NEW DELHI: The CRPF chief today said the recent Naxal attack in Chhattisgarh, in which 9 troops on-board a mine protected vehicle (MPV) were killed, was very much "avoidable" and ruled out abandoning the armoured vehicles in anti-Maoist operations.
CRPF Director General R R Bhatnagar, who came back after visiting the blast site in the Sukma district of the state, said while he would not like to go into the details of the case, he has asked the paramilitary formations in these areas to take "all precautions" and continue their operations.
"This was a very unfortunate incident. It was unavoidable. We are now looking into the circumstances as to how the operation was conducted. Whatever corrective steps have to be taken, will be taken. An inquiry is underway," the DG told PTI.
Bhatnagar said MPVs have "lot of uses" and are an asset in the anti-Naxal operations theatre.
He said, that after the first MPV was blown off by the Naxal trigerred improvised explosive device (IED) on the 5-km under-construction road between Kistaram and Palodi on March 13, the men in the second gave a good retaliation to the Naxal squad which was present in the jungles to inflict further casualities on the trapped or injured personnel.
"The second MPV has about 10 bullet shots on its armour.
The troops present inside it effectively retaliated the heavy firing initiated by the Maoists after the blast, as they were well protected," he said.
Bhatnagar said the force had no plans to "do away" with these heavy armoured vehicles when he was asked if they were vulnerable in these operations and lead to mass killing of security personnel.
"There are strategies to use an MPV in anti-Naxal operations how and when to use them. They are useful for reinforcements and countering an offensive like the recent one. You cannot say they are useless," he said.
The DG added that the rationale and requirements behind using the two MPVs on the fateful day are being looked into as part of a Court of Inquiry (CoI) ordered into the incident.
He said he would not like to join issues or get into a blame game as to how the existing intelligence inputs were picked up by the CRPF men on the ground and the visit of the local Superintendent of Police (SP) Abhishek Meena was executed that day.
The Commanding Officer (CO) of CRPFs 212 battalion Prashant Dhar also accompanied the SP and they had crossed the blast site minutes before the explosion.
"We have been working in good coordination with the state police and despite this incident my boys and other forces are as prepared for operations as they always were," he said.
The DG said detection of IEDs was a "huge challenge" for security forces operating in the Bastar region of Chhattisgarh and the CRPF was testing some solutions like ground penetrating radars.
The hidden IEDs menace has killed and maimed hundreds of security personnel over the years in these operations.
Meanwhile, official sources in the security establishment said the CRPF inquiry will look into the circumstances as to how the dirt track was sanitised against presence of landmines on the fateful day, especially after the special jungle warfare team of the CRPF-- CoBRA-- had a morning encounter with Maoists in the same area.
It has come to light, they said, that the state police and the district reserve group (DRG) team apparently sanitised only one flank of the road in preparation of the MPVs that rolled out from the camp around noon to go towards the newly opened Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) camp in Palodi.
Had the roads been sanitised on both the flanks, the IED could have been detected and precious lives saved.
However, it is part of the inquiry to find out if only one flank was sanitised and why it was not done by the CRPF squad and left for other forces to execute, sources said.
The force also lost four AK series assault rifles of the dead jawans and it is understood that the Naxals picked them up as they were flung into the jungles due to the impact of the blast, where the engine of the MPV got tossed to over 80-cms in the air, sources said.
A deep crater was created at the spot and the personnel died due to the impact of the blast, violently hitting against the armour of the MPV and trauma, they said.
They said had the troops in the second MPV, those moving on motorbikes and few DRG and state policemen not been there in the vicinity of the blast site, more damage like mutilation of the bodies of the troops could have taken place.
A total of 11 CRPF men were travelling in the MPV which is understood to have been blown off by Naxals by joining wires of a concealed IED laden with "huge amount" of explosives.