Latehar storm after Maoist lull

National

The audacity of the Latehar ambush, which ended with Maoists implanting explosive devices inside the corpses of CRPF men, comes amid security forces' claims that the rebels are a declining force. What was probably the cruellest ever assault on security forces came at a time police in several states were praising themselves for having contained Maoists.

Over the last 14 months, Maoist violence had declined partly because they had lost a number of their top cadres (see box) to encounters and road accidents, illness and even snakebite and partly because security forces had made significant advances in several regions hitherto considered "liberated". Rather than confront advancing forces, guerrillas preferred to retreat; CRPF men were lulled into a sense of security by the near-zero confrontation during their 10-day Abujhmaad march last year.

It now turns out the Maoists had been regrouping while recovering from those setbacks. Then home minister P Chidambaram had been cautious during his last visit to Chhattisgarh: "It can be considered that Naxal violence is going down, but it could also mean that security forces and Naxals are not engaging with each other." On the other hand, several top officers of the police and security agencies, including Chhattisgarh DGP Ramniwas, had asserted the morale of the Maoists was down and the battle was in its last phase.

The Maoists themselves stress 2012 was a good year for them. "The various tactical counteroffensive campaigns and military actions by the People's Liberation Guerilla Army (PLGA) in the past one year in various guerilla zones had a good political impact," Deoji of the Central Military Commission of CPI (Maoist) said in a yearend statement to cadres. He listed a series of major ambushes in 2012, including the one on the elite CoBRA force in Gadchiroli that left 12 personnel dead. Deoji said 114 cops were killed last year, several of them in audacious attacks.

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