Sunday, May 30, 2010

Fight a guerrilla like a guerrilla

There is a basic flaw in the anti-Naxal operations being undertaken by the security forces. There is a clear lack of aim and no clarity on standard operating procedures (SOPs) resulting in Dantewada-like disasters. Headlines Today accessed the E.N. Rammohan report on the Dantewada massacre, and even to a layman it is unbelievable how the 81-member CRPF company moved around like headless chicken for three days before finally being slaughtered.

There is a crisis in command. The Director General of CRPF needs to do some serious soul-searching. If this is how his men are going to fight the Naxals they'd better pack their bags and leave. Not just the officers on the ground, what was the CRPF brass doing? What was their plan B, their contingency plans for an ambush-like situation? If they had not factored in an ambush, they were not doing their basic job right.

Headlines Today's Ashish Khetan travelled to the forests in Dantewada where the encounter took place. He spoke to his sources on the ground and also in the Ministry of Home Affairs. It was shocking that the CRPF patrol did not even follow the SOPs.
While they left the camp at 7 pm on April 4, they did not enter the forest as tasked. Instead they camped a few hundred metres outside their base. This indicates their fear of entering the jungle they were tasked to dominate.

Camped inside village

The CRPF personnel violated the patrol plan and entered village Mukram, 4 kilometres from their Chintalnar camp. They asked villagers for cots, utensils to cook and a goat for meat. As per their SOPs they were supposed to maintain secrecy and not mingle with local villagers or stay at any location for long.

This was a big mistake. By camping just outside their camp, they displayed a total lack of seriousness of approach. By asking the villagers to bring cots to sleep in, utensils to cook food and a goat for meat, the CRPF team behaved like an 'occupation army'. Not a lean mean war machine out to neutralise Maoist guerrillas. They were just marking time - in the bargain - the better trained, armed and motivated Maoists found time to plan their operation annihilation.

Lost wireless set during patrolling

The CRPF personnel botched the patrolling operation at every stage. Such was the level of fear and demoralisation that they did not even follow the set plan for area domination.

The CRPF personnel did not follow the laid out plan for patrolling. They entered another housing cluster at Tadmetla. A CRPF officer lost his wireless set here. The personnel looked for the set but gave it up midway.

Returned to same village at night

Ignoring the grid references for the patrol, the CRPF patrol party returned to Mukram village and camped at the Chintalnar Ashram for school children 4 kilometres away. Again a violation of norms.

Did not dominate high ground

The CRPF patrol party patrolled the same area for more than 24 hours, giving ample time to the Maoists to follow their movement and plan an ambush. This is exactly what the Maoists did on April 6. They ambushed the 82-member CRPF patrol at Tadmetla and killed 76 personnel.

Maoist training, strategy and operations

Maoist literature seized by the security forces indicates their high level of military training and tactics. Consider this:

1. How to launch an offensive on a security forces patrol party. How company of Maoist guerrillas (100-120 men) will split into three platoons (25-30 men each) and attack from flanks…how a reserve platoon of Maoists will launch a deception attack…and then the main party will hit from the rear…how another platoon will be in place to beat back any rescue operation mounted by the security forces.

2. How the Maoists will disengage from operations if outnumbered, re-group and then launch another offensive.

3. How to plant IEDs and trigger them at an appropriate time to inflict maximum damage and disappear into the jungles and then regroup at a pre-appointed place.

4. There are several such training maps and sketches that talk of how sections (10 men) will loot weapons and reach the reserve platoon and secure the flanks to beat back counter attacks.

And this is exactly what the Maoists did during the four-hour long offensive in Dantewada. They took the high ground, launched an ambush with military precision, attacking the security forces from three sides. The jawans ran in one direction for cover. That is where the Maoists had apparently placed guns on tree tops and opened fire, cutting down the jawans.

Two Maoist platoons were in place to beat back the CRPF rescue operation. They triggered a landmine to ensure mine protected vehicles could also not reach the troops.

Maoist air defence and attack plans

Even as the Centre and the states debate the use of airpower, the Maoists already have a air defence and counterattack plan in place.
From aiming at rotor blades to bring down a chopper, the Maoist air defence training manual says engage helicopters with small arms when they are hovering or moving slowly. Also aim at the hub of the rotor so that the bullet or the debris falls into the engine that will bring the chopper down.

Using natural camouflage and total radio silence is also a part of the passive air defence taught to the guerrillas.

Naxals are also being trained to fix light machine guns on treetops to be used as anti-aircraft guns for low-flying helicopters.

Naxals are also being trained to lob grenades at helipads and fire at helicopters when they come in to land and take-off. Four such attacks have already been carried out in the past two years.
Neutralise top leaders

The counter Maoist forces need to improve their intelligence gathering abilities. Some of the top IB officers are now heading forces in the region and they need to pinpoint the location of Ganpathy, Kishenji, Kosa, Nambala Kesav and Kisan Da among others. A entire sector of CRPF and state police will not be able to locate them. It is shocking that the media reaches Kishenji each time but the state police and other forces are still unable to locate him. This despite the best technology available with the Ministry of Home Affairs.

Pinpoint the location of these commanders and neutralise them. The movement will be directionless. But don't rest on your laurels. Before the second-rung leadership can completely take over, neutralise them. Then the guerrillas will move around like headless chicken and will be easier to pick.
But this would require a national resolve. It is hard to believe that the Maoists who seriously started arming themselves only in 2001 are today too powerful for the state to handle. It appears that the state - or elements within the state - is happy to let the situation continue the way it is.

Poverty helps politicians and both bureaucrats and the police benefit from additional funds - being pumped into states in the name of development and counter-insurgency operations.

Learn from the army

I don't buy the logic that you don't use the army against your own people. This is the most flawed argument. Are Kashmiris not our own people? Just to name a few: Are Nagas, Manipuris, Assamese, Punjabis not our own people? Yet we have used the army extensively in all these states. The army runs the counter-insurgency and jungle warfare school in Vairangte. Use their training and tactics. Fight a guerrilla like a guerrilla. And you shall win. Behave like an occupation army and you will be like the Romans taking on the Gauls. Bound to lose. Wake up before it is too late. It is now or never.

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