The Chitrakonda reservoir ambush by Maoists has taken their water warfare to a new level. The CPI (Maoist) in its ninth Congress last year decided to transform its guerrilla tactics into mobile warfare, with deeper penetration into urban areas..
THE METICULOUS ambush of the Greyhounds, the famed anti-Naxalite force of Andhra Pradesh, by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of the CPI-Maoist on June 29 in the Balimela reservoir of the Malkangiri districts indicates the continuity of mobile warfare phase in Orissa. The latest event took place on the fourth day of the Maoist declared ‘anti-repression week’ from June 26 to July 2. Around 36 Greyhound personnel were feared killed in the attack.
The target and message of the attack was clear. The Central government and the home ministry have been suggesting other Naxalite-affected states follow the Andhra Pradesh model of anti-Naxalite operation. It is believed that the Greyhound played a major role in making the Andhra model successful, primarily by flushing the armed cadre out of the Nalamala forests, Telangana and Palnad region. As a result of which, many senior Maoist leaders have been camping in Malkangiri district of Orissa, bordering Andhra Pradesh.
The Greyhound model or military approach to resolve the conflict was also replicated in other states in different names, which emerged as major obstacles for the rebels to improve the movement to a decisive level. They were, in fact, looking for an opportunity to demoralise the Greyhound by carrying out a major attack and sending a clear cut message to the Indian government that military approach cannot resolve the vexed conflict. Therefore, the combing operation in Janbai area, which has been virtually declared ‘liberated zone’ by the CPI-Maoist, gave an opportunity to take a lethal strike on security apparatus.
The Chitrakonda reservoir attack of Maoists took their water warfare to a new level in Orissa. The waterway near Alampakka, where the Maoists ambushed the Greyhounds was barely 75 metres wide allowing radicals to target their vessels with precision. The reservoir is 85 feet deep at that point and police sources ruled out use of rocket launchers in the attack. The ambush point is towards east of the reservoir and has two constrictions in close proximity.
A retired inspector general of Orissa Police says, “the Greyhound and the police force did not take adequate security precaution while travelling. While it is advised to use minimum movement in water, this unit undertook at least an hour’s ride. Moreover, they did not have a pilot vessel. In this high red alert area how they travelled i this format and in what circumstances the commandant allowed them to cross the river? Overcrowding also made them easy victims since it led to capsize of the boat and they had a chance to retaliate”.
Police officer Debaraj Pati told the citizen journalist, “it is a complete failure of intelligence because was a calculated strategy by the Maoists. The state police are not ready to modernise the state special branch intelligent wing. Capable and efficient officers are not available in the special branch. The state home department does not focus here. Every Naxal attack takes place because of intelligence failure.
“The elite Greyhound unit may be trained in jungle warfare to take on the rebels. But, are they trained to fight when ambushed in water? The Greyhounds personnel were never imparted training in water survival. It is not part of their regular training. Occasionally, a few batches were asked to undertake swimming drills. The swimming pool at the Greyhounds headquarters in Premavathipet, which is under construction, is meant for imparting training in water war to the Greyhounds personnel. And in Orissa the state government has made compound wall in the training centre. With this incident, it is proved that without water survival tactics Greyhound training is incomplete.”
The director general of Orissa Police, Gopal Nanda speaks to the citizen journalist, “no, this is not intelligence failure, please don’t blame the police in this time. A second boat was supposed to go along with the first on but for some reasons, it did not. The absence of the second worked to the advantage of the Maoists who hit with a vengeance.”
One senior police officer Mahadev Mishra spoke, “the Greyhounds personnel and their commanding officers lack common sense . They became virtually sitting ducks with 65 of them travelling in the same motor launch to cross the deep river while the Maoists’ movement and activities are regular in these cut-off areas. The motor launch became an easy target and the perpetrators reportedly used a rocket launcher first before opening fire with their other weapons.”
Undoubtedly, the incident reflects strong support base of the CPI-Maoist vis-a-vis poor intelligence of Orissa Police in Malkangiri district. The state police has consistently failed to collect intelligence in southern Orissa due to complete lack of police-public relationship. People, largely, have lost faith over state mechanism due to factors such as absence of civil administration in remote areas, collapse of justice system, exploitations of tribal by contractors and rich people and failure of police to provide minimum security to civil populace.
In the last three months, Maoists have killed more than 10 persons by branding them as police informers in Malkangiri district. Local people have been facing problems due to frequent strikes called by the CPI-Maoist. They have been virtually running parallel government by creating political vacuum either killing village headmen or driving out influential persons from the villages. In fact, their domination was visible when the Naxalites called four day strike in Malkangiri on 22 May in response to the killing of two of their cadres earlier that month.
Maoist’s attack preparation within a short period indicates their area domination, and military capability. The Greyhound troops entered into that area three days back, even though the Maoists did know about their moves. They also knew about their return route as the Greyhound troops earlier requested for a mechanised boat from the irrigation department to cross the reservoir.
The CPI-Maoist took a decision at the ninth Congress in January 2007 to develop the movement from present guerilla warfare to mobile warfare and urban warfare as central policy. In fact, a recently circulated CPI-Maoist pamphlet on the Nayagarh attack, named ‘Operation Ropeway’, said the Nayagarh attack was first incident in India, where central policy was executed. Interestingly, as part of mobile warfare tactics, the CPI-Maoist Orissa state committee adopted that the outfit will stop major attacks like Nayargargh. ‘Ambush attack’ on police will replace ‘planned guerilla’ attack. The attack will continue almost everyday. The SF will be engaged by Maoists either killing someone or attacks on both private or government property.
However, theoretically, bigger or company level formations are another feature of the mobile warfare. Mobile warfare also needs high quality technique and sophisticated weapons. Although, the Orissa Maoists have acquired sophisticated arms from the Nayagarh attack, they are yet to reach that stage (bigger formation), which is very essential for mobile warfare. The company level formation is delayed due to shortage of dedicated armed cadres in Orissa
It is learnt that the central committee has deputed around two hundred Maoist cadres from Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh to Orissa for organisation building in Malkangiri, Koraput, Kalahandi, and Nawarangpur. They have been trying to set up a corridor from Kalahandi-Nuapada and Bastar. Most importantly, it is believed that the Balimela attack was carried out by Malkangiri division, which functions under the Andhra Pradesh-Orissa Border (AOB) special zone committee, with support of Orissa State committee and popular squad.
Therefore, the phenomenon reflects an occasional mobile warfare or initial phase of mobile warfare in Orissa.