An ex-BSF officer on how to avoid casualties in Maoist areas

Sanjiv Krishan Sood
Sanjiv Krishan SoodMay 14, 2018 | 16:58

An ex-BSF officer on how to avoid casualties in Maoist areas

A couple of months ago, the media reported extensively about an ambush by Maoists in Chhatisgarh's Sukma district in which nine Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel were killed. It is beyond contestation that the leadership, the troops on ground, policymakers, the police and everyone else came together to create this tragedy of errors and they are all guilty of criminal negligence leading to loss of precious lives — especially of trained soldiers.


The worst part is that the CRPF in particular and the policymakers and others responsible for controlling the situation refuse to learn from past mistakes and such tragic loss of life keeps recurring with alarming regularity.

The success of troops of 114 Battalion of BSF in breaking an ambush of Maoists on April 23, 2018 is, therefore, heartwarming and should go a long way in boosting the morale of security forces and blowing to smithereens the impression of invincibility of Maoists.

However, it is equally heartbreaking to note that the national media did not find the story worthy of coverage at the national level!

The BSF unit, although recently inducted, is ably led by commanders who invest in the planning and close supervision of the operations. The aggressive domination of the area carried out by the unit frustrated any attempts by Maoists to realise their antinational activities, making them restless. The ambush planned by Maoists on April 23, 2018 in Kanker district's Mahla-Barkor area was, therefore, an attempt by them to gain moral ascendency over BSF by inflicting heavy casualty.

However, well-trained BSF troops adopted unconventional operational methodology and meticulously followed battle drills to thwart the evil designs of Maoists.


On the fateful day, "A" company of the unit went out for "area domination" operations in the early hours in Mahla-Barkor. The Maoists lay in ambush along the track and waited for the patrol to return, safe in the knowledge that there was no alternate route. A large number of IEDs were planted in a manner that even if the troops managed to escape from the "killing ground", they would have become casualties through exploding IEDs.

The well-trained BSF troops who had invested in studying the tactics of Maoists avoided moving along the track. Instead, they marched on an extended front in what can be termed as the "Y" formation. This took the Maoists by surprise as troops were suddenly charging on them instead of being in the "killing ground", forcing them to open fire prematurely.

This was a signal for their accomplices to activate IEDs, but these also became ineffective because the troops were not in the killing zone.

Only the injury suffered by troops during the operation was in the first burst of fire by Maoists, critically injuring a jawan who received four bullets. Troops retaliated effectively, forcing Maoists to beat a hasty retreat. The critically injured jawan (recovering at Raipur) was rescued by two other brave soldiers by adopting classic fire-and-move tactics.


It is important to highlight that the injured soldier has specially requested his commanders not to inform his family about his condition, lest it should cause undue worry to them.

A tragedy of errors. Photo: Representational/PTI

Contrast this with the spectacle last year of an injured CRPF officer crying uncontrollably on camera, begging to be rescued.

This starkly brings out the difference between the morale of troops in the two forces and the quality of cutting-edge leadership in keeping their troops motivated.

The quality of leadership, training of troops, application of mind by troops and leadership on ground by abandoning routine methodology and aggressive domination of area led to the success of this operation in particular and in achieving moral ascendancy over the Maoists in general.

I must mention one very important factor for the success of BSF in operations against militants, be it in Naxal-effected areas, or Jammu and Kashmir (action by BSF troops in effectively neutralising militant attacks over their unit headquarters located close to Srinagar Airport last year is a recent example) or earlier in Punjab and the Northeast. Maintaining the identity of units is undoubtedly one of the most important factors in ensuring cohesion among troops and allowing both troops and commanders to know about each others' capabilities and limitations.

One major reason for the many setbacks received by the CRPF in Maoist areas is that IPS officers on deputation, plagued by inexperienced and immature policy-level leadership, are not aware of the importance of maintaining cohesion in units.

They had tried to similarly play with the identity of BSF units, but could not succeed due to active opposition by cadre officers and veterans of the force.

By breaking the identity of units in CRPF, ITBP, SSB et al, the character of these forces has been gradually transformed from one of an armed security force to that of the police. By doing this, the edge that these forces enjoyed over the police in terms of operational effectiveness is rapidly diminishing. The government needs to review this policy urgently to ensure the effectiveness of the forces.

I would recommend that the operations of 114 Battalion BSF be studied in detail and good practices incorporated by other forces as well as other BSF units in order to ensure the moral ascendency of security forces over anti-national elements.

My request to the media is also that, as mentioned above, such success stories find some space in the national discourse.

Last updated: May 21, 2018 | 10:45
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