By Brig. Gen. Basant K. Ponwar, Inspector General of the Chhattisgarh Police and Director Counter Terrorism & Jungle Warfare College, Kanker, India
Due to Naxalites’ extensive usage of IED against the SFs, 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. It covered different aspects of what should be looked for like freshly dug up earth, IED composition, connecting wires, mechanisms, power supply and the means used to activate an IED. The whole strategy was based on the idea that we should not let the IED explode, as if it does, lives will be lost.
Over the past years, India was focusing on its insurgency problems in the states of Jammu and Kashmir in the North and in the North Eastern states. Meanwhile, in the heart of India, Naxalites arose and spread over 1/3 of the country, where the writ of the government did not prevail. Their greatest weapon was the omni-present Improvised Explosive Device (IED). The Naxalites, representing almost over a hundred thousand armed Guerrillas, and their supporters have utilised the locally concocted IEDs with devastating effect against the country’s police forces. Having received their training from the LTTE, Naxalites massively raided local mining corporations’ storages to get explosive materials like ammonium nitrate, gun powder, cordex and detonators. Village shops provided the food storage which enabled them to assemble the deadly IED. In September 2005, a mine protecting vehicle with 24 security forces (SF) inside was blown up by a 40kg IED, killing all of them. With the doors being jammed, laser beams had to be used to drill into the metal to evacuate the dead.
The Naxalites, to protect their liberated guerrilla zones as shown on the map below, have laid such IEDs along the incoming routes. From 2005 to 2007, almost a hundred blasts have been witnessed in the area, causing over five hundred fatalities among civilians and security forces, as well as the destruction of a large number of special vehicles, buses, trucks and properties.
In February 2006, Naxalites looted 20 tons of explosive material and 12 thousands detonators, giving them a vast and sustained capability to carry out IED warfare in the sector. The situation that followed was very disturbing. They started to use these explosives to disrupt traffic, to cause casualties specifically among SFs personel moving in local buses. In an incident in Southern Chhattisgarh, 50 were killed and as many were wounded when their bus blasted. They even ventured to make tunnels below tarmac roads on the national highway to prepare IED blasts.
With these conditions prevailing in the sector, a strategy was implemented at the Counter Terrorism and Jungle Warfare College at Kanker and disseminated to the rank.
An IED awareness campaign was launched to educate the police forces in the state as they had encountered the IED for the first time within their service. The training included specific methods of research and things to look for when trying to spot an IED: like freshly dug up earth, IED composition, connecting wires, mechanisms, power supply and the means used to activate an IED. These essential requirements were taught to SFs to assist them in clearing the roads in their ‘Road Opening Tasks’.
There was no mine detecting equipment or Bomb Disposal Squads (BDS) and the experts were recruited from retired specialists from the Army. Mine detecting equipement 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 with anti-narcotics purposes. Fresh trained dogs were bought, handlers were trained and the CTJW College went a step further in training the local street dogs, massively present and available in the country. These dogs came free of cost. The philosophy behind is that a dog’s anatomy is similar, weather he is a Belgian Malinois with totanic names like Tornado, 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 feet deep in the jungle terrain. A new resource was therefore 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 their 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 synergise the effort, local villagers were asked to assist the SFs, to be 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 forth coming to help. This has been made possible thanks to the good relations which have been developed with them: a very essential requirement in insurgency areas is 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 that no IED placement was done under the Concrete, a practice adopted by Naxalites. The entire area of responsibility of SF Battalion is under constant surveillance by foot and mobile patrols.
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 proved to be very effective.
Most importantly SF have been trained in guerrilla warfare to carry out counter Naxalite offensive operations to neutralize the very people who lay the IEDs, ‘the Naxalites’.
Over the last 15 years the above strategy was implemented and gradually IED blasts in the sector started to decline with reduced SF and civilian casualties. Roads became more secure for free flow of traffic; from almost over a 100 blasts per year the figure has come down to 10-15, with negligible human and property casualties. This trend continues. The Naxalites are now surrendering in large numbers, their recruitment has gone down. It is now a matter of time before the Naxalite movement in the country is eradicated and peace and tranquility prevail.
About the Author
Brig B K Ponwar AVSM,VSM, on super annuation was requisitioned by Chhattisgarh government in the rank of Inspector General of Police. He set up the Counter Terrorism and Jungle Warfare College at Kanker in North Bastar, a facility similar to Army’s CIJW School of which he was Commandant in his former posting. During the 1971 Indo – Pakistani war, he commanded an infantry battalion and a brigade in the desert and in the insurgency prone state of Tripura. He conducted the first Indo – US exercise Yudh Abhyas – 1 in the jungles of Mizoram in 2004. He received two presidential awards: Vishisht Sewa Medal (VSM) and Ati Vishisht Sewa Medal (AVSM) for his devotion to duty. Commissioned on 21 December 1969, the Officer is in his 51st year of uniform service to the nation.