By Deepak Kumar Nayak*
On May 1, 2019, at least 15 Security Force (SF) personnel of the Quick Response Team (QRT) wing of C-60, the Maharashtra Police counter-insurgency commando unit, and a civilian driver, were killed in an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) explosion triggered by Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres on Dadapur Road near Lendali Nullah in Jamburkheda village under the Kurkheda Police Station limits in the Gadchiroli District of Maharashtra. The QRT team had set out in a private vehicle to reach a construction site at Dadapur, where the Maoists had set ablaze at least 36 vehicles belonging to a private road construction firm, earlier in the day. The firm was involved in the construction of a 36 kilometres-long tar road between Purada and Yerkad, passing through Dadapur.
On April 9, 2019, five persons, including the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) legislator from Bastar region, Bhima Mandavi (40) and his four security personnel, were killed as CPI-Maoist cadres targeted the convoy in which the BJP leader was travelling, by triggering an IED blast in a forested patch near Nakulnar Village under Kuwakonda Tehsil (revenue unit) in Dantewada District of Chhattisgarh. The Maoists blew up the vehicle of the Dantewada MLA with an IED and opened fire at the occupants at Shyamagiri Hills, when the MLA’s convoy was heading towards Kuwakonda from Bacheli area in Dantewada.
On March 18, 2019, CPI-Maoist cadres ambushed a Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) patrol party, killing a trooper and injuring another six in the Kondapara Forest region under Aranpur Police Station limits in the Dantewada District of Chhattisgarh. A team from 231 Battalion was conducting a search operation in the Aranpur area when Maoists ambushed them with an IED blast followed by firing.
According to partial data collated by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), the Maoists have already used IED device on at least 19 occasions killing 26 persons, including three civilians, 21 SF personnel, and two Naxalites, (Left Wing Extremists, LWEs), in the current year (data till May 5, 2019). During the corresponding period the Maoists had triggered 15 IED explosions, resulting in 18 fatalities (three civilians, and 15 SF personnel). Through 2018, there were 38 incidents of IED explosions resulting in 48 deaths (eight civilians, and 40 SF personnel). The number of IED explosions-related fatalities stood at 25 (nine civilians, 14 SF personnel, and two Naxalites) from 54 such incidents in 2017; 47 (six civilians, 34 SF personnel, and seven Naxalites) from 60 incidents in 2016; 17 (one civilian, 13 SF personnel, and three Naxalites) from 45 incidents in 2015; 41 (17 civilians, 23 SF personnel, and one Naxalite) from 55 incidents in 2014; 37 (three civilians, 28 SF personnel, and six Naxalites) from 34 incidents in 2013; 40 (three civilians, and 37 SF personnel) from 40 incidents in 2012; 82 (22 civilians, and 60 SF personnel) from 84 incidents in 2011; and 399 (231 civilians, 165 SF personnel, and three Naxalites) from 183 such incidents in 2010.
A total of at least 762 persons, including 303 civilians, 435 SF personnel and 24 Naxalites, have been killed, while 879 have received injuries, in 612 incidents of IED explosion carried out by the Maoists across 75 Districts in nine States, since 2010. Out of the 612 incidents of landmine explosions, 63 were major incidents (each involving three or more fatalities).
The maximum of 61 such incidents was reported from the Bijapur District of Chhattisgarh, with 10 civilians, and 27 SF fatalities, followed by 52 incidents in Dantewada (Chhattisgarh), with 49 civilian and 133 SF fatalities; and 44 from Sukma District (Chhattisgarh), with seven civilians, 21 SF and one Naxalite fatalities. In terms of States, Chhattisgarh recorded 210 of these incidents [289 fatalities, (82 civilians, 203 SF personnel, and four Naxalites)]; followed by Jharkhand, with 112 such incidents [113 fatalities (17 civilians, 90 SF personnel, and six Naxalites)]; and Odisha with 105 such incidents [60 fatalities (15 civilians, 40 SF personnel, and five Naxalites)].
