Maoist rebels have launched a series of attacks on Indian forces, killing at least 75 troops, in what has been described as the deadliest single incident in the four-decades-long insurgency.
A team of more than 80 paramilitaries scouring forests near Dantewada, in the central state of Chhattisgarh, came under concerted attack from rebel fighters. The government later claimed that more than 1,000 rebel fighters had taken part in the ambush, though there was no independent confirmation of this.
The government forces were part of Operation Green Hunt, an assault orchestrated by the government against rebels who have been fighting the authorities since the late 1960s.
The rebels – described by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as the biggest single threat to India's security – are standing in the way of development and want to overthrow the state, according to the government. Yet critics say the authorities are engaged in a war against India's poorest people in order to secure highly valuable resources for Indian and multinational companies.
The Maoists, who draw their support from tribal people and Dalits, or "untouchables", say they are fighting to protect the most oppressed. It appears that in yesterday's attack, rebels ambushed some of the troops patrolling near Dantewada, killing at least three of them.
Another 17 soldiers who went to recover the bodies were killed when their vehicle was blown up by a land mine. Rebel fighters occupying positions on nearby hilltops then began firing barrages of bullets down on the remaining troops.
Indian Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said the troops were part of a joint operation involving state forces and paramilitary fighters, but they walked into a trap. "Casualties are quite high and I am deeply shocked," he said.
Yesterday's incident will fuel concerns that the government is sending poorly trained forces to battle the insurgency.