Saturday, May 12, 2012

India's Anti-Maoist Campaign - Defence Report

India’s Anti-Maoist campaign faces training deficiencies, threatens Army strength 

By Jonathan Dowdall, Brussels, Belgium – 4 May 2012

A programme of planned offensives waged by India’s Maoist insurgents, including the 23 April high-profile kidnapping of a senior government official, are increasingly overwhelming India’s under-trained and under-equipped security forces.

“Overall, the situation is grim due to systemic failures in training and procurement for these forces,” Medha Chaturvedi, a Research Officer at the New Delhi-based Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, (IPCS) told DefenceReport.

Between 10 thousand and 40 thousand armed cadres operated by the loosely organised Communist groups, known as “Naxalites,” currently oppose New Delhi rule. They are often supported by local political and militia forces and are estimated to directly govern an area equivalent to 40 thousand square kilometres (25 thousand square miles).

According to official figures, fighting between Naxalite guerrillas and state security forces has killed at least four thousand people since 2007. In the same time period, almost 10 thousand attacks were attributed to Naxalite activity.

That campaign has also focused on assassinating government officials.

The 28 April killing of a district official in the central Indian region of Telangana has led police officials to issue a directive warning all government officials and public representatives to avoid travelling through Naxalite territory.

With the Indian Army recently being called on to back-stop hard pressed police units, sources say the anti-Naxalite struggle also threatens to drain the military preparedness of the world’s largest all-volunteer army.

Regional analysts like Medha Chaturvedi describe the dense jungles of the Eastern Indian States as being an accelerant to insurgency, allowing Naxalite forces to operate with impunity despite the deployment of up to 50 thousand security personnel to oppose them.

Successful anti-Naxal operations in these states, they say, have been few – in between periods of Maoist domination.

Tackling the Maoist insurgency is the task of paramilitary formations such as the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF). Augmented by local state units, the CRPF regularly undertakes operations against Naxalite C2 (command and control), conducting search and destroy missions deep in jungle territory.

Counter-Maoist expert Varun Vira calls these operations a “military centric response.” They are supported by military hardware such as drones and helicopters and span wide areas. During 2009 and 2010’s Operation Green Hunt in Chhattisgarh state, some 20 thousand troops participated.

Yet, these forces lack the expertise to effectively locate and destroy Naxalite fighters.

“The biggest threat is the number of vacancies for trained counter insurgency operations personnel,” Chaturvedi explained. Lacking advanced operational expertise, CRPF and other local formations are often ill-suited for coordinated jungle operations.

This is not for lack of equipment. The Indian Homeland Security budget for 2012 is an estimated USD 12 billion (GBP 7.4 billion), with the fight against Naxal-terrorism assigned USD 1.5 billion (GBP 1 billion).

An Indian defence sector source also confirmed to DefenceReport that Indian paramilitary forces have recently purchased at least six military mine resistant ambush protected (MRAP) vehicles this year – the first order of its kind and a significant capability boost to Indian counter-insurgents.

However, such resources are under-utilised due to a lack of training.

A former senior ranking officer in the Indian Army also told DefenceReport that there are critical skill gaps within anti-Naxalite forces.

There are gaps in training when it comes to applying force against hostile armed opponents, and with respect to handling communications and identifying and avoiding Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs), the former officer explained.

When contacted by DefenceRport, the CRFP declined to comment on its training schemes in Eastern India.

Penetrating the Maoist jungle

In response to these challenges, the Indian Army has been called upon to back-up overwhelmed local forces.

According to an early April report published by Delhi’s Asian Age, the Indian Government has for the first time deployed Indian Army personnel to run a jungle warfare training school in the heart of Naxal-contested territory.

The Indian armed forces, which have an estimated USD 41 billion (GBP 25.5 billion) annual defence budget, are logically placed to counter the anti-Naxalite campaign.

However, there has recently been reason to doubt the effectiveness of such military support.

Local media reported that, in January 2012, a combined-arm seek and destroy operation by Indian Army Heron UAVs and MI-17 helicopter mounted forces in the Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh almost ended in disaster, when previously undetected Maoists nearly downed the assault team.

According to military sources, the cause of the scare relates to the inability of the Heron UAV’s infra-red synthetic aperture radar to penetrate the thick jungle foliage of the Naxalite territory. The Indian Army recently announced plans to purchase an additional 50 of the Israeli made drones, at a cost of USD 220 million (GBP 136 million), to augment its existing fleet of 12.

Paramilitary forces are also accused of using excessive force during anti-Naxal operations.

Maoist sources in Chhattisgarh state say paramilitary forces undertook widespread looting during March 2012’s “Operation Haka” and detained civilians without trial. DefenceReport was unable to reach Chattisgarh state officials for comment on these reports.

Indian Army’s real internal security challenge

Naxalites are operating in some of the world’s most impoverished and politically disenfranchised geographic regions. According to a 2009 Economist report, in the Naxalite-held Dantewada district, 1,161 villages have no medical facilities and 214 have no primary school while the average literacy rate is lower than 20 percent.

This, experts say, has given the Maoist insurgency a socio-economic motivation.

In addition, large amounts of the Government’s USD 27 billion (GBP 17 billion) employment and socio-economic support dispatched from New Delhi is misappropriated at the state and district levels.

This, say experts, only serves to reinforce the Naxalite’s violent methods and its broader anti-government message.

It is a political situation that has only served to complicate any potential strategic solution to India’s internal security issues.

Additionally, as that strategic burden increases, Indian Army troops will not have counter-insurgency training to fall back on anytime soon, adding further cause for concern over the nation’s internal security strategy – a weakness many would agree it shares with its regional neighbours.

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