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To Fight Armed Maoists, India Must Fortify First Line of Defence, Writes General Who Led Surgical Strikes

File pic of forces carrying body of a jawan killed in April 3 Maoist attack in Chhattisgarh. (PTI)

File pic of forces carrying body of a jawan killed in April 3 Maoist attack in Chhattisgarh. (PTI)

Despite claims of having fought bravely, it is apparent that the security forces were surprised and overwhelmed.

According to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) Annual Report 2019-20, the last six years have seen a significant decline in the violence unleashed by Left Wing Extremism (LWE) as well as the geographical spread of LWE. There has been a 41 per cent reduction in violent incidents and a 49 per cent reduction in LWE-related deaths in 2019 as compared to 2013. The arc of violence has been considerably restricted with only 30 districts accounting for 83 per cent of the LWE violence. The report states, “With the Maoists forced to remain on the back-foot in most of the States, it is time to consolidate the gains in order to end this menace once and for all”.

The success in tackling Left Wing Extremism can be attributed to the holistic approach of the MHA that focuses on inter-state coordination, capacity building of states, and development schemes. However, despite the improvement in the situation, the Maoists remain a highly potent threat. This was brutally brought home in the April 3 ambush in Chhattisgarh, which left 22 security men dead and 31 injured.

From media reports, it appears that a total force of about 2,000 personnel from the CRPF and state police was launched from five different camps for the Maoist commander Madvi Hidma. On their return, a 450-strong force was ambushed by the Maoists with deadly effect. Despite claims of having fought bravely, it is apparent that the security forces were surprised and overwhelmed. It was distressing to read the accounts of the ambush and to see that the mistakes of the past were again repeated.

The First Line of Defence

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Tackling the menace of LWE requires a counterinsurgency strategy that combines a sympathetic people-centric approach with a hard security focus on the armed Maoist cadre. The security strategy also has many components, and in this article, I will focus on the smallest piece on the organizational chessboard—the foot soldier. He is the most vulnerable as is evidenced in the number of casualties that are suffered by constables, but he is also the first line of defence and his immediate actions in a crisis can define victory or defeat. We need to strengthen his capabilities.

The first area is training. It is a military truism that ‘the more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war’. A well-trained soldier is hugely confident in his ability to respond to any adversity and brings lessons from his realistic training to live situations. The success of the Greyhounds in Andhra Pradesh against the Maoists is a result of their training that is said to mirror that of the National Security Guard. Between 2008 and 2017, 80 per cent of the Maoist kills were credited to the 2,000-strong Greyhounds force.

Formal training of the state police force, which is at the forefront of fighting the Maoists, is woefully inadequate. An article by Praveen Swami in February 2020 for CNBC TV 18 pointed out that “in 2016-2017, the last year for which figures are available, just 44,083 police personnel across the country received any form of in-service training: 0.03 percent of the national police force”. It is essential that all personnel being deployed in LWE be trained to achieve the basic standards in physical fitness, marksmanship, tactics, and orientation to Maoist tactics.

Modern Technology, Strong Leadership

Security forces must have all the equipment needed to minimize individual casualties. A thickly forested area with limited roads and a sparse population is perhaps the most difficult terrain for combating an insurgency. It is ideal ground for IED attacks and ambushes, the two favoured methods of the Maoists. Apart from innovative tactics, modern military technology could provide some answers to mitigate these threats.

The last two decades have seen a significant increase in IED attacks around the globe. However, this has also spurred the adoption of technological solutions in countering this menace. Some examples of these technologies are bomb disposable robots, unmanned ground vehicles with ground-penetrating radar, explosive detectors, and mine-resistant vehicles. There are a variety of jammers that block the radio signals used to detonate IEDs. Obviously, IED attacks cannot be eliminated, but the greater deployment of technology will minimize losses.

Early warning of ambushes can be obtained through the use of unattended ground sensors that can pick up movement along jungle trails. Drones and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) can keep a watch over or precede security forces’ columns as they move for an operation. The UAVs can be mounted with thermal sensors or Synthetic Aperture Radar to penetrate the forest canopy to detect human movement and the location of camps.

Finally, the full potential of well-trained and well-equipped troops will only be realized if the leadership is of the highest quality. I do not claim any personal knowledge, but analysis of past incidents by senior police officers has invariably pointed to weaknesses in the leadership of the state police and CRPF. If this is indeed the case, the MHA needs to take some immediate steps to correct this deficit. It would be a good idea to utilize the expertise of Short Service officers from the Army to provide effective unit leadership.

The government claims that the LWE is on its last legs. Even as strategies are devised for the future, it must not be forgotten that the foot soldier is in the frontline of the fight. Strengthening his capability with training, technology, and leadership will be a key element in defeating the Maoists.

Disclaimer:The author is former Northern Commander, Indian Army, under whose leadership India carried out surgical strikes against Pakistan in 2016. Views expressed are personal.

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