A group of up to 200 militant rebels, both men and women, ambushed a patrol of 44 joint-security officers in India on Tuesday along a remote stretch of forested road in the central state of Chhattisgarh. They emerged from the jungle upon catching sight of the patrol, detonating an IED before initiating a three-hour gun battle that ended in the deaths of up to 20 of the officers. None of the militants have yet been reported killed.
These rebels are Indian Maoist guerrillas known as Naxalities, and they’ve been at war with the Indian government for nearly 50 years. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has described the insurgency as the country’s “greatest internal security challenge.” Naxalite attacks kill hundreds of people in India every year.
The Naxalites are active in more than a third of the country’s 600 districts and are particularly elusive combatants — some factions change jungle hideouts every 48 hours. They control large swaths of the central-eastern area known as India’s “red corridor.”
Their stated aims include the equitable redistribution of land, particularly among landless agricultural laborers, and advocating for the rights of the poor. For some Indians, these objectives have made the Naxalite movement a symbol of India’s enduring economic inequality and its failure to improve the lives of its neediest citizens.
Tuesday’s ambush is the first of India’s election season — it took place not far from Jheeram Gathi, where Naxalites killed 27 people last May in an assault on an Indian National Congress convoy. India will hold the largest election in the world this spring, and there’s little doubt that the Naxalites will make their presence known.