At least 25 CRPF personnel were killed and seven wounded in Chhattisgarh's Sukma district today, the deadliest ambush by naxalites of security forces this year.
The nearly 100-strong CRPF patrol providing security for road construction work came under fierce gunfire from Maoist guerrillas occupying vantage positions, inflicting heavy casualties on the personnel, sources in the paramilitary said.
The naxalites mounted the assault around 12:25 PM in Kalapathar area of south Bastar region, one of the worst-hit by Left-wing extremism in the country.
The area is close to the Chintagufa-Burkapal-Bheji axis, the hotbed of naxal violence which has seen a number of such attacks in the past resulting in high casualties.
"As per the latest report, we have lost 25 men," a senior CRPF officer said, adding the paramilitary patrol was about 99 personnel-strong.
Around 7-8 personnel, who were earlier reported missing, have been accounted for, he said.
President Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Narendra Modi condemned the attack.
"Strongly condemn attack on CRPF personnel in Chhattisgarh; condolences to families of deceased and prayers for injured," the president said in a tweet.
The prime minister tweeted, "Attack on @crpfindia personnel in Chhattisgarh is cowardly & deplorable. We are monitoring the situation closely."
"We are proud of the valour of our @crpfindia personnel. The sacrifice of the martyrs will not go in vain. Condolences to their families," he added.
Read also: Hounds Of Guerrilla War Go For The Big Kill
Home minister Rajnath Singh tonight briefed Modi by phone from Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh about the attack. He informed the prime minister about the circumstances leading to the ambush and steps taken for treatment of the injured personnel. Singh will travel to Chhattisgarh capital Raipur tomorrow. He was briefed on the incident by Chief Minister Raman Singh earlier in the day.
The paramilitary force said in a statement issued in New Delhi, "The CRPF troops replied in a befitting manner but taking geographical position in (sic) their advantage, Maoists succeeded in inflicting loss to CRPF.
"24 brave soldiers were martyred at the battle ground and one succumbed to his injuries while being evacuated to hospital in Raipur."
It claimed,"Considerable number of Maoists are belived to have been eliminated (in retaliatory action by CRPF men) as the tell-tale sign indicate from the ground." However, no bodies of the Leftist guerrillas have yet been found.
The bodies of the slain personnel have been air-lifted to Raipur, where the seven injured are hospitalised.
An injured jawan, brought to a hospital here, said the CRPF patrol was attacked by around 300 Maoist guerrillas.
"The naxals first sent villagers to check our position... I also saw some women naxals. They were all wearing black uniforms and had sophisticated weapons like the AK series assualt rifles," the unidentified jawan said.
He said around 10-12 naxalites must have got killed in the "befitting" retaliation by the CRPF contingent.
Sourav Malik, another personnel who was injured in the attack, said the patrol came under sudden fire from Maoist rebels.
CRPF officials said the ambush set up by the naxals was as deadly as the one on March 11 in Bheji area of the same district where 12 personnel lost their lives.
The company commander, Raghubir Singh, an Inspector rank officer, was among those killed.
The officer said the CRPF patrol, like in the Bheji incident, was sanitising the area where a road is being laid between Burkapal and Jagargunda, when the assault happened.
The naxals were believed to have also looted over a dozen weapons of the slain personnel, the officer said.
All the troops belonged to the 74th battalion of the force depolyed in the area for anti-Maoist operations.
Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh said he was saddened by the attack and was sending Minister of State Hansraj Ahir to Chhattisgarh to take stock of the situation.
"Extremely pained to know about the killing of CRPF personnel in Sukma. My tributes to the martyrs and condolences to their families."
"Spoke to MoS Home Shri Hansraj Ahir about the attack in Sukma. Shri Ahir is going to Chhattisgarh to take stock of the situation," he tweeted.
The officer added Ahir will be accompanied by Joint Secretary (naxal management) in the home ministry Praveen Vashisht and acting CRPF Director General Sudeep Lakhtakia.
Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Raman Singh said he was "extremely distressed" over the attack, as he cut short his Delhi visit and rushed to Raipur.
Another MoS in the home ministry Kiren Rijiju said the incident was a "set back and a big tragedy".
Reinforcements, including CoBRA commandos of the CRPF and its other units, have been rushed to the scene from the nearest camp of the paramilitary force, the officer added.
The incident comes at a time when the country's largest paramilitary force is without a full-time chief after K Durga Prasad retired on February 28.
Union Home Secretary Rajiv Mehrishi also reviewed the situation in the aftermath of the attack at his North Block office.
75 CRPF personnel and a Chhattisgarh police official were killed in the deadliest naxal attack in adjoining Dantewada district on April 6, 2010.