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News18 » India
4-min read

Bodies of 17 Jawans Found 24 Hours They Went Missing, Were Ambushed by 250 Naxals in Sukma

While no official statement has been made on the issue, sources in the know say 17 soldiers were missing, four were reported critical and some feared dead after the Saturday afternoon encounter.

Suhas Munshi, Arunima

Updated:March 22, 2020, 6:09 PM IST
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Bodies of 17 Jawans Found 24 Hours They Went Missing, Were Ambushed by 250 Naxals in Sukma
Chhattisgarh CM Bhupesh Baghel meets an injured jawan in hospital on Sunday.

Bodies of 17 security personnel, who went missing after a major encounter in Bastar's Sukma between Naxals and state forces, were found on Sunday. Seventeen security personal were injured in the attack. A 150-strong search party combed the jungles around Chintagufa, where the encounter broke out on Saturday afternoon, to locate the missing men.

IG Bastar P Sunderraj told reporters in Bastar that a joint team of STF, DRG and CRPF's CoBRA team were ambushed by an estimated 250 strong Naxal force in Sukma's Minpa area on Saturday afternoon. "It was a joint operation of DRG, STF and CoBRA, in which more than 600 of our jawans were involved...It was a very tough encounter in which our estimate is around 250 Naxals were firing on our jawans from the other side."

He added that 5 different teams of DRG and STF came under heavy fire but despite being trapped in an ambush the teams did not lose their composure and scatter in panic, which would have resulted in a much higher casualty figure. "Our jawans gave a fitting response. The Naxals were not able to break and scatter our teams. Still we have 17 casualties and 15 jawans who are injured."

The IG added that the encounter lasted for about three hours. "Yesterday night we were able to evacuate 15 injured and today we were able to recover the bodies of 17 jawans," Sunderraj said. According to police's estimate the ambush was laid by CPI(Maoist)'s battallion number 1, their most dreaded and battle ready force headed by the infamous Naxal leader Hidma.

Sources say that the Naxals are expected to have snatched 15 guns from the slain jawans - 12 AK 47 assault rifles, 1 Under Barrel Grenade Launcher (UBGL), 1 INSAS rifle and 1 Excalibur rifle. Saturday's ambush in which the DRG lost 12 men is the worst this force of local fighters, including many surrendered Naxals, has ever suffered. The remaining five jawans belonged to STF units.

Officials said a joint team of DRG, CoBRA and STF launched the operation from Chintagufa, Burkapal and Timeleada after specific input about Naxal presence in the forests near Elmagunda. The Naxals allegedly fired at the DRG when they were advancing through the Korajguda hills.

Senior police officials told News18 that the joint team of DRG and STF came under fire but repulsed the attack successfully. "But as they were returning to their camp at around 2:30 in the afternoon, they came under a heavy ambush," said a source.

The source added that the teams were sent on a combing operation after intelligence was received about a major congregation of Naxals from nearby states like Telangana being in meeting with the top brass of CPI (Maoist). "Usually we know that there is some movement of Telangana leaders in this area. But this time, we had hard intelligence that was so good that we felt compelled to act on it," the source added.

Prima facie it appears that naxals had been tipped off about the special forces coming in. Jawans entered the jungles of Kasalpad and were turning back after they didn't spot any naxal movement. It was after they left the forest in this area and reached near Koraj Dongri that Naxals ambushed them. Surviving jawans have reportedly told their seniors that they came under fire when they tried to rescue their injured colleagues.

Officials believe some top Naxal leaders of Bastar have been hit in the operations. A CRPF contingent was sent for rescue and support once news of the encounter came in. "Arms and ammunitions of the security forces have been looted but Naxals too have taken the hit. At least four to five of their leaders were shot when the forces retaliated," a local official said.

The Saturday's encounter in Bastar is among the deadliest for the forces after the April 2017 Burkapal encounter in which 25 CRPF personnel lost their lives. The area where the encounter happened is quite close to the encounter site of 2017.

Sources in the state police's STF said they believe the latest attack was directly ordered by the new chief of CPI (Maoist) Basavaraju, which was perceptible by a marked increase in the firepower of the Naxals, which was a worrying development for the forces.

"The Naxals, we have observed over the past few encounters, have been firing on an average 2,500 rounds every encounter, which means they've been able to get their hands on new source of ammunition," said a source. "Their UBGLs (Under Barrel Grenade Launchers) have a markedly improved accuracy. It seems they have been able to indigenously improve their existing weaponry."

Police officials said a major rescue operation was launched early morning on Sunday in which three of the 17 missing soldiers were rescued. "They are getting necessary medical treatment at the moment," said a highly placed police official.

This is the first big Naxal encounter that Chhattisgarh has seen after the killing of BJP MLA Bheema Mandavi in 2019.

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