Raipur: At least 22 security personnel died in an ambush by Maoists in Chhattisgarh's Bijapur district, about 400 km from the state capital Raipur. Media reports on Saturday had pegged the deaths at 5. That makes it one of the most lethal encounters in Naxalite-infested south Bastar.
A contingent of about 1,500 troops, mostly drawn from specialised jungle warfare unit CoBRA and its regular battalions, had launched a search and destroy operation along the border of Bijapur-Sukma district, after they got special input of Maoist presence in the area.
A siege was accordingly laid at the crack of dawn on Saturday; however, it seems, the forces walked into a well-laid out trap. At least 400 Naxalites, led by one of the most wanted Maoist commanders and leader of the so-called People's Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA) battalion no 1-- Hidma-- and his associate Sujatha ambushed the central forces in an area which is known for its difficult terrain and forest tracts.
"The Maoists drew the forces into an ambush with heavy fire and encircled the security personnel from three sides. A heavy gun-battle ensued in the jungles which are devoid of any foliage at present," a senior official told PTI. Bullets rained from light machine guns; the Naxals also used low-intensity improvised explosive devices (IEDs) to mount the attack that continued for several hours.
The security personnel took guard against large trees and kept firing till they ran out of ammunition. At one location, from which seven bodies were recovered, the tree trunks were found to be riddled with bullets.
The casualties mounted by the minute on Sunday as the slain jawans were found. One of them is still unaccounted for. Out of the 22 fatalities, the CRPF lost eight men, including seven CoBRA commandos, while one jawan is from the Bastariya battalion and the rest are from DRG and Special Task Force.
It is understood that 12 Maoists were also killed, including a woman Naxal commander. The Naxalites were, however, able to ferry their slain cadres from the site of the shootout.
Special DG Naxal operations Ashok Juneja, while speaking to the media in Raipur, admitted that Naxals had also decamped with the weapons and ammunition of the jawans who perished in the ambush.
Media personnel questioned the DG why the bodies were left lying on the ground for more than 24 hours, despite the Operations team deploying choppers and ambulances.
Sources on the ground claimed the joint police party was attacked by the Naxalites while they were returning from a combing operation.
Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel spoke to Union Home Minister Amit Shah, who has cut short his poll campaign and returned to New Delhi.