New Delhi: Though suddenly overwhelmed by a heavily armed force of Maoists, the 80 CRPF men who were caught in a brutal ambush on Tuesday did not go down meekly. The encounter raged for a couple of hours and the men fell one by one till a clutch of injured survivors ran out of ammunition.
The Maoists then moved in from the heights they occupied on the road near the village of Chintalnar in Dantewada and shot the injured and looted weapons. The seven CRPF men who were finally rescued were helped by arrival of reinforcements who encountered heavy fire but did not suffer casualties.
A part reconstruction after visits by police and CRPF officers indicates the actual armed People`s Liberation Guerilla Army (PLGA) cadres numbered closer to 350 and were assisted by a supporting cast of 200-odd local militia (armed informers) and ‘sangams’ or village associations. This is considerably less than the 1,000-odd attackers earlier suspected.
While officers are guarded as an inquiry into the shooting that claimed 76 lives -- including that of a local police head constable -- is on, they said the detachment did fight back but had no chance. "It was a total siege-like situation. They were attacked not just from three sides, but even from the open area," said a source.
Some of those who lived managed to make it by pretending to be dead but even so their prospects might have been bleak as the Maoists searched bodies and stripped weapons and ammunition. The reinforcements forced the ultras to break off. Only three rifles could be retrieved from the site of the encounter. The shooting was intended to be a deadly and swift affair.
While the wisdom of sending the CRPF team into a heavily Maoist-infested area is being questioned, sources in Dantewada and Bastar insisted this was routine. The Maoist death squad certainly got a tip-off but may have set up the ambush in just a few hours once it became clear which road was being used. The CRPF men were on foot and the vehicle with them was not anti-mine, but only bullet-proof.
Though officers remain circumspect about what went wrong, they point out there might have been "fieldcraft and tactical" lapses. They insist the assignment was not based on any intelligence alert either planted or otherwise. "Once you move out of the camp, your location cannot be secret. But the idea is to be in sufficient strength to take on challengers," said a source. Hills on the road to Chintalnar were perfect to stage an ambush.
The accounts that have been gathered from the survivors, locals and other intelligence all point, said sources, to a routine deployment running into a well-trained enemy. The CRPF and police need to adjust tactics with mobile groups, moving away from the road, having an advantage. Large numbers were not a problem as Maoists were also in big groups as they too feared running into a para-military detachment.