Lessons from the Dantewada debacle: training, not threats - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Thursday 8 April 2010

Lessons from the Dantewada debacle: training, not threats

Brigadier BK Ponwar, who established and still heads the Jungle Warfare College in Kanker, Chhattisgarh. This photo is from his days at the army's Counter Insurgency and Jungle Warfare School

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 9th Apr 10

It has been 44 years since that forgettable incident when New Delhi --- for the first and only time --- used its air force against its own citizens. With the Mizo National Front rampaging through Mizoram in 1966, the government warned that any Mizo who did not relocate to designated safe villages would be treated as a rebel. On the heels of that announcement came the Indian Air Force, bombing and machine-gunning stretches of jungle. Resentment against that indiscriminate killing, in which innocent Mizos died, sustained the insurgency for years thereafter.

Home Minister P Chidambaram’s warning, after the killing of 75 men of the 62nd Battalion of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) in a Naxal ambush on Tuesday was put into context by an alarmed IAF chief, who clarified quickly that air power was a blunt weapon ill-suited for discriminating between insurgent and innocent. Mr Chidambaram’s words, however, linger as a reminder that the Home Ministry still considers --- as it did after the terror strike on Parliament in 2001, and the Mumbai attack of 26/11 --- that bluster and threat are convenient tools for masking abysmal security failures.

The CRPF’s operational debacle has transformed Operation Green Hunt: the hunter now seems the hunted. In the first three months of this year, 42 naxal rebels had been killed in Bastar at the cost of 4 policemen’s lives. In innumerable small operations, the state police and central police organisations (CPOs) had engaged and bested Naxal dalams; after this disaster, Naxal morale will be revitalised.

The Naxals’ dwindling strength before this week was also evident from the statistics of Improvised Explosive Device (IED) attacks mounted by them over the last three years. In 2007, Chhatisgarh experienced 76 IED attacks; the next year, it was down to just 58; in 2009, the Naxals could successfully detonate only 29 IEDs. But Tuesday’s fiasco has made this depleted organisation look powerful enough to have the Prime Minister threaten that all options remain on the table.

A key reason for the CRPF’s dismal response to the Naxal attack has been their lack of training. As CPO units poured into Chhattisgarh for Operation Green Hunt, 5 battalions of the Border Security Force (BSF), 5 battalions of the Indo-Tibet Border Police (ITBP) and 2 battalions of the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) were all put through jungle warfare orientation courses at Chhattisgarh’s well-reputed Jungle Warfare College in Kanker. The CRPF, inexplicably, refused to undergo this training. Neither did CRPF HQ in New Delhi order them to do so; nor did the Home Ministry.

Training at the Jungle Warfare College, as every organisation except the CRPF seems to have known, has underpinned anti-naxal operations in Chhattisgarh since 2005, when the college was set up with the help of the Indian Army. Over the last five years, Chhattisgarh has trained 12,700 policemen (including 3700 from other states) at this institution. The college’s credo: fight the guerrilla like a guerrilla.

A senior official of the Chhattisgarh Police has pointed out to Business Standard that the CRPF has the worst record of all the police organisations that are conducting counter-Naxal operations in that state. “CRPF columns have often got caught in Naxal ambushes; many of the Naxals’ recent successes are against the CRPF.”

Instead of providing adequate training to each battalion that is sent into counter-insurgency operations, the CRPF has relied heavily for success on “elite” units, like its feared “Naga Battalion” which was based in Bastar for several years before being pulled out. In 2008, the Home Ministry authorised the CRPF to raise 10 COBRA (Commando Battalions for Resolute Action) units, for counter-naxal operations. But the regular battalions remain largely untrained, pushed at will from election duty, to counter-insurgency, to patrolling riot-affected areas, to anti-Naxal operations. The Home Ministry’s approach has always centred on getting the CRPF to the trouble-spot. After that, it is left to the harried battalion or company commander to deliver the goods.

