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Congress party workers pay floral tribute to those killed in Saturday’s Maoist attack in Chhattisgarh at a prayer meeting at the party’s headquarters in New Delhi.
Manish Swarup STF
Congress party workers pay floral tribute to those killed in Saturday’s Maoist attack in Chhattisgarh at a prayer meeting at the party’s headquarters in New Delhi.

Intelligence shortfall will hinder hunt for Maoists who killed 27

Military face difficult hunt for guerillas who killed 27 Congress party officials in ambush. Samanth Subramanian reports

NEW DELHI // A lack of military intelligence will probably undermine efforts to capture Maoist guerrillas who killed 27 people in a brazen attack over the weekend, an analyst said.

The government sent an additional 2,000 paramilitary troops to Chhattisgarh state yesterday to bolster security after Saturday's attack on a convoy carrying Congress party officials.

However, the state's woeful intelligence about the activities and whereabouts of the Maoists make chances of finding any of the insurgents behind the attack slim, said Sushant K Singh, a national security fellow at the Takshashila Institution think tank in Chennai.

"It was precisely that kind of intelligence failure that allowed the ambush to happen," Mr Singh said. "So you could even airdrop in the Navy Seal team that took out Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, but without intelligence, they wouldn't be able to do anything at all."

The 2,000 reinforcements joined a force of 28,000 paramilitary personnel who are already deployed in the state, which has been ravaged by violence between Maoists and government security forces. About 1,900 civilians, security personnel and Maoists have been killed in such violence in Chhattisgarh over the past eight years.

The latest attack was particularly fierce. Survivors told media that nearly 300 guerrillas ambushed the motorcade of Congress party workers and leaders. The Maoists, often called Naxalites after the West Bengal village of Naxalbari where the movement began in 1967, had been looking to kill two politicians in the convoy. One of them, Mahendra Karma - a former state home minister who had set up a controversial anti-Maoist militia group in 2005 - was taken aside and shot more than 50 times, according to reports from survivors quoted in the media.

Also killed were the state's Congress chief, Nandkumar Patel, and his son Dinesh. Thirty-two people were also injured in the attack, deadliest by Maoists in three years.

After the attack, the Maoists melted away into the thick forests around the site of the ambush - terrain that has been their stronghold for years.

Ram Niwas, a top state police official, said yesterday that thousands of troops were working in the "inhospitable terrain" to find the rebels.

"There are hills, rivers and dense forests and the population is very sparse. Searching these areas is very difficult," Mr Niwas said.

The 2,000 extra troops sent by the central government will engage in anti-Maoist activities but will also provide additional protection to political leaders.

But Mr Singh played down the idea that paramilitary troops were on a manhunt.

Most likely, the troops will conduct routine operations to "secure regions, keep roads open, that kind of thing", Mr Singh said.

In fact, the troops sent to Chhattisgarh yesterday had already been assigned to the state this month, but their deployment was delayed, Mr Singh said.

"So calling them 'additional troops' is misleading. It's a political gesture by the government to show that it is doing something."

A team from the National Investigation Agency, created after the 2008 Mumbai attacks to handle terror-related crimes, headed to the site of the attack yesterday.

"I have asked the NIA to launch a probe. The buck has to stop somewhere," the junior home minister RPN Singh said.

India's defence minister, AK Antony, ruled out the deployment of the army in Chhattisgarh.

"There is no proposal on army joining anti-Naxal operations in Chhattisgarh, but we will extend all support to state [government] and paramilitary forces," Mr Antony said.

ssubramanian@thenational.ae

* With additional reporting by Agence France-Presse

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