Only 29 members of the highly-reputed Greyhounds counter-insurgency action
force of the Andhra Pradesh Police managed to escape a well-organised ambush in
water laid on June 29, 2008, by a group of Maoist terrorists as a party of 65
Greyhounds was returning to Andhra Pradesh by a boat after an unsuccessful
combing operation for Maoists in the territory of Orissa. Thirty-four Greyhounds
are missing and two others are reported to have been killed. It is not yet known
whether the 34 missing were also killed or whether some of them had been
captured by the Maoists, who have not made any claim so far.
The Greyhounds party, which had entered the territory of Orissa reportedly on information received by them about the plans of the Maoists to hold a meeting, was returning to Andhra Pradesh in a single motorised boat belonging to the Balimela hydel project. They were returning by the Sileru river. As the boat entered the Balimela reservoir in the territory of Orissa created by the hydel project, it was attacked by an unknown number of Maoists, who had taken up position on the surrounding hills. The Greyhounds, who were taken by surprise, tried to retaliate, but their return fire against the Maoists located on the hills above the reservoir was ineffective. The boat kept moving despite initially being hit by some bullets, but capsized after having been hit by one or more grenades thrown or fired from a launcher by the Maoists. All on board jumped into the water. While some swam to safety, others were not lucky. Their final fate is not yet known.
The boat had a three-member crew one of whom fell into the hands of the Maoists, but they released him unharmed. His interview by Suryanarayan Pattnaik of the Times of India (July 1,2008) gives the most authentic account of the ambush. He is quoted as saying in the interview:
"We were three staff in the boat that belongs to the Balimela hydro project. On Saturday (June 28) evening, we were just told to be ready to leave for some place the next day. We did not know the destination. Around 4 AM on Sunday, two policemen from Chiltrakonda police station came and we five left for Janbai to bring Greyhound personnel of AP. We came to know that they had gone to Papermetla in Orissa three days ago on an anti-Maoist operation. We reached Janbai where the Greyhounds policemen boarded the boat. We were 65 people on board then and left Janbai. The boat had hardly gone about 5 to 7 Kms when the Maoists started firing on the boat. While the boat was crossing a narrow waterway, one bullet hit it. Before the Greyhounds could act, the Maoists from the hills rained bullets on the boat. Though a few policemen retaliated, it bore little fruit.The Maoists then hurled grenades on the boat. A part of the vessel was damaged. The boat started sinking. We were helpless and all of us started jumping into the water to save our lives. I also jumped out of the boat. While I was swimming towards the bank, I desperately shouted that I was a civilian. My screaming worked. The extremists stopped firing at me, but they asked me to swim towards them. They were six in number, including two women. All were heavily armed. They took me into the deep forests of Gunupur hill. They grilled me for a few hours. After some time, they told me they would release me on condition that I should never help policemen in future."
From his account, the following facts emerge:
- The Greyhounds party had gone into Orissa three days before the ambush. It is not clear how they went---by another boat or by road
- Three days of combing in Orissa territory did not lead to any Maoists. They decided to return to Andhra Pradesh. A request for a boat of the hydel project was made the previous night through the Orissa Police, but the project authorities were not told that the boat was for the Greyhounds. But since the request came through the Orissa Police, anyone aware of this should not have had any difficulty in guessing that the boat was being requisitioned for the travel of a police party.
- The number of Maoists who successfully laid the ambush was small. They were not in their hundreds as reported by sections of the media.
- The boatman did not find any Greyhounds personnel in the custody of the team of six Maoists, who captured and released him after interrogation. It is possible there were other Maoist groups in the area, which had also participated in the ambush of which the boatman was not aware.
Another Times of India report had stated that the Greyhounds had gone into Orissa on receiving information that the Maoists were to hold a meeting in Orissa territory. It is not clear whether the Greyhounds received this information from one of their sources or from the Orissa police.
Whatever be the case, it is evident that certain omissions of security
precautions by the Greyhounds enabled the Maoists to mount this successful
ambush. Since the Greyhounds were on an unsuccessful combing operation in Orissa
territory for three days, while planning for their return to their base in
Andhra Pradesh they should have taken into account the possibility that the
Maoists would have come to know of their presence in Orissa territory and would
be waiting for their return in order to mount an ambush. There was also a
possibility of a leak of their return plans the previous night when the boatmen
were alerted to be ready to take a party to Andhra Pradesh early in the morning.
These factors necessitated two precautions: Stationing of police parties on land on the surrounding hill tops as the boat was moving to prevent any ambush and avoiding the entire party of about 65 travelling by one boat at the same time. In an ambush on land, a police party, if its reflexes are good, has a reasonable chance of re-grouping and retaliating when ambushed. When ambushed on water particularly from a height, the chances of re-grouping and retaliating are low and nil if the boat is hit and capsizes.
This ambush is definitely a set-back for the Greyhounds, but this need not dent their reputation as one of the best counter-insurgency police forces in India.Set-backs cannot always be avoided. The difference between a good force and a not so good force is that a good force learns from its mistakes and avoids repeating them. A not so good force does not. Being a good force, one can expect that the Greyhounds will draw the right lessons for their future operations.
The audacious manner in which the Maoists successfully mounted this ambush of a water-borne police party speaks of their continuing motivation, excellent reflexes and ability to plan and execute operations at short notice. The jihadi terrorism outside Kashmir is mainly urban terrorism. The Maoist terrorism is mainly rural terrorism. The jihadis attack hard and soft targets, the security forces as well as innocent civilians. Their attacks on civilians are indiscriminate. The Maoists focus on hard targets from the security forces and their perceived class enemies. Their terrorism is well-calibrated and selective in order not to create feelings of revulsion against them in the minds of the public. The muted public reaction to the Maoist ambush is indicative of the success of their methods.
The Greyhounds have become a legend with the police forces in the states affected by Maoist insurgency. There has been a lot of public adulation of the Greyhounds. As a result, the Andhra Pradesh Police have acquired the conviction that such forces are the real answer to terrorism. After a number of jihadi acts of terrorism in Hyderabad last year, the Andhra Pradesh police decided to raise a separate, but similar force tailor-made to deal with the urban jihadi terrorism. It has been named the Octopus.
The AP Police seem to have a fascination for such esoteric names for their special forces. Such forces alone cannot effectively deal with terrorism unless complemented by skillful political handling of the public grievances that give rise to terrorism and strengthening traditional policing in matters like urban and rural patrolling, police-community relations and successful investigation and prosecution of terrorism-related cases. The record of the AP Police in the investigation and prosecution of terrorism-related cases is quite poor. Unless their traditional policing improves, forces such as the Greyhounds and the Octopus alone cannot neutralise terrorism.
12. Annexed are some extracts from the chapter on Maoist terrorism in my book titled Terrorism: Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow published this month by the Lancer Publishers of New Delhi
B. Raman is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of
India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies,