While over the years India was focusing on its insurgency problems in the states of Jammu and Kashmir in the North and in the North Eastern States, there arose in the heart of India Naxalites, spread over 1/3 of the country, where in large areas, the writ of the government did not prevail. Their greatest weapon was the omnipresent Improvised Explosive Device (IED). The Naxalites numbering almost over 100,000 armed Guerrillas, their supporters, and sympathizers have utilized the locally concocted IEDs with devastating effect against the country’s police forces. Having received their training from the LTTE, Naxalites with great ease raided local mining corporation magazines to get explosive materials like Ammonium Nitrate, Gun powder, Cordex and detonators. Village shops provided food storage Tiffins which enabled them to assemble the deadly IED. In an incident in September 2005 a Mine Protecting Vehicle with 24 Security Forces (SF) inside was blown up by a 40 Kg IED killing all of them, with doors jammed. Laser beams had to be used to drill into the metal to evacuate the dead.
The Naxalites, in order to protect their liberated Guerrilla Zones, as marked in the map, have laid such IEDs along the incoming routes. In the period 2005-07 the area witnessed almost 100 blasts in a year, causing over 500 fatalities to civilians, security forces and a large number of special vehicles, buses, trucks and property were destroyed.
In February 2006 Naxalites looted 20 tons of explosive material and 12,000 detonators giving them a vast and sustained capability to carry out IED warfare in the sector. A very disturbing situation had developed. They started to use these explosives to disrupt traffic, cause casualties especially to SF personnel moving in local buses. In an incident, 50 were killed and as many wounded in Southern Chhattisgarh when their bus was blasted. They even ventured to make tunnels below Tarmac roads on National Highway’s to prepare for IED blasts.
With these conditions prevailing in the sector a strategy was drawn out at the Counter Terrorism and Jungle Warfare College at Kanker and disseminated to the rank and file for implementation.
An IED awareness campaign was launched to educate the police forces in the state as they had encountered the IED for the first time in their service. Things that should be looked for were freshly dug up earth, IED composition, connecting wires, mechanisms, power supply and the means used to activate an IED; an essential requirement for SFs to assist them in clearing the roads in their ‘Road Opening Tasks’.
There was no mine detecting equipment or Bomb Disposal Squads (BDS), these were recruited from retired specialists from the Army. Mine detecting equipment was procured from within the country and from across the world. BDS teams were deployed along with SFs.
The few sniffer dogs in the state were trained in Anti-Narcotics duties. Fresh trained dogs were bought, handlers were trained and the CTJW College went a step further in training the local street dogs, available in plenty in the country and that too came free of cost. The philosophy that a dog’s anatomy is the same, whether he is a Belgian Malinois, with titanic names like Tornado or Tsunami, or an Indian Mongrel. A dog is a dog. It was found that street dogs were as effective to detect IEDs buried, almost 20-25” deep in the jungle terrain. A new resource was introduced into the Counter IED operations.
While carrying out road opening tasks, SFs have to move in a V formation to first clear the heights dominating the road of any perspective IED Operator/Naxalites waiting in ambush. Mine detecting teams with its equipment and sniffer dog team move along the road. On IED detection the BDS team destroys the IED. Having cleared the road, pickets are established on the heights. Constant patrolling has to be carried out to keep the axis secure.
To further synergize the effort local villagers were motivated to assist the SFs in being their eyes and ears and report any suspicious activity or digging in the area. This is paying off very well as local population is very forthcoming to help. This has come about with good inter-personnel relations with them, a very essential requirement in insurgency areas to win the hearts and minds of the natives (WHAM OPS).
A drive was launched in the area to seal and monitor all sources of explosives being used by the civilian mining Industry. Movement of explosive was always under escort to prevent looting by Naxalites during the journey. Only government authorized personnel received and supervised usage of explosives.
Constructions of roads, culverts and bridges were given incidental protection by SF to ensure NO IED placement is done under the concrete, a practice adopted by Naxalites. The entire area of responsibility of SF Battalion is under constant domination by foot and mobile patrols.
Suitable UAVs have been introduced to fly over Roads and tracks. Many UAVs have the capability to detect IED, to almost 3-4 feet deep. This asset is proving very effective. Most importantly SF have trained in Guerrilla Warfare to carry out Offensive Counter Naxalite Operations to destroy/ neutralize the very people who lay the IEDs, ‘the Naxalites’.
Over the last 10 Years the above strategy was implemented and gradually IED blasts in the sector started to decline and with that SF and civilian casualties have reduced. Roads became more secure for free flow of traffic; from almost over a 100 blasts per year the figure has come down to 15-20, with negligible loss to life and property. This trend continues. The Naxalites are now surrendering in large numbers, their recruitment has gone down, it is now a matter of time that the Naxalite movement in the Country will soon get eradicated and peace and tranquility will prevail.
Brig. Basant Ponwar is Inspector General of the Chattisgarh Police, as well as Director of the Counter-Terrorism & Jungle Warfare College in India. His presentation is taking place on 14 May at 14:30 during the Session VI “Case-Studies III: Defeat the Network of Terrorist Organizations in Asia – Training and Intelligence Approaches”.