Naxal Violence: The Latehar Carnage and the Forgotten Lessons

08 Feb, 2013    ·   3808

Deepak Kumar Nayak discusses the lessons to be learnt by the CRPF in light of the Latehar carnage 

Deepak Kumar Nayak
Deepak Kumar Nayak
Research Officer
Ten jawans (nine from the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) and one from the state’s commando force ‘Jharkhand Jaguars’) were killed in an ambush carried out by the Communist Party of India – Maoist (CPI-Maoist), presumably led by Deo Kumar Singh aka Arvindji, in the Karmatiya forests in Latehar District, Jharkhand in January 2013. Unfortunately, four civilians were also killed in the process, helping the police to recover the bodies of the dead jawans in the ambush. Earlier, the CRPF and the ‘Jharkhand Jaguars’ had jointly launched ‘Operation Samna’ in December 2012, after learning about Arvindji’s movement in the Karmatiya forests of the state, to try and capture him.
In the aftermath of the Latehar operation, it was revealed that the Maoists had put the body of three CRPF jawans over landmines, and had implanted Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) in the abdomens of two other jawans to maximise the police causalities. 
This ‘Body trap’ strategy of the Maoists has never been witnessed before in the history of the Naxal Movement that began in 1967. However, if the police personnel were aware of the new tactics of the Maoists, as acknowledged by the Union Home Minister, Sushil Kumar Shinde, “They (Maoists) are employing new tactics…our forces are aware of it and have been very cautious while dealing with Maoists,” then it is high time the Security forces (SFs) should take a serious note of the lapses in their approach, especially when they are in hot pursuit of the rebels in a changing scenario.
Problems in the counter-insurgency
By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail. Time and again, the police personnel have easily ignored and quickly forgotten the loss of lives of their colleagues that have occurred due to the lapses in anti-Naxal operations. Similar kinds of attacks were conducted on the Jharkhand Armed Police (JAP), when 13 personnel were killed by Maoists attacking an armoured vehicle in a forest of Garhwa District on 21 January 2012 by triggering a landmine blast. Again, three policemen, including an Assistant Sub-Inspector (ASI), were killed when Maoists triggered a landmine blast in Latehar District on 1 February 2012.Silimarly, there was another IED attack by the Maoists on a CRPF transport in Gadchiroli District, Maharashtra, on 27 March 2012, that killed 12 and injured 28. It is high time that the SFs take a serious note of these lapses and reflect on the mistakes often repeated during anti-Naxal operations. 
Unfortunately, the jawans during ‘Operation Samna’ ignored the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), for engaging Maoists without anticipating their actual strength. The lack of adequate briefings and poor assessment in leading the anti-Naxal operation helped the Maoists to take on the brutal advantage. 
The Maoists had real-time information of CRPF troop movement, while the anti-Naxal forces’ real-time information on location of the rebels were received only after they had left the place of halt. This clearly indicates the lapse of human intelligence, technical intelligence and coordination with the Intelligence Bureau.
Further, the mobilisation of such a large contingent (500 jawans, three CRPF companies and two companies of the ‘Jharkhand Jaguars’) in anti-Naxal operations is not according to the SOPs while engaging a guerrilla force. A small, highly trained, disciplined and lightly equipped unit can help in swift mobility and enable them to launch a surprise attack on the guerrillas.
Lastly, the use of civilians to recover the bodies of the dead policemen was against the anti-Naxal operation SOP, especially when the Union Government had asked the central paramilitary and state forces to take adequate measures during anti-Naxal operation in areas inhabited by population. The loss of four civilians could have been averted, had they would not have been engaged in the search operation.

Lessons to be learnt
The Maoists are down but not out, hence “the need for a review of tactics” and adequate briefings and information about the anti-Naxal operation should be conveyed. This is of utmost priority for the SFs fighting an invisible enemy in a hostile environment.
The use of night vision equipments, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), ranging from small drones to long-range surveillance, should be brought into use in Naxal-affected areas, to help SFs, along with state police units, to detect mines and IEDs planted by the Maoists.
The new tactic of the Maoists implanting IED in the body of the lifeless trooper is a lesson for the SFs from now on, that they will need to administer more caution in handling of bodies of those killed in Naxalite violence or by elephants or for that matter, any unclaimed body.  
Jharkhand has had a particularly poor record of fighting the Maoists, in a total of 169 fatalities- 133 civilians, 29 SFs and seven Maoists in 2012, as against 198 fatalities- 149 civilians, 33 SFs and 16 Maoists in 2011. The amplification of capacities, no doubt will have partial impact, but largely the success will largely depend on coherent approach and strategy of the policymakers in their fortitude to fight the Naxal uprising.