In one of the deadliest attacks by Maoist insurgents to date, 25 Central Reserve Police Force personnel were killed in Chhattisgarh on Monday.
Some 300-400 Leftist rebels ambushed and outgunned 99 troopers deployed to help with the construction of a road through the Maoist stronghold of Sukma in the state.
This was one of the three biggest attacks on security forces in seven years, and the second in the last one and a half months. In 2013, 27 people, including Congress party members V C Shukla, Mahendra Karma and Nand Kumar Patel, were killed in an ambush by Maoists in Darbha valley (See: VC Shukla, injured in Maoist attack, dies).
On 11 March this year, 12 CRPF personnel of a road opening party were ambushed in Sukma, barely 20km from Monday's attack site.
In a statement, the CRPF said there were "telltale signs from the ground" to indicate that a considerable number of Maoists could have been killed in the gun-battle.
The CRPF said a "road opening party" of its 74th battalion, deployed to provide security for road construction, had walked about 2km from the Burkapal camp in Sukma when it came under attack from all sides in the dense jungle that has been a base of the insurgents. They used their familiarity with the terrain to ambush the jawans around 12.30pm.
The CRPF contingent returned fire and managed to keep the attackers at bay until 1pm. The attackers looted arms, ammunition and radio sets before retreating.
The CRPF personnel had split into two groups. One team had ventured 1.5km deep in the jungle when it came under heavy fire. Eleven jawans died on the spot while six others, including an inspector, were seriously injured.
With rebels taking away their radio sets, the survivors couldn't call for help. The second group, alarmed by the failure of their colleagues to call them at a scheduled time, went looking and walked into the ambush, sources said.
In all, 24 personnel were killed while one died while being taken to hospital. "The troops replied in a befitting manner but taking advantage of their geographical position, Maoists succeeded in inflicting losses to CRPF," the paramilitary force said in a statement.
The attack sparked allegations of intelligence failure.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi called the attack cowardly and deplorable. "The sacrifice of martyrs will not go in vain," he tweeted. Home minister Rajnath Singh, who is visiting Sukma today, said the government has taken the attack as a challenge.