Getting it consistently wrong in the ‘Red Corridor’

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There are two narratives regarding the Naxals. One, that the Maoist rebels are on the run, their ranks decimated by desertion and paramilitary actions, and that the entire fighting element among them has shrunk to a small “hard core” group of experienced fighters. The other is a more skeptical take on the situation, that that this is so much brave talk to prop up the spirits because in reality ground is being steadily lost despite more roads being constructed and communications links established in the hinterland areas where hitherto government writ didn’t prevail because the apparatus of government — police and administration was absent. That the the truth lies somewhere in between can be taken for granted in view of the huge number of violent incidents that have been recorded and the ability of the armed “revolutionaries” to strike counter-insurgency troop concentrations, either in their bases, encampments in the field, and on the outskirts of big towns, such as Sukna where, in the most recent such incident 25 paralmils were slain.

The problem is this if 118 battalions of mainly CRPF, but also of ITBP, or some 120,000 troopers in all cannot make much of a headway, what are the prospects of improvements in the situation?

Home Minister Rajnath Singh apparently believes two things that (1) injecting the more effective and disciplined army and its counterinsurgency arm — the Rashtriya Rifles, and the Indian Air Force with air support, would begin to tilt the balance of power against the Maoists, and (2) high-technology paraphernalia, such as drones, remote sensors, etc., will compensate for the manifest lack of spirit shown by the paramils, who are thus dragging down the effort.

Moreover, in this sort of operational scenario IAF helicopters are a big No-No. These whirly-birds clattering down in forest clearings to lift and offload CI troops are about as useful as deploying tanks would be. In fact, all that the rebels would then have to do is wait for the helos to unload a fighting contingent for them to know their targets and the drop zones. Regularly using combat aircraft or attack helicopters in ground attack mode, as the estimable former air chief heading for the hoosegaw, SP Tyagi, had suggested in trumpeting the supposed COIN attributes of the British Hawk aircraft, would be even more disastrous, because the cumulative costs of such missions (including protection of nearby satellite air fields where they’ll be based) in terms of kill-rate or interdiction success will be minimal. Despite the US Air Force dropping more bombs on the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Vietnam than were dropped on the Axis Powers by the Allies in WW2, the North Vietnamese logistics system was only minimally disrupted during the Vietnam War, 1965-72.

Such thinking, loved by the political pooh-bahs and service brass, gives me the shivers. For God’s sake what specific training would the army or even its RR elements be able to impart to the paramils? The army operates withing the context of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, a very different, less onerous milieu than the one the anti-Naxal cops face.

Time and again I have iterated in my writings that history shows that only small groups of committed, and materially well rewarded, commandos, who live off the land, spend long time in the field in hunter-killer groups of two or three personnel, work in complete radio silence over a vast area, and are left free to use their best judgement to do what to whom and when,  track and spy on Maoist groups, identify the leaders, and otherwise hunt down their prey without observing any Marquess of Queensberry rules, can rid the landscape of this kind of scourge.

Again, as I am fond of recounting, the only American fighting group the outrageously brave Viet Cong feared were the very Special Forces in the Long Range Reconnaissance Patrols (LRRPs) who moved silently on foot, were lightly armed, unencumbered by communications equipment, or any tell-tale camping wherewithal. These were the ghosts who killed without making a sound, highly individualistic men not given to following orders but determined on achieving results. They’d be gone in the jungles for 6 months at a time, never to touch base except when they trickled in singly (so as not to draw attention).

So, why can’t a Special Commando Force for internal missions to quell insurgencies be formed outside the usual orgs, unstymied by any police protocol, and able to operate outside the rule of law but with full government sanction? Oh, sure, there are a whole bunch of paramil “commando” groups with fearsome names — Cobras, Greyhounds, etc. But these are neither by training nor disposition the genuine article, too heavily armed to be very foot-mobile, and mostly because they are tied to the road-borne logistics umbilical of rear area bases.

The true jungle commando should never be seen, or heard, never publicized, never in uniform, their presence never acknowledged, with their recruitment and remuneration channels managed separately by restricted personnel within PMO sworn to secrecy,  but whose success can be gauged by the areas sanitized, and the degree of sanitization achieved.

