A day after Maoists ambushed a contingent of security personnel along the border of Bijapur and Sukma in Chhattisgarh, mutilated bodies of several jawans were recovered from the spot.
Eight of those who died in the encounter belonged to the District Reserve Guard, or DRG. A locally-raised force, the DRG comprises surrendered Maoist insurgents and local tribals, who carry out joint operations with the paramilitary forces in the region.
They have been inducted into the security force because of their familiarity with the terrain, culture, ethos, and local dialects. With an aim to wipe out naxalism from the region, they usually lead the path for security forces during an operation.
However, they are usually the most under-trained force as well.
“The DRG personnel are hardly trained or disciplined to face such an encounter or an ambush,” a senior officer in the Chhattisgarh Police, who has served in various positions in the Maoist-affected districts, told The Quint on condition of anonymity.
The massive operation cost the lives of 22 security personnel, including those from the DRG, the Special Task Force (STF), the CRPF and its elite CoBRA unit.
Out of the 22 killed, eight are from the DRG, six from the STF, seven from CoBRA, and one from the Bastariya Battalion.
Less Trained DRG Force on the Front Line?
On 3 April, when the Maoists ambushed the troops set out on their operation after intelligence inputs on the most wanted Naxal leader Hidma, several DRG personnel were stabbed and shot at from point-blank rage. Their firearms were looted, and their bodies found without pants and shoes.
The senior police officer added, “After the induction, the DRGs are given nearly two months of training in the police lines of the respective districts. But they are not as trained as COBRA, CRPF, or STF personnel. They don’t know what to do during an attack.”
As they lead other security personnel through the interiors of the red zone, they are usually the ones who suffer injuries or face death during the operations.
However, “it hardly gets as much media attention when compared to the death of our CRPF, STF or any elite combat force personnel,” the police officer laments.
On 23 March 2021, a bus full of DRG jawans was attacked by the Maoists with improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in the state’s Narayanpur district while they were returning from a counter-insurgency operation. The blast killed five DRG jawans.
There are many such examples, where reports of DRG personnel killed in action mostly went under the radar.
A DRG personnel, who was handpicked by the Dantewada police, told The Quint that after the induction into the forces, they get a basic 45-day training and counselling by experts.
“After the training, we were sent on patrolling, and based on our initial performance, we were given weapons. Our work is to assist the security forces from the front, but we also fight alongside the soldiers in the battleground.”A DRG personnel
In addition, differences in language, living standards, and habits of the DRG personnel from other trained CRPF personnel also prevent them from fully integrating with the security forces.
The DRG was first created in Kanker and Narayanpur districts in 2008. Subsequently, the other districts – including Bijapur, Bastar, and Dantewada – created their own DRG teams.
According to the state government data, till 2016, the combined strength of the DRG force in the seven districts of Bastar region was 1,700 and the then BJP-led government had sanctioned another 600 posts in the same year.
Lack of Clarity in Command and Coordination?
Talking to The Quint, another senior officer of the Chhattisgarh Police said that besides the lack of proper training during an ambush, the operations (such as the one in BIjapur) usually lack clear instructions and coordination between the various companies.
“Launching an operation of this magnitude with various companies of security forces requires preparation on multiple fronts and proper training. The coordination and clarity in command between the various companies of security personnel is the key during such a massive operation,” the senior officer said.
The security personnel didn’t know whether they were going to capture or kill. This kind of ambiguity in a conflict zone leads to loss of life and sinks the morale of the jawans, he added.
“Each group has more than one commander, who takes charge when the initially appointed commander falls. But this time, there was no planning to develop the leadership chain. The teams comprising the DRG, COBRA, STF, and the Bastariya Battalion acted separately, their commanders giving different orders without coordination confused the entire group which led to the destruction and massacre,” he said.
Time to Regain Trust of Jawans
The region has seen frequent transfers of superintendents of police and additional superintendents of police, another reason attributed to a lack of coordination between the senior officials and their subordinates.
According to government records, between February 2019 and April 2021, the government transferred three SPs and four ASPs of Bijapur. In a conflict-prone zone, such frequent transfers of the senior police officials may lead to distrust among the lower rank officials and personnel.
A senior police official said, “If the jawan will not trust his superior, he will be ill-prepared on the battleground. The senior officials, instead of trying to appease their masters in the state capital, should start working on regaining the trust of their jawans.”
“Small, precise, and incisive attacks in the past have yielded good results while battling the Maoist insurgency and the same could be achieved now, provided the tactics need to be clear and the command straightforward,” he added.
The incident itself is enough to explain the loopholes of the intelligence mechanism, strategy, lack of coordination between the various companies of security forces, and clarity in command to form defence while facing ambush, said the official.