The answer clearly lies in carefully training CPOs, especially before they go into counter-insurgency operations. The advantages are evident of stiffening the CPOs by laterally inducting retiring military jawans. Even without that boost forces like the CRPF are better equipped and armed than the Naxals that they confront. It is the Home Ministry’s job to ensure adequate training and then holding the force accountable for debacles like the recent one that sets back a campaign by years.


  1. 26/11 killed almost 5 times the number of people. Their deaths have become a cold statistic, so will this. AKA and PC don't give a rabbit's as* to the lives of the jawans and civilian. Congress govt. will bleed the country to death. Hail Rome.

  2. devindra sethi9 April 2010 at 01:10

    Well written.The Army Chief has clearly indicated pointedly yesterday that the CRPF WAS NOT TRAINED in jungle warfare by the Army.Bluff & Bluster will not work as correctly stated by the author.North Block must accept full responsibility for the debacle, eat humble pie and revert back to the Specialists, the Indian Army for Training.The more you sweat in peace the less you bleed in War.The morale of the CRPF jawan has been shattered and they are openly talking to the media 'about receiving orders from officers sitting in Delhi in air conditioned offices oblivious to the realities on the ground.'That is pathetic, no officers on the ground, leading the troops?? By example notice the naxal leaders, they are in the conflict zones leading their militias.This is partisan warfare, rule no.1, as espoused by Mao Tse Tung.Is North Block unaware of such basics?? They are all talking about war and have they no clue of the first Principle of War.The new Army Chief is an infantry soldier in his first Avatar. The CCPA / CCS need to listen to him or the maoists aims will become a reality sooner than they imagine.

  3. I feel our politicians are directly responsible for the maoist insurgency. However it is the security forces who always have paid the price - whether in Nagaland, Kashmir, Punjab or Srilanka. The maoist insurgency is in its third stage now where the insurgents are getting involved in direct conflict with the security forces. The 62nd Battalion of CRPF was distinctly unlucky to be the target of an maoist ambush. Curbing the insurgency now will be a herculean task and will involve a huge expenditure by the government. Even then it would take decades to solve the problem. What was our government doing when the problem began??

  4. Astutely said Ajai.

    Recently even GK Pillai agreed that training was crucial.

  5. My personal opinion this is a result of apathy of both the politicians and the defense forces.

    Let me start with politicians. They start off the mess. The Naxal movement is result of politics around land ownerships in the late 70's in Andhra.This has spread to other states. The politicians create the mess then call in the defense forces to clear it up. The defence forces who have no option but to use force alienate the people and in the end it is the defence forces who face the burnt of shooting and killing the people it took oath to protect and in return get killed.

    Hence atleast the Army chief saying no to physical army ops is a good sign. Let the politicians with their police cronies clear the mess.

    Now coming to CPO's. Our nation has been involved in COIN for the past 50 odd years. Can I ask the forces what is our investment in COIN in terms of equipments? All we have people who are good in taking on insurgents with a gun. Other than that where is the investment in surveillance systems(like UAV's),anti-mine vehicles,COIN specific small arms,logistics support choppers etc?

    I wonder if our forces have asked for it? Our approach for COIN is exactly how insurgents want us to fight.

    Man for Man!

    For all the bad way US goes about COIN in Afghanistan, at least they have invested heavily in COIN systems, be it surveillance or anti-mine vehicles.

    How much does it cost to develop a surveillance UAV or anti-mine vehicle? Would a man portable UAV with the company warned them of a ambush ahead? sure it would have.

    When we will learn that guerrilla warfare is all about letting enemy not realize what hit them.

    The naxals just showed us. When are going to show them?


  6. If no one understands this yet...governments thrive on problems like this. If they took care of this when the problem started , that would have been one less thing to argue about. And politicians thrive on having more things to argue and talk about.
    And this is true in every phase of life, be it the government or the corporate world.
    Any management, be it the government of a country, or the management staff of a company. thrives on talking about issues, threatening the general public or the employee with talks about either compromised security or reduced benefits if you dont pay more taxes or work harder etc...
    All of this is human nature.
    We are but flawed as a civilization, and flawed in nature.