The Maoists have most often resorted to the use of IEDs to inflict high casualties on SF personnel on patrol. Small SF contingents passing through inhabited areas are targeted with these devices, sometimes hidden underground or in bushes, on national highways, important State roads and near the SF camps. The use of mines allows the Maoists the avoid the dangers of engaging in any direct confrontation with SFs. When they take on large contingents of SFs deeper in the forest, however, IEDs are used to administer a first shock, before the extremists engage the troops in exchanges of fire.
The Maoists had used IEDs in the worst ever attack targeting SFs on April 6, 2010, in which 75 Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel and a State Police trooper were killed in an ambush in the thick Mukrana Forests of Dantewada District in Chhattisgarh. The Maoists were aware of the CRPF unit’s movement and executed the attack with fierce precision. They first blew up the SF’s anti-landmine vehicle and then began firing indiscriminately.
Evidently, the Maoists over years have been effectively using IEDs as a potent tool against SFs and a March 31, 2019, media report speaks of the 32-page Maoist ‘Central Military Commission (CMC) circular’, dated July 25, 2018, where the Maoists claim, that, over the years, strategies have been developed on IED drill, ambush, raids, fire and movement, unarmed combat, a military manual, company drills, booby traps, snipers, mine warfare and setting up camps. It declares that “useful lessons have been learnt” from “negative engagements. The ‘CMC circular’ also states,
|The opponent uses four stages in their policy against us. These are Clear, Hold, Build and Develop… In most of our struggle areas in the country, we are in the second or third phase… and in 30 districts where we have the most influence, primarily operations are being held to clear and hold, and based on any success, build operations are being carried out. Where the party was temporarily backed away, develop initiatives are being carried out…|
A May 1, 2019, report quoted an unnamed senior Police officer noting,
|IED blasts cause damage when they hit forces travelling together. For instance, in Maoist areas, forces are encouraged to travel on foot — and when they are travelling by road, a separate road opening party sanitises the area first. If a place has to be reached quickly, motorcycles being ridden by two people, with a gap between two bikes, is the standard procedure adopted to minimise the effect of an IED attack. In a private vehicle by contrast, the men are sitting ducks for IEDs.|
The replacement of Muppala Lakshmana Rao aka Ganapathy, the 71-year-old ‘general secretary’ of the CPI-Maoist, on November 5, 2018, with his ‘second-in-command’ Nambala Keshava Rao aka Basavaraj (63), will also impact on the Maoists use of IEDs. Basavaraj was the head of the CPI-Maoist’s ‘military-wing’, PLGA (People’s Liberation Guerrilla Army), since its inception, and is an expert in explosives and military techniques and has a good network with arms traders. He is also believed to be more easily inclined to violence and ‘military operations’, including the use of IEDs.
Indeed, a May 2, 2019, report quoted an unnamed Police officer posted in South Bastar, as saying that there has been a change in Maoist strategy after elevation of Basavaraj:
|The Maoists have changed their strategy after Rao took charge. They are focusing on IEDs and not engaging themselves in gunfights. Since last year, every major attack was carried out using IEDs because they are safe and we have no strategy to contain them. The only way to stop IED blasts is to follow the rules of the road in the jungle, which was not followed in Gadchiroli’s case.|
Significantly, after Basavaraj assumed the top post on November 5, 2018, 24 incidents of IED explosion have been carried out by the Maoists, resulting in at least 26 fatalities, including three civilians, 21 SF personnel and two Naxalites over a period of six months (data till May 5, 2019). During the preceding six months, 20 such incidents were recorded, with 18 fatalities, including three civilians, and 15 SF personnel.
As the Maoists suffer major reverses, the IED will emerge as their weapon of choice, minimizing risks to their cadres, and maximizing impact on SFs. With no effective counter available, SFs can only adhere as closely as possible to Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) laid down to minimize loss of life, and continue with their battle against Left Wing Extremism in its shrinking heartland.
*Deepak Kumar Nayak
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management