At least 25 CRPF personnel were killed and seven wounded in Chhattisgarh’s Sukma district on Monday, the deadliest attack by naxalites targeting security forces this year.
Home Minister Rajnath Singh briefed Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the attack.
Singh will also travel to Raipur on Tuesday to take stock of the situation. He apprised Modi of the circumstances leading to the attack and steps taken for treatment of those injured in it.
The home minister, who is in Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh, was earlier briefed by Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh on the attack.
He said he would possibly go to Sukma on Tuesday. "It is a very sad and unfortunate incident... We have taken the attack as a challenge," Singh told reporters.
Later, in Mandla in Madhya Pradesh, he said the incident was "very painful" and "No one will be spared."
He said he would be talking to Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh.
"I have already asked Union Minister of State for Home, Hansraj Ahir to leave for Sukma," Rajnath Singh said.
The naxalites mounted the assault around 12:25 PM in Kalapathar area of south Bastar region, one of the worst-hit by Left-wing extremism in the country.
The area is close to the Chintagufa-Burkapal-Bheji axis, the hotbed of naxal violence which has seen a number of such attacks in the past resulting in high casualties.
“As per the latest report, we have lost 25 men. We are still to account for all the personnel and a search is on. About 7-8 boys are still missing. The last word on the encounter will come once the entire area has been searched and all troops contacted,” a senior CRPF officer said, adding the paramilitary patrol was about 99 personnel-strong.
President Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemned the attack.
Rescue operations by IAF choppers
According to an official press release:
On 24th April 17, a message was received by the Anti-Naxal Task Force of the IAF that three CRPF jawans were critically injured in an encounter by Naxals at Burkapal in Sukma distt of Chhattisgarh. In no time two Mi-17V5 helicopters were airborne from Jagdalpur. On reaching Burkapal, it was realised that the casualties numbered seven.
They were quickly picked up by one of the helicopters and rushed to Raipur for treatment. Unfortunately, one jawan succumbed to his injuries inflight. In the meantime, a requisition was received to pick up 24 CRPF martyrs from Burkapal immediately. Responding with alacrity, the helicopters were quickly turned round, and braving all odds such as landing at a field helipad after sunset, two helicopters picked up the bodies of 25 martyrs at nightfall and brought them to Raipur for postmortem.
In addition, in another operation in a separate sector, 3 injured Jharkhand Jaguar commandos were evacuated by Ranchi-based IAF Mi17 helicopters in late evening from Piparadhaba in Balrampur distt of Chhattisgarh and taken to Ranchi for treatment. This life-saving mission too was executed after sunset.
Total Casualties evacuated to Raipur 08. +03 to RanchiTotal Mortal remains brought to Jagdalpur 25.Total Helicopters involved 04.(3 Ex Raipur/ Jagdalpur + 1 Ex Ranchi)
Further operations will continue tomorrow morning at first light / as per Requisition from CRPF/ State administration.
“Strongly condemn attack on CRPF personnel in Chhattisgarh; condolences to families of deceased and prayers for injured,” the president said in a tweet.
The prime minister tweeted, “Attack on @crpfindia personnel in Chhattisgarh is cowardly & deplorable. We are monitoring the situation closely.”
“We are proud of the valour of our @crpfindia personnel. The sacrifice of the martyrs will not go in vain. Condolences to their families,” he added.
The incident occurred near Burkapal village within Chintagufa police station limits, Sukma Additional Superintendent of Police Jitendra Shukla told.
An injured jawan, brought to a hospital here, said the CRPF patrol was attacked by around 300 Maoist guerrillas.
“The naxals first sent villagers to check our position... I also saw some women naxals. They were all wearing black uniforms and had sophisticated weapons like the AK series assualt rifles,” the unidentified jawan said.
He said around 10-12 naxalites must have got killed in the “befitting” retaliation by the CRPF contingent.
Sourav Malik, another personnel who was injured in the attack, said the patrol came under sudden fire from Maoist rebels.
CRPF officials said the ambush set up by the naxals was as deadly as the one on March 11 in Bheji area of the same district where 12 personnel lost their lives.
The company commander, Raghubir Singh, an Inspector rank officer, was among those killed.
The officer said the CRPF patrol, like in the Bheji incident, was sanitising the area where a road is being laid between Burkapal and Jagargunda, when the assault happened.
The naxals were believed to have also looted over a dozen weapons of the slain personnel, the officer said.
All the troops belonged to the 74th battalion of the force depolyed in the area for anti-Maoist operations.
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh said he was saddened by the attack and was sending Minister of State Hansraj Ahir to Chhattisgarh to take stock of the situation.
“Extremely pained to know about the killing of CRPF personnel in Sukma. My tributes to the martyrs and condolences to their families.”
“Spoke to MoS Home Shri Hansraj Ahir about the attack in Sukma. Shri Ahir is going to Chhattisgarh to take stock of the situation,” he tweeted.
The officer added Ahir will be accompanied by Joint Secretary (naxal management) in the home ministry Praveen Vashisht and acting CRPF Director General Sudeep Lakhtakia.
Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh said he was “extremely distressed” over the attack, as he cut short his Delhi visit and rushed to Raipur.
Another MoS in the home ministry Kiren Rijiju said the incident was a “set back and a big tragedy”.
Reinforcements, including CoBRA commandos of the CRPF and its other units, have been rushed to the scene from the nearest camp of the paramilitary force, the officer added.
The incident comes at a time when the country’s largest paramilitary force is without a full-time chief after K Durga Prasad retired on February 28.
Union Home Secretary Rajiv Mehrishi also reviewed the situation in the aftermath of the attack at his North Block office.
75 CRPF personnel and a Chhattisgarh police official were killed in the deadliest naxal attack in adjoining Dantewada district on April 6, 2010.
(With Inputs from PTI)