New Delhi: The team of security personnel that was ambushed by Maoists Saturday in Chhattisgarh’s Bijapur district had sensed an “unusual calm” when they reached Tekulagudem village while carrying out the last leg of operations for the day, according to a source in the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) told ThePrint.
The security team was carrying out the last leg of area domination at the Tekulagudem hillock when they were “caught off guard” and struck by over 300 rockets, sources said. They then rushed down the hillock to find an open space and create a helipad for quick evacuation. This is when the Maoists struck again, this time with an LMG (Light Machine Gun), surrounding the security personnel from all sides, sources said.
The team was retreating to their base camp in Tarrem around noon when Maoists ambushed and killed 22 of them, attacking with “indigenous rocket launchers”, sources said.
“The personnel were about 15 km away from the base camp and were carrying out area domination at one of the hillocks in the area, when they were ambushed by the Maoists and even the local villagers. There were around 500 people including 250-300 Maoists along with local villagers who first fired over 300 rockets and then used the LMG to attack the personnel,” the CRPF source, who asked not to be identified, said.
“The personnel then rushed down the hillock to an open space on the ground, to make a helipad, and got caught in the middle, with LMG being fired from all sides. This is what led to the death of five personnel at once in the first half an hour of the ambush,” the source said.
Close to 2,000 personnel belonging to the Special Task Force (STF), District Reserve Guard (DRG), District Force of the Chhattisgarh Police, the CRPF and its elite COBRA unit, had started a joint operation on 2 April after receiving intelligence inputs about Maoists in Silger and Bodaguda area. The inputs specifically noted the presence of Hidma, the commander of the lethal Battalion 1 of the Maoists, in the area.
According to the source, the ambush could have been a retaliation to the CRPF’s plans of setting up a camp at Silger, which is a Maoist stronghold. “We have been planning a camp in Silger, which will be highly strategic as it is a stronghold of the Maoists. It is a possibility that they all congregated to plan a retaliation for that,” the source said.
According to CRPF officials, 12 to 15 of the Maoists were also killed in the crossfire.
“We have intercepts to suggest that 12 to 15 of the Maoists were also killed in firing. We, however, recovered the body of only one woman,” the source said.
Team couldn’t find shelter, took predictable route
A source in the local police said that many personnel were injured when the Maoists started firing the LMG and lobbing hand grenades. Though the team tried to take shelter behind trees and houses, they were cornered from all sides.
“They were trying to save themselves from the bullets and also helping fellow personnel who were injured. They tried to take shelter behind the trees and the houses, but could not. The Maoists were hiding inside the homes of locals, and firing … there was no available exit. Our men, however, fought very bravely,” the source said.
What led to further casualties was when the personnel tried to leave the area through a “predictable route”.
“In such a situation — where the team is an ambush and many of the personnel are injured — the personnel look for an escape. In this case, they took the predictable route, which the Maoists were well aware of and struck again with intermittent firing, leading to further casualties,” the source said.
“The Maoists were very large in numbers and with the help of locals, they overpowered the team,” the source added.
Probe on to check if intelligence inputs were a trap
According to another source in the CRPF, there was an “unusual calm” at Tekulagudem village when the team reached, which raised a red flag. This is why the team climbed the hillock, but they did not anticipate an ambush.
“The Tekulagudem village was empty, no locals could be seen around. Even the Jihragaon area was relatively empty. In other adjoining areas, the locals were not their usual self. There was a sense that something is wrong, but the team could not anticipate an ambush of this kind,” the source said.
“The team went up the hillock for area domination and even then, could not see anything, that is because the Maoists were all hiding to launch an attack,” the source said.
When asked if the intelligence inputs about Hindma’s presence in the area could be a trap, senior officials from the CRPF and the local police said that this angle is being investigated.
“We had specific intelligence inputs and intercepts about their presence in the area, following which such a massive operation was planned. We cannot say whether it was a trap or not at this stage, and it needs to be investigated,” a senior officer of the Chhattisgarh Police told ThePrint.
Sources also told ThePrint that the National Investigation Agency is in talks with local police and could soon register a case.
(Edited by Manasa Mohan)