  7. A well written article indeed.
    The CRPF is nethher trained nor equipped for such an operation. If you see the pictures of the slain jawans you'll notice that most were wearing sports shoes. Isnt it a pity that we dream of becoming a super power and we cant even provide proper shoes for young men putting their lives on the line for us? Even army jawans are seen wearing different camouflage prints.
    On the other hand the Naxalites appear to be a formidable foe. If reports of 800-1000 Naxals conducting the attack are true then they are using batallion level tactics....an indication of sophisticated training probably with help from across the border or maybe even Ex servicemen (Officers) in their ranks.

  8. That officer in the pic looks uber-smart. I hate the fact that they have done away with the good old camo pattern and got some new French looking shit.

    And why the hell doesn't anyone in the Indian army shapes his/her beret any more? Is it something that is soon forgotten after IMA? There is nothing that is worse than a un-shaped beret!

  9. I agree that the CRPF is not very well trained to counter such threats it should be adquately trained and also the intellegence gathering via standard and non standard method should be more appropriate also employ Electronic intellegence gathering methods lets put the AWACS and the Sukhois to test and please get some better armour for the CRPF and as well as the army

  10. You have right identified the real culprits of the disaster - the CRPF officers who agreed and deployed these ill prepared units. the "Army Wannabe" IPS officers in charge of the CRPF should be sacked.

  11. [OT alert]
    Ajai boss, you used to be our LCA undercover agent. All trails have gone cold on LCA, no news anymore!!

  12. Only thing keeping India together is its powerful army. I know I am gonna get hate for saying that, but its true. Third world nations tend to be less developed in terms of nation identity, compared to First World Nation (Spain obvious exemption). You guys always criticise your politicians for failing people, so when the people in this case Tribals decide to revolt the military or allied forces have to step in.

  13. The CRPF has traditionally won urban battles by a mere show of strength, without firing a bullet.

    The Maoists are different. They were clearly down, some say the beginning of the end for them, but this attack will allow them to linger for a while longer.

    There is no way that any organization could ever withstand the might of the government in India. This behemoth will crush it.

    The question is what is the government doing on these two fronts?
    1. A economic package to help the tribals and villagers in the maoist infested belt. As mentioned in BRF, the usual government official is a)Corrupt and b)High handed, the judiciary and court system is a corrupt mess. Even someone as educated and astute as the ones who read this blog will find dealing with government officials difficult, then what hope do common uneducated villagers and tribals have? How does the government reach out to them?

    Until the local government at the level of the SDO, BDO, etc is not reformed, its attitude towards the common people changed, movements such as maoists today (Or some other movement tomorrow) will keep on having traction with the villagers.

    What prevents GoI from implementing procedures at all points where the government machinery comes in contact with the common man, so that procedures are clearly explained, single simple forms are available, that government officials actually visit the areas under their command and regularly interact with the villagers, instead of sitting in district HQs and state capitals. All procedures need resolution in time bound manner.

    GoI's efforts on this very vital aspect that affects the lives of the citizens on a daily basis has been lackluster across governments and political parties. Please for gods sake address this.

    2. There is no question that this unfortunate incident will be a setback for the anti naxal ops. Instead of spending time to witch hunt, I would recommend rolling up the sleeves and re-engaging with renewed perseverence. It is only after such huge setbacks that the issues area revisited and examined closely. I am sure that Dantewada is causing a flurry of meetings in New Delhi to look at things with a mircoscope - issues that have been considered unimportant in the past, that loose ends are being tied up. A lot of good will eventually come about after this.

