Malkangiri Encounter: Timely Intelligence Helped Security Forces
It all began on 1 October. The seeds of the ambush on Monday morning that left 27 Maoists dead were sown that Saturday when Maoists summoned people from six panchayats for a meeting deep inside the Bhejingi forests in what is known as the ‘cut-off area’ – a cluster of 151 villages that can be approached from the Odisha side only through the water route.
In a decision that appears uncharacteristically naïve on hindsight, the usually ultra-cautious Maoists ‘hijacked’ two government-run motor boats to ferry people across the Balimela reservoir to the meeting venue and then drop them back to their villages.
For two full days, the two boatmen were at the service of the Maoists and got a sneak-peak into their hideout nestled amid deep forests, and the activities therein.
How The Ambush Was Planned
It was through these boatmen and some of those who attended the 1 October meeting that security forces got to know that G Ramakrishna alias RK, the top-most leader of the much feared Andhra Odisha Border Special Zonal Committee (AOBSZC) of the CPI (Maoist), exhorted people to boycott the panchayat elections in Odisha scheduled for February 2017.
This crucial bit of information was duly passed on by Odisha police to its Andhra Pradesh counterpart after which the tracking of RK and some of his close associates began in earnest.
The Maoists kept sneaking in and out of the ‘cut-off’ area from the Andhra side several times after that, blissfully unaware that their movements were being meticulously followed by the intelligence wings of the police in the two neighbouring states.
The next major breakthrough came six days before the encounter when police got wind of a makeshift training camp being planned by the Maoists in the Bhejingi forests.
While maintaining strict vigil on their movements inside the forest, security forces waited for the event to begin.
The day after the camp began on Saturday, the blueprint for the ambush on the Maoist hideout was prepared jointly by the Andhra and Odisha police, who by now knew the exact location where the camp was being organised.
Early on Sunday, some 70 personnel of Special Operations Group (SOG) and District Volunteers Force (DVF) – the two anti-Maoist units of the Odisha police – moved to the Andhra side on road to join around 80 personnel of the ‘Greyhounds’, the elite force raised by Andhra Pradesh to counter the Maoist menace.
The Odisha contingent avoided taking the water route through the Balimela reservoir since it could have alerted the Maoists and proved suicidal.
Surprise Factor Won the Day for Security Forces
Armed with credible information about the Maoist hideout and the size of the gathering, the 150-strong ambush party moved in for the kill. The team moved in stealthily on foot late in the evening and zeroed in on the camp site around midnight.
Taking a leaf out of the Maoists’ book, they did not engage the enemies immediately but waited for them to retire after the meeting that continued till the wee hours. They finally launched a fierce attack shortly before daybreak when the Maoists were least prepared.
The 50-60 Maoists camping at the site were not only hopelessly outnumbered but also effectively outgunned. The SLRs that a majority of the resting Maoists had by their side were no match for the security personnel armed to the teeth with AK-47s and under barrel grenade launchers (UBGLs).
By all accounts, the surprise factor won the day for the security personnel during this encounter.
A top Odisha police officer closely involved in the operation told The Quint:
Coordination Between Odisha and Andhra Forces Was Near-Perfect
The key to the success of the operation, according to sources in the Odisha police, was timely, effective and actionable intelligence from the ground. Significantly, the most crucial intelligence was provided by local tribals, who have grown increasingly wary of the Maoists in the recent months.
Though the security forces lost a jawan of the ‘Greyhounds’ in the gunfight, it was pretty close to a perfect operation prescribed in the security forces’ manual on how to ambush insurgents.
Given the superior fighting abilities and knowledge of the terrain of the ‘Greyhounds’, the Odisha side apparently did not mind playing second fiddle in the operation.
On its part, Andhra Pradesh too did not seek to claim the entire credit for its success, in a rare departure from the usual bickering over sharing of credit that marks most such inter-state operations.
For the ‘Greyhounds’, it was sweet revenge for the biggest reverse it had suffered on 29 June 2008 when 38 of its personnel were killed in an ambush by the Maoists while they were crossing the Balimela reservoir on their way back to base after a gruelling, three-day long combing operation in the ‘cut-off’ area.
What made it sweeter was the fact that Monday’s encounter took place not far from the place where it had lost 38 of its men eight years ago.
Those tasked with fighting the Maoists say they are constantly on their guard to foil any attempt by the left-wing extremists to regroup and are determined to ‘liberate’ their last remaining bastion in Odisha for good.
(The writer is a Bhubaneswar-based senior journalist )