel grenade launchers, said Pal.

“The government will leave no stone unturned to provide you with the best facilities,” India’s Home Affairs Minister Amit Shah said in a speech to security forces in Chhattisgarh on Monday.

Shah promised to end the “Maoist menace” after paying homage to the dead security personnel and visiting a hospital to meet the injured.

“The government will not tolerate such bloodshed and a befitting response will be given. We will put an end to the ongoing battle with Maoists,” Shah said.

He also held a meeting with top security officials in the state to “realign strategy” to dismantle the nexus run by Maoist leaders, a close aide to Shah told the Reuters news agency on condition of anonymity.

Uddipan Mukherjee, a joint director for a government agency, the Ordnance Factory Board, who has been tracking war strategy deployed by the Maoists for more than 10 years said the pandemic had allowed the rebellion to recruit more members.

Others with direct knowledge agreed.

“We have intelligence reports that the Maoist leaders during the pandemic have managed to recruit hundreds of new foot soldiers, including women, living in the forests who leak details about security force patrols,” said a New Delhi-based bureaucrat who oversees internal security.

Source: Reuters