Raipur: Bodies of 17 security personnel were recovered from the jungles of Bijapur in Chhattisgarh, raising the death toll to 22 in the worst ever Naxal attack in four years that resulted from an ambush by some 400 insurgents who surrounded the jawans from three sides in an area devoid of vegetation and rained on them machinegun fire as well as IEDs for several hours.
CRPF Director General Kuldeep Singh, who was directed by Home Minister Amit Shah to visit the state, acknowledged that his personnel were "surprised and ambushed" during the attack Saturday that lasted several hours. Other officials in the know of the developments said the forces may have been waylaid by the Naxals.
Out of the total 22 fatalities, the CRPF lost eight men including seven CoBRA commandos while one jawan is from the Bastariya battalion, eight from DRG and five from Special Task Force. A CRPF Inspector is still missing, they said on Sunday.
Some 10-12 Naxals are also believed to have died in the fierce gunbattle that ensued. A total of 31 security personnel were also injured.
Helicopters, which were requisitioned to evacuate the injured personnel, could make the first landing only after 5 PM on Saturday when the gunfire had ended, an official said.
The security personnel took cover behind large trees and kept firing till they ran out of ammunition, he added.
At one location, he added, seven bodies of the troops were recovered and the tree trunks bore bullet marks, indicating that a fierce gun battle took place in the area.
About two dozen sophisticated assault weapons of the slain personnel are also stated to have been looted by the Naxals even as security officials said the search of the area is still on and details are being collected from the ground.
The officials said that an intelligence input had been received that a most dreaded Naxal commander Madvi Hidma was present at Tarrem, an area bordering the Bijapur-Sukhma districts of Chhatisgarh.
Immediately, forces from five different areas -- Tarrem (760), Usur (200), Pamed (195) from Bijapur district, Nimpa (483) and Naraspuram (420) from Sukhama set out on the intervening night of April 2 and 3 and converged at Junagada where they were ambushed by Naxals in a planned manner at 10 am on Saturday the officials said, The gunfight continued till late afternoon and the forces could only evacuate the injured after 5 PM through a helicopter.
Five bodies were recovered on Saturday while the remaining 17 were found on Sunday. All the 22 bodies were taken to Bijapur where medical formalities would be completed followed by a wreath-laying ceremony on Monday. The dead included one sub-inspector, head constables, constables and assistant constables.
Union Home Minister Amit Shah will arrive in Chhattisgarh on Monday to chair a high-level meeting in connection with the Naxal attack in the state's Bastar region that claimed the lives of 22 security personnel, a senior official said.
Shah will reach the Jagdalpur airport (in Bastar district) at around 10.35 am, following which he will attend the wreath-laying ceremony to pay respect to the martyred personnel at the Police Lines here, he said.
It will be Shah's first visit to the Bastar region after assuming the charge of Union home minister, he said.
In Jagdalpur, the wreath would be laid on the mortal remains of 14 security personnel, while tributes would be paid to the other deceased jawans at the Bijapur district headquarters, the official said.
Shah will later chair a high-level meeting at the Police Coordination Centre here on the Left Wing Extremism (LWE) situation. Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel, senior officials of the state police and the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) will attend the meeting, he said.
Shah will then leave for the Basaguda camp of the CRPF in Bijapur in a chopper and will have interaction and lunch with the CRPF and state police personnel there, he said.
He will later go to Raipur and visit three hospitals where the injured personnel are admitted.
The government will continue its fight against the enemies of peace and progress, the home minister said.
Singh, the CRPF chief who arrived in the state capital immediately after the massacre, said that "lessons are learnt" from every incident and they will see and analyse "what changes have been brought by the Naxals" to effectively counter them.
Singh said the Maoists are frustrated and troubled because of the induction of five new battalions in the Bastar region of the state recently and the creation of new bases in remote areas like Basaguda, Silger, Jagargunda and Minpa. He said this process will be speeded up now to launch more serious operations against them.