    But for the brave 84 soldiers of the 62nd battlion, I salute their bravery. May their souls rest in peace, may god give their families the fortitude to bear this terrible loss. GoI and CRPF must leave no stone unturned to ensure that the families don't have to suffer sarkari high handedness after this.

  14. Paramilitary forces like Assam Rifles are better and well trained , have access to better logistic support because the top brass is from army .

    All paramilitary forces should be led by armed forces personnel or there should be a separate cadre for the CPO/ Paramilitary forces , not the ips officers who sing the tunes of their political bosses

  15. Re-validate land held by zamindar's and check if it is truly theirs and not taken over by pushing some peasant. Put a ceiling on land ownership and enforce. How many 1000s of acres do those Andra politician's own?

    Offer subsidies to open factories at the outskirts of maoist areas that can employ men aged 18-35 who can do physically challenging jobs for a pay.

    Try to 'fence' the border with Bhutan/Nepal or wherever the arms are coming from. Mine the whole area if necessary.

  16. Why are we just seeing newspaper articles in this blog???? It is just a repetition of the same stories that you read in the newspapers, specially Business Standard.

    There needs to be more to keep the interest alive on this blog .... i do not feel like visiting this blog coz i know i will find the same story that i have already read. Come on Ajai ... give us something more. The way you used to a year back.....and more pictures too.

  17. as seen in the news reports, the most dangerous obstacles are possibly created by the sizable number of intellectuals and sympathizers who who always seem to save the benefit of the doubt for the maoists.
    an extreme example would be Arundhati Roy .

  18. I was recently referred to Broadsword and I have taken to reading it regularly. You might be interested in a comparison I made between the (in)famous Israeli military blog debka.com and Broadsword. For the full article, see www,orbat.com, April 11, 2010. Here is an extract.

    Debka could be providing valuable insights. Look at the Indian blog http://ajaishukla.blogspot.com - we were told a few days ago it is run by a former tank officer who now writes for a business paper. The blog, Broadsword, has no sensational disclosures about high policy and secret Indian plans or whatever. It is simply solid reporting on practical Indian military matters that no civilian would have access to. What the blogger may not know because he was an armor officer, he carefully learns by talking to experts before he gives his news or his opinion.
    Debka.com could be doing the same for Israel. It's a real shame that it doesn't.

  19. Modern air power is a precision strike instrument (proven in Iraq and standby for the PRTs in Afghanistan, should these small groups moving there come under attack). What is lacking for India is the marriage of persistence in ISR with precision strike. Further, CRPF does not have forward air controllers in their force structure. Therefore, they can never and could never have called for air support when they are under attack.

    Shame of the Indian Air Force (IAF) for saying that the air power is a blunt instrument. It's not. It's faulty thinking on the part of many Indians about air power that is the problem with developing and using air power.

    Air power is more than strike. It can provide mobility. Please ask yourself, what is preventing the IAF (or some other Indian institution) from supplying air mobility via helicopters to quick reaction forces? This is especially frustrating as it is well known that these Maoists use IEDs to prevent the arrival of timely reinforcements.

    This Dantewada debacle is:

    (i) a failure in planning (where's the QRF, when a force is under attack)
    (ii) a failure in intelligence (human intelligence)
    (iii) a failure in ISR capabilities (UAVs)
    (iv) a failure in doctrine
    (v) a failure in providing the necessary training

    The list of failures can go on and on. Only in India will you think that more training is all that is required.

  20. AK, you are half right. The Congress or for that matter any politcal party does not care about the lives of jawans or civvies. However, they do care about votes.
    The votes prove that the mango man does not care about terrorism or the jawans.
    If the Maoist/anarcho-primitivist becomes a vote bank then God help us all. The devolution would be truly underway.

  21. Aerial surveillance could to be game changer in this situation. While the argument is that thick foilage prevents detection, one should remember that the APs (Anarcho-Primitives) move in large hordes which could be easier to detect.

  22. In it something is. Many thanks for the information, now I will know.

  23. I apologise, but I suggest to go another by.


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