It was a well designed ambush. Three men appeared before policemen in a forest and said they could lead them to a Maoist hideout. Straightaway, 115 policemen walked into a death trap without any strategy or back up, leading to the death of 24 of them.F
A CRPF commander who survived the ambush and returned to Arabore base camp in Konta block of Dantewada district, over 500 km from here, recalled vividly the final moments before the policemen were slaughtered.
The commander told IANS over telephone: 'Once the encounter began Monday afternoon in a thick forest over hilly terrain, policemen were standing in the open and firing indiscriminately while Maoists took shelter on trees and hills with huge stocks of arms and ammunition. Our forces could hardly hit them.
'Initially the Maoists fired a few shots in the air that panicked us all. Then there was a brief silence and we thought they had run away. Some of the forces even started going back to the base camp.
'But all of a sudden they attacked with mortars and AK-47s. The special police officers (SPOs) who were well aware of the local terrain ran away, and the CRPF men who were all outsiders were trapped.'
Sixteen of those killed were from the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), six were SPOs and two were from the local police force, according to Girdhari Nayak, Chattisgarh's inspector general of police in charge of Maoist operations.
The 115-strong force was led by 28 men from the 'F' company of CRPF's 55th battalion. It included 84 SPOs and three local policemen.
Now senior police officers have been forced to change their strategy.
R.K. Vij, inspector general of Bastar range that includes Dantewada district, told IANS: 'Now forces will be sent in the jungles for combing operation with a pre-laid strategy and with a sufficient number of back up forces.
'The reinforcements will also be kept ready in enough numbers once the forces sneak into the forest for a major operation or in the areas called 'death trap for police' for years, mainly in interior regions of Bijapur, Narayanpur and Dantewada districts.'
Even with the help of helicopters, it took the police almost 24 hours to recover the bodies of their dead colleagues. The Maoists repeatedly fired at the reinforcements that entered the forest, first to look for the missing policemen and then to bring the bodies out.
A few of the bodies bore axe marks beside bullet wounds. The Maoists had looted five AK-47s and over a dozen Self-Loading Rifles (SLRs) from the policemen killed. They had also removed the socks and shoes from the bodies.
The police claimed there were casualties among the Maoists as well, but no body has been found. Rahul Sharma, Dantewada district police chief, said: 'The Maoists have probably carried away the bodies.'
This was the second-worst massacre of policemen by Maoists in Chhattisgarh this year. In March, Maoists had stormed into a police camp in Bijapur district and killed 55 policemen.