A fierce gun battle between Indian security forces and Maoist rebels in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh has left dozens of causalities, in what was described as the deadliest ambush by rebels in four years.
On Saturday, police said hundreds of officers and paramilitary soldiers raided a hideout in Bijapur district in the tribal-dominated state of Chhattisgarh after receiving intelligence on rebel activities there.
The forces were ambushed while returning from the search operation, police said on Sunday. At least 22 Indian troops were killed and 30 others injured in the attack.
“So far it is confirmed that 22 security personnel were killed,” the state police's Additional Director General Ashok Juneja told AFP. “The search operation is still underway and the exact figure will be known... late Sunday evening.”
Juneja said more than a dozen other security forces remained missing, noting that an unknown number of Maoist rebels were also killed in the hours-long gun battle between the two sides.
He said the Maoist rebels had taken the weapons, ammunition, uniforms and shoes of the dead security forces, comprised of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) elite CoBRA unit and the District Reserve Guard (DRG) and the Special Task Force.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted that the “sacrifices of the brave martyrs will never be forgotten,” while Home Minister Amit Shah wrote on Twitter that India would “continue our fight against these enemies of peace & progress.”
Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel wrote on Facebook on Sunday that Minister Shah had assured him of “all the necessary help” by the government to fight the militants.
The Maoist rebels have been fighting the Indian government for more than 40 years, in a conflict that has killed tens of thousands of people.