But why is such a solution unlikely? Because the exclusiveness of such an outfit is precisely why the IPS which is expert in mucking up things and should be kept as far away as possible — would oppose it. And because the bureaucratized Indian state won’t allow such units to function freely.

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
This entry was posted in Asian geopolitics, China, civil-military relations, Culture, Decision-making, domestic politics, Great Power imperatives, guerilla warfare, Indian Air Force, Indian Army, Indian democracy, Indian ecobomic situation, Indian para-military forces, Indian Politics, Internal Security, Military/military advice, society, South Asia, Terrorism, United States, US., Vietnam, Western militaries. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Getting it consistently wrong in the ‘Red Corridor’

  1. Sir, What about Maoists’ never acknowledged Chinese masters? In 1953 Korean War Douglas MacArthur sought permission to pursue Chinese bombers attacking US forces in Korean theater to their mainland bases and finish them off. Fearing Soviet intervention and spiraling off situation into WW3, President Truman declined. a costly mistake. However, bravo your bold head on wake up call to New Delhi.Josef, Pala, Keralam.

  2. KP says:

    Lessons from Rambo?

  3. Aban says:

    Amazing! People still have so much expectations from a govt that has squandered it’s mandate, and has replaced policy with sermons and platitudes. With Mr. Modi playing the role of a senior statesman instead of a shrewd administrator, and a nincompoop Rajnath Singh at the helm of home ministry, the war against the maoists is going to get tough in near future. Also the pitiable condition of ill-paid CRPF jawans reflects the lack of political will on the part of political class to fight the insurgency.

  4. ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

    When a job starts with a lie, the failures are inevitable, they come fast and often enough. On all 3 counts the performance of the establishment can be checked.

    Today morning on a Sanghi channel they were showing a police party messing things up in Saharanpur. Apparently one of the aggrieved side in the recent Rajput-SC mara-mari called in their Mahapanchayat. The establishment considered it illegal. But what did the establishment do – the police party ended up in the middle of a street fight without any tear gas shells and eventually they ran away. Angry crowds then torched 20 vehicles. Had the state government instead of lying on things like Romeo-squad and Illegal-butcher khanas been attentive about the actual socio-political issues this would never have even begun.

    Cut to the situation a few days earlier when somehow the ATGM launched at a paki post got ‘leaked’. Don’t forget Loshali. He was fired for merely stating the truth but in this case the establishment did not even bother tracing the man who ‘leaked’ the video. Why? Because deshbhakti is these days a tamasha to be served on TV, twitter and whatsaap and running the country is the same thing as offering soundbites and talkshows. The generals on the TV, always sporting a crowbar moustache will froth and fume but, what the hell, they are all retired. And practically useless except for the sole purpose of having them called in for duty on TV to hyperventilate against Pakistan and making it look like the govt is doing a lot. They do not even realize that the public cares damn if the govt. is doing anything or not – 60 years nothing happened bechare Modi ke pichey lage hain. Public has already decided that the govt. they have so recently put up can do no wrong and it is best to act mook-badhir. Unfortunately the facts have an uneasy way of confronting the narratives. Just wait for some more time and the whole tamasha will be repeated often enough. And in this ceaseless twisting and turning, at some point the public will begin to feel ‘guilty’ and at that point they will look around for more scapegoats who ‘betrayed’ them.

    Cut again to a few days back when 2 CRPF personnel (an officer too) got mauled by a bunch of mad elephants when these soldiers were out of their camps, for their daily ablutions. What! wait! saala desh badal raha hai par soldiers abhi bhi khule mein. If the money gets spent on incessant advertisements educating us (the people with DTH in their flats) as to the need to do sauch inside our houses or on Rafales then how the hell will the CRPF guys get a well maintained mobile toilet? Talking about CRPF effectiveness in anti-naxal ops is crazy when the establishment cannot even provide money for proper field toilets. Till date I was living with a wrong belief that only snakes, scorpion and establishment bites are to be guarded against in field deployments – added elephants now.

