India: Explosive Reserves In RWE – Analysis
By Deepak Kumar Nayak*
On May 11, 2023, one Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) trooper was injured while another had a narrow escape in an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) blast triggered by Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) cadres in Ichahatu village under Goilkera Police Station limits in the West Singhbhum District of Jharkhand.
On April 28, 2023, a woman, Gangi Surin, was killed after being hit by an IED planted by the Maoists in Maridiri Forest located on the border of the Goilkera Police Station and Mufassil Police Station areas in West Singhbhum District, Jharkhand. Gangi, a resident of Patahatu village, was going to fetch wood from the forest, when she stepped on the IED. Reports indicate that the IED was planted with an intention to target Security Forces (SFs).
On April 26, 2023, at least 10 personnel of the District Reserve Guards (DRG) and a civilian driver were killed, when Maoists first detonated an IED, weighing around 50 kilograms, and subsequently opened fire on an SF convoy on the Aranpur Road, under the Aranpur Police Station limits, in the Dantewada District of Chhattisgarh. The DRG personnel were returning from an anti-Maoist operation in the area.
On April 20, 2023, Sitaram Kudiyam (40), a Policeman, was injured in an explosion while he was diffusing an IED, planted by the Maoists, near Bangapal village under Nelasnar Police Station limits in Bijapur District, Chhattisgarh. The Police team had detected the IED during patrolling, three kilometers from Bangapal.
On April 17, 2023, a DRG trooper, identified as Shankar Paret, sustained injuries when an IED exploded while he was trying to defuse it. The IED was recovered during the search operation which followed an encounter between the Police and Maoists in the forests of Bade Tungali under the Jangla Police Station area of Bijapur District.
On April 7, 2023, a DRG trooper, Anjuri Ram Baghel, was injured in an IED blast triggered by Maoists in the Bahker Forest area under Chhotedongar Police Station limits in the Narayanpur District of Chhattisgarh.
These recent incidents, in which Naxalites (Left Wing Extremists) used explosives to target SFs engaged in area domination exercises. In some cases, civilians ended up as collateral damage. In many cases in the past, the Maoists have been killed or injured in such incidents, as they are followed by encounter between the SFs and the rebels.
According to partial data collated by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), at least 26 incidents of explosions have been orchestrated by the Naxalites, resulting in 18 fatalities (six civilians and 12 SF personnel) and injuries to 298 persons (four civilians and 25 SF personnel), since the beginning of the current year, (data till May 14 2023). During the corresponding period of 2022, 23 such incidents were executed, resulting in five fatalities (three civilians, one trooper and one Maoist), and injuries to 18 persons (one civilian and 17 SF personnel). A total of 32 incidents of explosion were carried out by CPI-Maoist cadres, resulting in six fatalities (four civilians, one SF trooper and one Maoist), and injuries to 27 persons (five civilians and 22 SF personnel) through 2022.
Since March 6, 2000, when SATP started recording data on Left Wing Extremism (LWE)-linked violence across the country, the number of such explosions stands at 1,568. These incidents have resulted in 1,870 fatalities (526 civilians; 1,185 SF personnel, 119 Maoists and 40 unspecified deaths) and injuries to 2,280 persons (717 civilians, 1,370 SF personnel, 136 Maoists and 57 unspecified injured). A high of 187 such incidents were registered in 2009, while in terms of resulting fatalities, 2010 was the worst year, with 388 killed. Conspicuously, the worst incident of explosion (followed by firing) was recorded on April 6, 2010, in which at least 75 CRPF personnel and a State Police trooper were killed at the Tarmetla village in Chintalnar near the thick Mukrana Forests in the Dantewada District of Chhattisgarh. In the incident, the Maoists had first blown up an SF anti-landmine vehicle, and then fired indiscriminately.
As the SFs engage in area domination, cordon-and-search, combing, search, long range patrolling, ambush-cum-patrolling and other operations, the Maoists have built an explosive arsenal comprising of landmines, claymore mines, grenades, sticky bombs, pressure cooker bombs, crude rocket launchers, gelatine sticks, mortars and a range of IEDs. In most attacks, the Maoists first use explosives targeting SFs vehicles or camps/posts, and then open fire on in planned ambushes, a pattern that causes maximum damage and helps them evade direct confrontations. Significantly, IEDs are among the most potent tools deployed by the Maoists, enabling even a small group to inflict huge damage. As a result, the theft of about 7,000 detonators from the stores of a private by suspected Maoists in West Singhbhum District on March 30, 2023, is disturbing.
Former Director General CRPF, Kuldiep Singh, on April 29, 2023, emphasized that the Naxalites are well-trained in guerrilla warfare and the same training is given to new recruits. The cadres increasingly avoid direct confrontation with SFs, since their numbers and influence have diminished substantially, and a frontal encounter is likely to reduce their strength and appeal even further. The rebels use the command IED, or wired IED, which is equipped with a wire, connected to a detonator, placed at a distance from the operator. The blast can consequently be triggered from a safe distance of 200 to 300 metres to target any moving convoy. While commenting on the April 26, 2023, attack Singh thus noted,
Naxals have been carrying out this type of attack since decades. It is easy for them to trigger the IEDs. And with the help of locals, they easily blast any moving vehicle by pressing a button. They place the IEDs at the time of road construction or they dig foxholes. Naxals are very different from terrorists. They train their cadre and ensure that they don’t get into a direct encounter with security forces. The command IED attack suits their objectives. It also helps their attempt to snatch weapons from forces after the blast.
Moreover, on April 28, 2023, Shesh Paul Vaid, who served as Director General of Police, Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), between 2016 and 2018, observed that the Maoists have realised that using an IED was less risky as it minimized chances of contact with SFs. Vaid asserted,
In J&K, we found smaller IEDs weighing around 4-5 kg. In some few cases, we recovered IEDs that weighed around 30 kg. I believe a similar weighing IED was used during the Pulwama attack too. In earlier years, the Maoists used small intensity IEDs to disrupt the forces and then engaged in shooting. Today they know that the security forces are better equipped, they are outnumbered, have no escape route, and thus resort to using remote devices to cause the damage. This is their preferred mode.
Meanwhile, in the wake of regular incidents of villagers getting killed in the IED explosions in the LWE-hit areas, the CPI-Maoist has been issuing ‘advisories’ to the villagers to take necessary precaution while walking into the forest in search of firewood and other work. For instance, the Maoist ‘South Chhotanagpur Zonal Committee’ circulated a letter dated April 17, 2023, claiming that many IEDs that were planted in the forest to target SFs were active. Besides, booby traps and spike holes had also been laid to prevent the armed forces from entering the forest. Consequently, the villagers should take utmost precaution when walking in the forests. Additionally, the letter emphasized,
Long-distance passenger bus drivers, truck drivers and private vehicle owners have been advised not to remove felled tree trunks on the state and national highways while crossing West Singhbhum, as this could invite risk to life.
The Maoists have warned that their “fatal tricks” to target the SFs will continue as long as the anti-Naxalite operations continue and argue that the State Government and local Police is responsible for any collateral fatalities among the civilians due to such attacks.
The Maoists are fighting for their survival with rapidly depleting cadre strength, as many of their fighting forces have either been eliminated, arrested or have surrendered. In such a situation increased “used of” explosives is very likely. This will be a challenge for the SFs, who are now at the cusp of comprehensively defeating this enduring insurgency.
*Deepak Kumar Nayak
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management