The worst misgivings of the government are confirmed as the Maoists have struck again in Chhattisgarh. The bodies of 17 security personnel, who had been reported missing last Saturday, have been recovered from the jungles in the state’s ever so volatile Sukma district in the Bastar region.

This time, however, the Left radicals have targeted the state police (familar with the topography) and not the Central paramilitary, which is not expected to be, as illustrated by the Dantewada outrage in April 2016. By any reckoning, it was a carefully calibrated offensive by the Left radicals, once again in the hotbed of Maoist activity.

As it turns out, the statement by Chhattisgarh’s DGP is a pathetic admission of failure ~ “Our men came under very heavy fire for over five hours.” Beyond the heavy casualties must lie the admission that “we are unable to trace 12 AK-47s, one each of UBGL, INSDAS, LMG that the men had on them. We have reason to believe that these were stolen by the Naxals.”

Yes, likely they were. Saturday’s offensive reaffirms that the state security network is perhaps fighting a losing battle against the Maoists, the fineprint being that the killings and looting have caught the police with all defences down. The official version is thus far muted on the critical point whether the Central Reserve Police Force was present when the extemists struck.

The Prime Minister’s tribute to the security forces, saying that their “valour will never be forgotten” doesn’t address the general suspicion that they are not adequately trained to confront the extremists. Not that paramilitary forces have not been targeted; actually there have over the years been more casualties among the CRPF than the state police.

But such Maoist offensives have happened primarily because the central forces are strangers to the terrain. The latest tragedy, after all, points to the lack of preparation to cope with a five-hour onslaught, let alone the loot of armaments. Prima facie, there has been a lack of coordination, of one hand not knowing what the other is up to.

The police did possess Intelligence feedback that Maoists had assembled in the region. And yet the forces did not find any Maoist presence in the area until they were cornered. It turned out to be a surgical strike if you will. The encounter happened within two clearings in the jungle, where the police were herded before being gunned down.

Small wonder that the timing of the strike and the strategy adopted have left the brass shaking their heads in disbelief. It has been yet another setback to the Congress government in Raipur. It will be hard to escape the conclusion that the calm in Chhattisgarh, that punctuates the Maoist offensives, is at best direly deceptive and at worst a phase that enables the Left radicals to fortify themselves. The administration needs to be more seriously riveted to anti-Maoist operations.