    Cut again to a few years back when we were all happy at how the masiha had introduced OROP. A completely justifiable demand but introduced only as an advanced installment of an annuity to make sure the buddies who brought the bloodied body of soldiers dying on duty, do not then speak out when the LEMOA got signed. A treaty signed at the behest of the establishment with the very people who in their great game got those soldiers killed.

    But wait, there is progress to be made. You will in some time get a new modus-operandi from these people about how to handle the deaths on duty in naxal infested area. The I&B ministry and the IT-Cells have not yet figured out a perfect distraction yet.

  5. ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

    Another TV hosting the Home Minister again had a General or Karnail again off course mustachioed. And off course the banal kada sujahav (suggestion) about the FoPen. What else man? Vietnam won it in jungles with little more than an outdated automatic rifle. As the essay says the LRRP got better results against Vietcongs, with their tactics heavy and equipment lite approach but our people have mortgaged their brains to the western agencies. Naxals come in with near dilapidated equipment or stolen equipment but always with cut-throat tactics and yet get to reach their targets but no sir that can be ignored. Instead let the whole country cry how the chinese mobile is a bigger worry than a FoPen.

    Anyhow the following caught my eye in an obscure report titled more like a human interest story.

    [indiatoday .intoday.in/story/from-dantewada-to-sukma-naxal-attack-narrative-has-not-changed-in-seven-years/1/937882.html
    In 2010 too, experts argued that the government’s strategy to deal with Naxals had to change. Instead of CRPF Battalions chasing lower-rung cadres, experts believed that a more sharp approach would be to strategically target the leadership.

    The modus operandi of the Naxals during the Sukma attack is eerily similar to the one used seven years ago in Dantewada.
    Nearly 300 Naxals were hiding when the 74th Battalion of the CRPF reached Kalapathar near Chintagufa in Sukma on Monday. The Naxals managed to split the CRPF Battalion into smaller groups and fired indiscriminately at them. They used sophisticated weapons to attack CRPF jawans.
    “First, Naxals sent villagers to trace our location, then almost 300 Naxals attacked us,” said a CRPF jawan who survived the Sukma attack.
    In Dantewada, the CRPF battalion was ambushed in a similar manner with Naxals opening fire, and the CRPF jawans getting scatterred to take cover. The CRPF men were soon surrounded by Naxalites, who used AK-47s, among other weapons, to fire at them.
    “They were firing at us with everything, AK-47s, INSAS rifles, light-machine guns and SLRs,” said Ramesh Kumar Singh, a survivor of Dantewada attack.]

    The link also shows a pictures (repeated here too) and you can see how the armed forces are being pampered with imports like C-295 and Chinooks while the injured CRPF people are transported like this:
    economictimes .indiatimes.com/news/defence/24-jawans-killed-in-encounter-with-maoists-in-chhattisgarhs-sukma/articleshow/58343332.cms

    Those phased out HS-748 and a few helos, would have been a manna from heaven for the CRPF and other paramilitaries but no sir that won’t happen. Injured CRPF personnel cannot be evac-ed but FoPen is the answer to policy paralysis and hogging of budgets by the military.

    In the same report linke above what is the MoH thinking like:
    “The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), which has sought a report on the Sukma attack from the CRPF, is believed to be of the opinion that leadership failure is to be blamed for the loss of 25 jawans.”

    Some random CRPF officer will be transferred and bus ho gaya.

    • ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

      A few good things that happened last week:

      timesofindia .indiatimes.com/india/naxal-wanted-for-beheading-cop-surrenders/articleshow/58675671.cms

      indianexpress .com/article/india/hardcore-naxal-killed-in-encounter-with-police/

      financialexpress .com/india-news/jharkhand-massive-naxal-ammunition-cache-recovered/667630/

  6. ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:

    (1) Seems like something good is happening with a new DG R. R. Bhatnagar:

    [dailyexcelsior .com/200-spl-ops-undertaken-strategy-reworked-post-sukma-crpf-dg-2/

