Details of what is being termed as one of the deadliest Naxal attacks in seven years, are emerging a day after a patrolling troop of CRPF providing security cover for road construction work in Chhattisgarh's Sukma district walked into an ambush, leading to the death of at least 25 men.
According to injured personnel who were rescued from the site, at least 300 guerrillas surrounded the 100-strong CRPF patrol around 12:25 PM in Kalapathar area of south Bastar region, a hot bed of Left-wing extremism.
"I shot dead three Maoists," Jawan Sheikh Mohammad, a CRPF jawan injured in the attack was quoted as saying by the Hindu. He said women Maoists, dressed in black uniform, were also part of the group that attacked the forces.
"They were carrying automatic weapons such as AK-47, SLR, and INSAS but we returned fire," he said and claimed that around 10 to 12 Maoists were killed by the CRPF.
Sources told the Times of India that the rebels took away the radio sets of survivors leaving them helpless. A second patrolling group, "alarmed by the failure of their colleagues to call them at a scheduled time, went looking and walked into the ambush".
The area is close to the Chintagufa-Burkapal-Bheji axis, which has seen a number of such attacks in the past resulting in high casualties. Around 7-8 personnel, who were earlier reported missing, have been accounted for.
Highly placed sources in the government told HuffPost India that a group of villagers with their cattle had approached the soldiers and had asked permission to graze their cattle. "The attack started moments after villagers left," a senior Home Ministry Official said. "We suspect that villagers were sent by the Maoist," the officer said.
Home minister Rajnath Singh briefed Modi by phone from Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh about the attack last night. He informed the prime minister about the circumstances leading to the ambush and steps taken for treatment of the injured personnel.
Rajnath Singh To Travel To Chhattisgarh
Singh will travel to Chhattisgarh capital Raipur today. He was briefed on the incident by Chief Minister Raman Singh earlier in the day.
The paramilitary force said in a statement issued in New Delhi:
"The CRPF troops replied in a befitting manner but taking geographical position in (sic) their advantage, Maoists succeeded in inflicting loss to CRPF. Considerable number of Maoists are believed to have been eliminated (in retaliatory action by CRPF men) as the tell-tale sign indicate from the ground."
However, no bodies of the Leftist guerrillas have yet been found. The bodies of the slain personnel have been air-lifted to Raipur, where the seven injured are hospitalised.
Women Naxals In Black Uniform
"The naxals first sent villagers to check our position...I also saw some women naxals. They were all wearing black uniforms and had sophisticated weapons like the AK series assualt rifles," PTI quoted an unidentified jawan as saying. Sourav Malik, another personnel who was injured in the attack, said the patrol came under sudden fire from Maoist rebels.
CRPF officials said the ambush set up by the naxals was as deadly as the one on March 11 in Bheji area of the same district where 12 personnel lost their lives. The company commander, Raghubir Singh, an Inspector rank officer, was among those killed.
The officer said the CRPF patrol, like in the Bheji incident, was sanitising the area where a road is being laid between Burkapal and Jagargunda, when the assault happened. The naxals were believed to have also looted over a dozen weapons of the slain personnel, the officer said.
All the troops belonged to the 74th battalion of the force deployed in the area for anti-Maoist operations.
Singh said he was saddened by the attack and was sending Minister of State Hansraj Ahir to Chhattisgarh to take stock of the situation. "Extremely pained to know about the killing of CRPF personnel in Sukma. My tributes to the martyrs and condolences to their families."
Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh said he was "extremely distressed" over the attack, as he cut short his Delhi visit and rushed to Raipur. Another MoS in the home ministry, Kiren Rijiju, said the incident was a "set back and a big tragedy".
Reinforcements, including CoBRA commandos of the CRPF and its other units, have been rushed to the scene from the nearest camp of the paramilitary force, the officer added.
The incident comes at a time when the country's largest paramilitary force is without a full-time chief after K Durga Prasad retired on February 28. Union Home Secretary Rajiv Mehrishi also reviewed the situation in the aftermath of the attack at his North Block office.