Naxals Mobile Warfare Strategy
The killing of over 50 police personnel including over 30 of the crack Greyhound police force indicates a new phase in Naxal militancy, that of mobile warfare. This includes strikes by large forces on selected targets to cause heavy casualties. While the tactics may remain the same, ambushes and IEDs, these will gradually be up graded to that of conventional attacks. The area along the Orissa-Andhra Pradesh ' Chattisgarh border has emerged as a Naxal hot spot. That seems to be the trend ahead as we review the new ground gained by the Naxals over the past few weeks.
Forty four personnel of the specialist anti-Naxal force, Grey Hounds of Andhra Pradesh Police were feared drowned as their boat capsized after they came under attack from Maoists hiding in a hilltop in Malkangiri district of Orissa in June. The Grey Hounds were operating on the border between Orissa and Andhra Pradesh. The casualties later came down to over 30 as a number of police personnel who managed to swim ashore were rescued. State militia commission (SMC) of the Maoist party was suspected to be behind the attack. Kalimela dalam in the Andhra-Orissa border was also likely to be involved.
The Maoists had laid bait for the Grey Hound sending information that a major conclave was in progress in Malkangiri in Orissa. The police taken in by the ploy were ambushed after they were returning empty handed. This is also the first time that the Maoists have used rocket launchers with great effect. It was a classic ambush site. "Sunday's strike, taking advantage of the reservoir surrounded by three hills, marks a new beginning in the Maoist warfare," an Andhra police officer said.
The Andhra police has been successful in clearing Naxals from Nallamala, Palnadu and north Telangana regions of Andhra. Thus they have now concentrated in the, 'Andhra-Orissa border zone'. "The Maoists take advantage of the jungles, inaccessible hamlets, poor roads and the tribal population where the government is all but absent," said a report.
There have been many indications in the past that the Naxals were attempting to obtain boats to navigate along the various local rivers in the area. Another input was the existence of local rocket launcher manufacturing units in the country side. It is essential that these trends should have been followed up and higher vigilance maintained particularly in the light of intelligence reports that the Naxals were likely to go in for a major strike.
The Andhra Pradesh ' Orissa border areas have been one of the main concerns for spread of Naxals. This is evident with the large migration that has take place and the hold that the Naxals have over the population particularly the traders. This provides them a dual advantage of having a hold over the economy as well as running an elaborate extortion network.
In Orissa the government proposed to raise a counter-insurgency battalion for resolute action (COBRA) on the lines of the successful Grey Hound model in Andhra Pradesh with Central funds. The state on the other hand has, promised land, free of cost. 400 CRPF personnel will also be deputed to the state to strengthen the Special Operation Group, exclusively meant for counter-insurgency and anti-Naxalite operations.
While Orissa has been facing sporadic Naxal attacks, the line being followed of raising specialized battalions is welcome. This will provide a specialized task force for eliminating the Naxals and for undertaking offensive tasks. This will meet the requirements in two ways, a general force for defensive and counter actions and a specialized force for wresting the initiative. This may not be enough as the recent spate of attacks in the state by the Naxals shows.
There are many other issues which tend to raise concerns. Police training remains poor. Recently a survey revealed that about 400 constables were 'trained' to aim at targets using sophisticated weapons such as Insas and self-loading rifles (SLR) but were not able to engage them effectively. Of the 395 constables appointed in 2005 and trained at the Jharkhand Armed Police Training Centre at Padma in Hazaribagh, 235 were found lacking necessary firing skills. 'The constables failing in the examination will be sent for retraining at Padma. Some failed to hit the set targets through SLRs and Insas rifles, while a majority of them failed to complete a six-kilometer run in the stipulated 25-minute time,' said a senior police official based at the office of the inspector-general of police (training).
The Human Rights Watch report released recently perhaps puts the things in perspective, when alleging abuse of people's rights through movements as the Sulwa Judum, it has clearly indicated that state capacity to combat Naxalism remains to be built up despite extensive platitudes.
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Col. Rahul K. Bhonsle
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