The Indian security forces suffered 282 casualties in counter-insurgency operations so far this year, of which, 212 were in the Left Wing Extremism (LWE) affected states. Last year, this number was 312 out of total 431 casualties. In 2008 too, more than 57% of total security forces casualties in insurgency-related violence was reported from the LWE states. With attacks on the central paramilitary forces (CPMF), especially the CRPF, deployed in the troubled Naxal-affected regions getting alarmingly frequent, have the security forces become the target for Naxal attacks in the ‘Red Corridor’ of India? Is the government providing the forces adequate measures to ensure their own safety before they can safeguard the areas they are deployed in? Are the troops in these forward areas physically, mentally and logistically well-equipped to take on counter-insurgency operations in the tough terrains of LWE affected states?
On a fact-finding mission to the Ministry of Home Affairs and the CRPF headquarters, some gaping holes in the CPMF deployment emerged pertaining to the (absence of) adequate logistical support, psychological health and lack of adequate training to troops. While CRPF is keeping a brave front, the situation on ground speaks differently. “We are in those areas only to assist the State Police at places determined by them for Joint Operations,” said DG, CRPF, Vikram Srivastava. However, incidents like Dantewada and Narayanpur where respectively 76 and 26 CRPF men were ambushed and killed by the Naxals and their arms looted, highlight the need for a strategic change for CPMF deployment. So, is the problem with what Prime Minister Manmohan Singh called “India’s biggest internal security challenge,” only in terms of coordination or beyond?
There are 60 CRPF battalions (60,000 troops) deployed in the red corridor as against 10-15 thousand armed Naxalites who have expertise in explosives like IEDs. Despite this ratio, the CRPF is facing many casualties. The problem is multi-dimensional. The CPMF are deployed in the worst affected areas with a deep forest cover. The Naxals know the terrain well and use it for safe hideouts and getaways after guerrilla attacks. Moreover, there aren’t adequate police stations, and the strength of police personnel in the existing ones is abysmal.
The problem becomes even more acute with lack of proper communication channels and roads. To sniff out an IED and mine from an unmetalled road is a difficult task extending an advantage to the Naxals. Interestingly, units deployed in these areas undergo a two month pre-induction training about the general topography of the area and ground situation, jungle warfare, and survival training. However, any training can be successful only if it is backed up with proper communication and logistics. Dispersed deployment of CPMF makes matters worse.
The problem of state-CPMF coordination became public in July when Chhattisgarh DGP, Vishwa Ranjan said, “We can’t teach the CRPF how to walk,” after the Centre called for “relocation and reconfiguration” of CPMF. Special DG (Naxal Operations) CRPF, Vijay Raman retaliated with an allegation of non-cooperation from state police. The state police and CRPF seem to have buried the hatchet for now, however, on ground, the problem of coordination persists.
Intelligence sharing among the affected states is another problem. Moreover, basic amenities and logistical support is lacking. Helicopters carrying supplies or in emergency evacuation and rescue operations have also been targeted in the past few months. The CPMF troops, living away from their families for long extended tenures, feel that they are being dealt an unfair hand. “Even in the Army, the Infantry corps troops are given one combat posting followed by a hard peace and a peace posting in rotation. We, on the other hand, find ourselves in combat postings for a long time,” said a CRPF official. On the contrary, The Naxals practice non-conventional warfare and their cadres are highly motivated with a strong information network.
The Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for any CPMF during counter-insurgency operations is clearly defined. Under coordinated deployment, before active participation in the operations, CPMFs need to conduct a recce of the area to familiarize themselves with the terrain. A road opening patrol (ROP) sanitizes the area before operations and conducts mine detection. Then, there is logistical intelligence gathering which is networked with other companies and bound-to-bound movement (safe area to safe area) is followed. For the night halt, parameter defence and patrolling is first put in place. In case a communication set is lost, it must be immediately reported and the frequencies changed. However, the recent attacks on CPMFs indicate that these SOPs aren’t being strictly followed. In the Dantewada incident, the CRPF company which was ambushed had initially lost one of their radio set and instead of reporting it, the next day, they went back to look for it and were taken by a surprise attack.
So, is the problem in deployment or is it with training or with both? Perhaps government needs to do more than just amending its offensive policy and lay emphasis on combating psychological and non-conventional warfare by keeping the forces motivated and ready for any surprise attacks.