INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM MONITOR--- PAPER NO.406
Only twenty-nine members of the highly-reputed Greyhounds counter-insurgency action force of the Andhra Pradesh Police managed to escape a well-organised ambush in water laid on June 29,2008, by a group of Maoist terrorists as a party of 65 Greyhounds was returning to Andhra Pradesh by a boat after an unsuccessful combing operation for Maoists in the territory of Orissa. Thirty-four Greyhounds are missing and two others are reported to have been killed. It is not yet known whether the 34 missing were also killed or whether some of them had been captured by the Maoists, who have not made any claim so far.
2. The Greyhounds party, which had entered the territory of Orissa reportedly on information received by them about the plans of the Maoists to hold a meeting, was returning to Andhra Pradesh in a single motorised boat belonging to the Balimela hydel project. They were returning by the Sileru river. As the boat entered the Balimela reservoir in the territory of Orissa created by the hydel project, it was attacked by an unknown number of Maoists, who had taken up position on the surrounding hills. The Greyhounds, who were taken by surprise, tried to retaliate, but their return fire against the Maoists located on the hills above the reservoir was ineffective. The boat kept moving despite initially being hit by some bullets, but capsized after having been hit by one or more grenades thrown or fired from a launcher by the Maoists. All on board jumped into the water. While some swam to safety, others were not lucky. Their final fate is not yet known.
3. The boat had a three-member crew one of whom fell into the hands of the Maoists, but they released him unharmed.His interview by Suryanarayan Pattnaik of the "Times of India" ( July 1,2008) gives the most authentic account of the ambush. He is quoted as saying in the interview: " We were three staff in the boat that belongs to the Balimela hydro project. On Saturday (June 28) evening, we were just told to be ready to leave for some place the next day. We did not know the destination. Around 4 AM on Sunday, two policemen from Chiltrakonda police station came and we five left for Janbai to bring Greyhound personnel of AP. We came to know that they had gone to Papermetla in Orissa three days ago on an anti-Maoist operation. We reached Janbai where the Greyhounds policemen boarded the boat. We were 65 people on board then and left Janbai. The boat had hardly gone about 5 to 7 Kms when the Maoists started firing on the boat. While the boat was crossing a narrow waterway, one bullet hit it. Before the Greyhounds could act, the Maoists from the hills rained bullets on the boat. Though a few policemen retaliated, it bore little fruit.The Maoists then hurled grenades on the boat. A part of the vessel was damaged. The boat started sinking. We were helpless and all of us started jumping into the water to save our lives. I also jumped out of the boat. While I was swimming towards the bank, I desperately shouted that I was a civilian. My screaming worked. The extremists stopped firing at me, but they asked me to swim towards them. They were six in number, including two women. All were heavily armed. They took me into the deep forests of Gunupur hill. They grilled me for a few hours. After some time, they told me they would release me on condition that I should never help policemen in future."
4. From his account, the following facts emerge:
The Greyhounds party had gone into Orissa three days before the ambush. It is not clear how they went---by another boat or by road Three days of combing in Orissa territory did not lead to any Maoists. They decided to return to Andhra Pradesh. A request for a boat of the hydel project was made the previous night through the Orissa Police, but the project authorities were not told that the boat was for the Greyhounds. But since the request came through the Orissa Police,anyone aware of this should not have had any difficulty in guessing that the boat was being requisitioned for the travel of a police party.
The number of Maoists who successfully laid the ambush was small. They were not in their hundreds as reported by sections of the media.
The boatman did not find any Greyhounds personnel in the custody of the team of six Maoists, who captured and released him after interrogation. It is possible there were other Maoist groups in the area, which had also participated in the ambush of which the boatman was not aware.
5. Another "Times of India" report had stated that the Greyhounds had gone into Orissa on receiving information that the Maoists were to hold a meeting in Orissa territory. It is not clear whether the Greyhounds received this information from one of their sources or from the Orissa police.
6. Whatever be the case, it is evident that certain omissions of securitry precautions by the Greyhounds enabled the Maoists to mount this successful ambush. Since the Greyhounds were on an unsuccessful combing operation in Orissa territory for three days, while planning for their return to their base in Andhra Pradesh they should have taken into account the possibility that the Maoists would have come to know of their presence in Orissa territory and would be waiting for their return in order to mount an ambush. There was also a possibility of a leak of their return plans the previous night when the boatmen were alerted to be ready to take a party to Andhra Pradesh early in the morning.
7.These factors necessitated two precautions: Stationing of police parties on land on the surrounding hill tops as the boat was moving to prevent any ambush and avoiding the entire party of about 65 travelling by one boat at the same time. In an ambush on land, a police party, if its reflexes are good, has a reasonable chance of re-grouping and retaliating when ambushed. When ambushed on water particularly from a height, the chances of re-grouping and retaliating are low and nil if the boat is hit and capzises.
8. This ambush is definitely a set-back for the Greyhounds, but this need not dent their reputation as one of the best counter-insurgency police forces in India.Set-backs cannot always be avoided. The difference between a good force and a not so good force is that a good force learns from its mistakes and avoids repeating them. A not so good force does not. Being a good force, one can expect that the Greyhounds will draw the right lessons for their future operations.
