Naxalites graduating from guerrilla to mobile warfare

By Nihar Ranjan Nayak, IANS,

Less than three weeks after the Chitrakonda attack, armed cadres of the Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-M) attacked the Special Operation Group (SOG), Orissa’s anti-Maoist force, on July 16. Seventeen personnel were killed in the landmine explosion triggered by the Maoists in Malkangiri district of southern Orissa. This was the third major Maoist strike after the Chitrakonda attack and the Nayagarh police station attack on Feb 15.

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In the Chitrakonda incident, 38 commandos of Andhra Pradesh’s elite Greyhounds were killed after their boat capsized in the Balimela dam on June 29 after being pounded by the Maoists with LMG and automatic weapons fire from a hillock.

The meticulous ambush on the Greyhounds and the SOG by the Maoists indicate the continuity of mobile warfare phase in Orissa. It is believed the Maoists had for the first time used RDX to attack the security forces. The impact of the explosion was so intense that the anti-landmine vehicle was thrown up more than 20 feet in the air. Six months back the Maoists were reported to be searching for RDX to form a suicide squad.

The target and message of the attack was clear. The union home ministry has been suggesting other Maoist affected states to follow the ‘Andhra Pradesh model’ of operations. It is believed that the Greyhound played a major role in making the Andhra model successful, primarily by flushing the armed cadres out of the Nalamala forests, Telengana and Palnad region. Due to this action, many senior Maoist leaders have been camping in Malkangiri district of Orissa, bordering Andhra Pradesh.

The Greyhound model or military approach used to tackle this menace was being replicated by other states with slight changes. In fact, this strategy had created major obstacles for the Maoists in bettering their movement to a decisive level. They were, in turn, looking for an opportunity to demoralize the Greyhound by carrying out a major attack and sending a clear cut message to the home ministry that the Greyhound strategy can not effectively hit their organisation or its influence. Therefore, the combing operation in Janbai area of Malkangiri district, which has been virtually declared ‘liberated zone’ by the CPI-Maoist, gave opportunity to take a lethal strike on this security apparatus. The impact of these attacks was so severe that these special forces will take another six months to overcome from that trauma.

Undoubtedly, these incidents reflect a strongly emergent support base of the CPI-Maoist in this belt as well as the poor intelligence set up of Orissa police in Malkangiri district. The state police have consistently failed to collect intelligence in southern Orissa due to complete lack of police outreach to the public. People largely have lost faith over state mechanisms due to factors such as absence of civil administration in remote areas, collapse of judicial system, exploitations of tribal by contractors and failure of police to provide minimum security to civil populace. In the last four months, the Maoists have killed more than 12 persons by branding them as police informer in Malkangiri district. Local people are a perturbed lot due to frequent strikes called by the CPI-Maoist. The Maoists have been virtually running parallel government by creating a political vacuum by either killing the village headmen or driving out influential persons from the villages. In fact, their domination was visible when aoists called a four-day strike in Malkangiri on May 22 in response to the killing of two of their cadres earlier that month.

Swift preparations made by the Maoists for a strike within a short period indicate their area domination and military capability. The Greyhound troops entered into that area three days before the attack, even as the Maoists watched their movements. They also knew about their return route as the greyhound troops earlier requested for a mechanized boat from the irrigation department to cross the reservoir. Similarly, the June 16 incident happened when a Landmine Protection Vehicle (LPV) was carrying the SOG personnel was on its way from MV 126 to MV-41. The SOG personnel were returning from the place where the house of a BJP leader was attacked by the Maoists the previous night.

The similarities of these two incidents indicate a new tactic being adopted by the Maoists – of letting the forces to get into the liberated areas and attack them on their exit. Since the Maoists are well aware about topography, they can attack very easily once the enemy is in their territory. In the last incident, they had deliberately created some violence in that village, because they knew that the security forces would be passing through the culvert. As part of the plan, they did not set up mines while the forces entered into the area so as to convince them that the area was free from Maoist attack. This made the forces complacent and least anticipative of an attack on their return route to the camps. The Maoists have thus taken care to attack the forces when they are most vulnerable and least prepared to counter attack.

The Communist Party of India-Maoist (CPI-Maoist) took a decision at the 9th Congress in January 2007 to develop the movement from the present guerrilla warfare to mobile warfare and urban warfare as a 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 this central policy was executed.

Interestingly, as part of their mobile warfare tactics, the CPI-Maoist Orissa State committee decided against major attacks like the Nayagarh. ‘ambush attack’ on police. They were to more rely on ‘planned guerilla’ attacks, to be undertaken almost every other day. The plan is to engage security forces on a day-to-day basis by either killing someone or attacking 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. Company level formation is delayed due to shortage of dedicated armed cadres in Orissa. It is learnt that the central committee has deputed around 200 Maoist cadres from Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh to Orissa for organization 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 Poplur squad. Therefore, the phenomenon reflects an occasional mobile warfare or initial phase of mobile warfare in the eastern provinces of India.

(Nihar Ranjan Nayak is Associate Fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, New Delhi. He can be contacted at [email protected]).