New Delhi/Raipur, Apr 4 (PTI) The ambush that left 22 security personnel dead in Chhattisgarh was led by some 400 Maoists who surrounded the jawans from three sides in an area devoid of vegetation and rained on them machine gun fire as well as IEDs for several hours, officials said on Sunday.
Some 10-12 Naxals are also believed to have died in the fierce gunbattle that ensued.
The security victims were from a contingent of about 1,500 troops, drawn from the Central Reserve Police Force's specialised jungle warfare unit CoBRA, its regular battalions, a unit of its Bastariya battalion, the Chhattisgarh Police affiliated District Reserve Guard (DRG) and others. They had launched a search and destroy operation along the border of Bijapur-Sukma district after they got inputs of Maoists presence in the area.
After receiving intelligence that the Naxals were conducting a counter-offensive exercise in the area, a contingent of about 790 personnel set out towards the Jagargunda-Jongaguda-Tarrem axis at dawn, the officials said.
At least 400 Naxals suspected to be led by the most wanted Maoist commander and leader of the so-called 'People's Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA) battalion no 1-- Hidma-- and his associate Sujatha ambushed the forces in an area that is a strong-hold of the Maoists due to the difficult terrain, large tracts of forests and a smaller number of security forces camps, an officer said.
Out of the total 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. A CRPF Inspector is still missing, they said.
'The Maoists drew the forces into an ambush with heavy gunfire 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 (LMGs) and the Naxals also used low-intensity improvised explosive devices (IEDs) to mount the attack that continued for several hours.
Helicopters, which were requisitioned to evacuate the injured personnel, could make the first landing only after 5 PM after the gunfire had ended.
The security personnel took cover behind large trees and kept firing till they ran out of ammunition, he added.
At one location, he added, seven bodies of the troops were recovered and the tree trunks bore bullet marks, indicating that a fierce gun battle took place in the area.
About two dozen sophisticated assault weapons of the slain personnel are also stated to have been looted by the Naxals even as security officials said the search of the area is still on and details are being collected from the ground.
He said that the Maoists carried their dead, estimated to be about 10-12, on tractor trolleys.
Another officer posted in Chhattisgarh said the operation was being monitored by two Inspector General (IG) rank officers of the state police and the Central Reserve Police Force from Jagdalpur in Bastar.
Officials said while maximum security personnel were killed due to bullet shots, one is suspected to have fainted and later died due to dehydration and other issues.
'The security forces personnel, especially CoBRA commandos, fought very bravely and ensured that the Naxals could not prolong the ambush despite being at an advantage,' the officer said. PTI NES SKL RT RT