    All such tasks, the dossier accessed by PTI said, are either led by the CRPF or its special jungle warfare guerrilla force — the Commando Battalion for Resolute Action (CoBRA).
    The areas where these operations were launched in Sukma include villages of Karigundem, Minapa, Kasalpara, Milampalli, Tokenpalli, Phulampad, Bedapad, Gauraram, Palodi, Barmor, Potakpalli, Tumalpad, Aliguda and Regargatta.
    In order to further step up offensive along the borders of Sukma, 36 such operations have been conducted till now in the neighbouring district of Dantewada while 55 have been launched in the villages and deep forest areas of Bijapur district.
    “As part of these operations, it is being ensured that a good number of state police personnel form an essential part of the patrol party along with the CRPF.
    “While the target is to have at least one-third strength of the squad from that of the state police, it will take some more time before these numbers are achieved for all the operations to be conducted in the future,” a senior officer said.
    The force, the dossier said, has also apprehended 26 Naxals as part of these post-Sukma operations, out of which 15 were involved in the Burkapal attack.
    “Out of the 26, six Naxals had police warrants issued against them for various acts of violence and killing in the south Bastar area,” the senior officer said.
    The dossier, which has now been shared with the Chhattisgarh Police investigating the Sukma ambush, said during the attack, the CRPF men retaliated and killed two Naxal commanders identified as Anil alias Deva, who was the commander of platoon No. 24, and Ravi, commander of the Cherla LOS (local organisation squad) of the Maoists.
    “Apart from these two, body of the third Maoist was recovered from the ambush site on April 27 by the CRPF. He has been identified as Mukkam Baman of Burkapal village,” it said.
    After the Burkapal ambush, it said, “the CRPF has apprehended 72 Maoists while 21 have surrendered before the forces in the entire LWE theatre. 17 arms, 4,304 rounds of ammunition, 291 kgs of explosives, two grenades, 85 improvised explosive devices and 5,125 detonators have also been seized. At least seven exchange of fire incidents have occurred till now between the CRPF-led security squads and the Naxals.”
    About 10 states are LWE-affected in the country.
    After the Sukma attack, the strategic anti-Naxal operations command headquarters of the CRPF has been shifted from Kolkata to Chhattisgarh’s Raipur for effective operational coordination between multiple security forces.
    The lead anti-Naxal operations force is also deploying a fresh squad of about 2,000 CoBRA commandos in and around Sukma district. (PTI)]
    .
    .
    .
    (2) Gives an operatives account of the recent Indian history w.r.t. naxal operations:
    [economictimes .indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/there-will-be-fierce-battles-dm-awasthi-special-dg-anti-naxal-operations-chhattisgarh/articleshow/58552893.cms]
    .
    .
    .
    (3) And off course the Rafale aur F-35 mubarak (I won’t call out for shame on these people):
    [nationalheraldindia .com/news/2017/05/03/is-the-centre-chalking-out-anti-naxal-strategy-blindfolded-sukma-crpf-strategy
    Sujoy Mandal, an ex-CoBRA (Commando Battalions for Resolute Action), tells National Herald that many strategic operational flaws of the CRPF aren’t being addressed. Mandal says he was one among the many who got injured in an April 2014 Maoist attack that left three of his colleagues dead.

    Mandal lists out following issues encountering the paramilitary force:
    CRPF doesn’t have its own intelligence gathering mechanism and relies on police inputs for anti-insurgency operations. And, CRPF hardly gets support from the local police during anti-Naxal operations.
    CRPF doesn’t have its own helicopters to lift the injured jawans from the encounter sites. Due to delay, many a times injured jawans succumb to injuries.
    CRPF has only two schools in Madhya Pradesh and Assam for training jawans in counter-insurgency and anti-terrorism operations. The schools impart a two-month training to at least 1,000 jawans on yearly basis.
    CRPF jawans who are inducted in anti-Naxal operations on the basis of 3-month-long guerrilla training don’t even know how to handle a weapon or salute properly.
    During anti-insurgency operations, CRPF officers rarely lead from the front. Jawans lacking proper training are pushed into counter-insurgency operations.
    During ‘area domination exercise’ a company of 70-100 jawans is usually led by an inspector rank officer. The company has to survive on Maggi noodles and biscuits for 7-10 days. After two days, jawans start feeling exhausted and stop being alert all the time.
    Jawans stand demoralised because their salaries are at par with those of peons working with the government departments. Since 2004, the Home Ministry has stopped giving pensionary benefits to CRPF jawans.]

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