9. The audacious manner in which the Maoists successfully mounted this ambush of a water-borne police party speaks of their continuing motivation, excellent reflexes and ability to plan and execute operations at short notice. The jihadi terrorism outside Kashmir is mainly urban terrorism.The Maoist terrorism is mainly rural terrorism. The jihadis attack hard and soft targets, the security forces as well as innocent civilians. Their attacks on civilians are indiscriminate. The Maoists focus on hard targets from the security forces and their perceived class enemies.Their terrorism is well-calibrated and selective in order not to create feelings of revulsion against them in the minds of the public. The muted public reaction to the Maoist ambush is indicative of the success of their methods.
10. The Greyhounds have become a legend with the police forces in the States affected by Maoist insurgency. There has been a lot of public adulation of the Greyhounds. As a result, the Andhra Pradesh Police have acquired the conviction that such forces are the real answer to terrorism. After a number of jihadi acts of terrorism in Hyderabad last year, the Andhra Pradesh police decided to raise a separate, but similar force tailor-made to deal with the urban jihadi terrorism. It has been named the Octopus.
11. The AP Police seem to have a fascination for such esoteric names for their special forces. Such forces alone cannot effectively deal with terrorism unless complemented by skillful political handling of the public grievances that give rise to terrorism and strengthening traditional policing in matters like urban and rural patrolling, police-community relations and successful investigation and prosecution of terrorism-related cases. The record of the AP Police in the investigation and prosecution of terrorism-related cases is quite poor.Unless their traditional policing improves, forces such as the Greyhounds and the Octopus alone cannot neutralise terrorism.
12. Annexed are some extracts from the chapter on Maoist terrorism in my book titled "Terrorism: Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow" published this month by the Lancer Publishers of New Delhi (www.lancerpublishers.com ) (2-7-08)
(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: email@example.com )
ANNEXURE ( Extracts from the chapter on Maoist terrorism in my book )
Our Intelligence Bureau (IB), which is largely an urban-based organisation, has very little capability for preventive intelligence collection in the rural areas. We have to depend on the rural police for this purpose. The ability of the rural police to collect intelligence depends to a considerable extent on its mobility (patrolling) and its relationship with the village communities in the affected areas. Fears caused by the frequent use of landmines with devastating effect by the Maoists and the failure of the States to provide the police with adequate mine detection and clearing capability have affected the mobility and rural patrolling. This has also an impact on police-community relationship. A police force, which is not able to remain in regular touch with the villagers, cannot collect much worthwhile intelligence.
The inability of the State to deal with the Maoist insurgency-cum-terrorism effectively so far can be attributed to the absence of a mix of political and operational strategies. The political strategy has to identify and address the root causes of the spreading Maoism. While the spread is alarming, it is not yet out of control. There are still large areas in the tribal belt where the people are not supporting the Maoists and are observing law and order. The State has so far failed to undertake a crash development of these areas, which have not yet been infected by Maoism, in order to prove to the people that they can achieve their justified economic and social objectives through peaceful means, without having to take up arms against the State. Simultaneously, there has to be an improvement in rural policing and intelligencecollection in order to thwart the efforts of the Maoists to bring these areas too under their sway.
The areas, which have already come under the effective control of the Maoists, need a different strategy, with the emphasis more on the professional and operational aspects of counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency than on the political and economic. The objective is to wrest control of these areas from the Maoists. This would be possible only through expanding and strengthening the police presence in the areas, creating in the IB and the intelligence wings of the Police an improved capability for intelligence collection in the rural areas and strengthening the capability of the police and the para-military forces to counter the modus operandi of the Maoists such as their devastating use of landmines.
Concerned over the spread of Maoist terrorism and insurgency, suggestions are increasingly being made for giving the police a military edge through training in jungle warfare techniques etc. We should definitely improve the technical capabilities of the police in matters such as mine-detection and neutralisation, but we should not militarise the methods of operation of the police.
The growing interest in some of our officers----serving and retired---in the highly militarized British and American methods of dealing with insurgency and terrorism needs to be curbed. The former British occupying power in Malaya used and the current American occupying power in Iraq uses highly militarised methods. They were/are operating against foreign nationals in foreign territory and had/have, therefore, no qualms about the kind of methods they were/are using to suppress the insurgency-cum-terrorism.
Our Police and para-military forces are operating in our own territory against our own people. We have to temper effectiveness with self-restraint. We had to use the jungle warfare methods in Mizoram and certain areas of the North-East in the 1960s and the 1970s because of the involvement of Pakistan and China in keeping the insurgency sustained in those areas. We cannot unintelligently use those methods in our tribal heartland in Central India. Modernisation of the police forces' rural counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency capability, yes;but, militarisation, no.
While dealing with the Maoist insurgency, we have to make a distinction between the poor people who have legitimate causes for anger against the State and against those whom they perceive as the exploiting classes of society and the Maoist ideologues, who are trying to exploit this anger to achieve political power through the barrel of the gun. The ideologues must be made to realise that they cannot achieve their objective by using the rural poor as their cannon fodder. The State has to act firmly against them. At the same time, it is important to prevent the rural poor from letting themselves be used as the cannon fodder of the Maoist ideologues. This is only possible through appropriate anger containment and reduction measures. Unless they perceive the State as the protector of the poor and exploited classes and not of the exploiting classes, it would not be possible to wean them away from the Maoist ideologues.
A comprehensive strategy of anger containment and reduction on the one side and better counter-insurgency and security in the rural areas on the other is required. This strategy has to be worked out centrally with inputs from the affected States and co-ordinated in its implementation from the Centre. Such a comprehensive strategy is presently lacking.