In The Indian Jungle, Fighting Maoist Rebels With Their Own Guerrilla Tactics

The Indian government is intensifying its fight against Maoist rebels in its central and eastern regions. In the central state of Chhattisgarh, policemen are being trained for jungle combat in real life conditions, learning to kill snakes and rappel from

Indian Special Security Force personnel deployed for anti-Naxal operations (Bharat Rakshak)
Indian Special Security Force personnel deployed for anti-Naxal operations (Bharat Rakshak)
Vanessa Dougnac

CHHATTISGARH - Fight the guerrilla like a guerrilla

This matter-of-fact motto is painted in front of the Counter-Terrorism and Jungle Warfare College. Located in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh, it is the only school of its kind in India. "My work is to transform ordinary policemen into combat soldiers," says Corporal Ponwar, founder and director of the center.

In the vast military compound, assault techniques are taught in real-life conditions: the security forces are trained in the same hostile jungle where the powerful Maoist insurrection operates. The war college is a key tool in the authorities' efforts to counter the guerrilla movement, which is spreading to the neglected rural areas of India, most notably in these tribal forests.

Ambush simulations, assaults in fake villages, patrols and bivouacs in the forest or helicopter rappelling: this is intense, high-level training. 20 000 men have already benefited from these 45 day training sessions. The policemen learn to survive in the extreme heat and the wild forest. "It is very easy to tame a snake," explains instructor J. A. Ansari, who is showing his students how to neutralize a cobra with a stick. "The goal is to teach our men to be confident," he says. And for expeditions, no bulletproof jacket. "We are not about fear but about attack," he affirms, wedging an object between the cobra's fangs to purge the venom.

The Maoist rebels, or "naxalites' as they are called here, are advocating an armed struggle to fight for the poor and the landless in these tribal regions coveted for their mining resources. Indian Prime minister Manmohan Singh has expressed renewed concern about what he calls "the greatest internal threat to the country's security." The rebels perpetrated a series of kidnappings in April, including two Italian tourists who were kidnapped in the state of Orissa and freed some time later. In the state of Maharashtra, a bomb killed 11 paramilitaries in March.

Upping the ante

The rebels remain active despite the deployment of 50,000 policemen in an operation baptized "Operation Green Hunt." According to numbers compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal, since the violence intensified in 2005, the conflict has allegedly caused 5,646 deaths, including 2,339 civilians, 1,481 policemen and 1,826 rebels. Recently, six members of the security forces and a civilian were killed in a Maoist ambush in the center of Chhattisgarh.

"Our men are stronger than the Maoists'," claims Ansari, the instructor. "The difficulty is that they are informed of all our movements. That's why we don't use the roads anymore. Like them, we are going deep into the jungle." And while his students are getting crossfire training, the instructor goes on: "To open fire, we don't follow the usual procedures anymore. Our men spring into action without waiting for orders."

Other steps have been taken, such as using mine-detection dogs or spy drones. Last March, a new confrontation phase was reached with "Operation Haka." For the first time in fifteen years, 3,000 policemen and paramilitaries breached Abujmard, a Maoist stronghold, forcing the rebels to flee into the jungle. The operation's outcome is unclear, with increasingly opaque information coming out of Chhattisgarh. The "fight against terrorism" ostracizes and even criminalizes independent observers. "Operation Haka" nevertheless shows how confident the Indian forces have become.

An escalation of violence

At the CTJW, 600 young men from the Gondi tribe are currently in training. In an amphitheater, a member of the military lays out a history of deadly ambushes. These aboriginal inhabitants are former members of Salwa Judum, a controversial militia created in 2005 by the local government to counter the insurrection. In theory, Salwa Judum and its recruits converted into Special Police Officers do not exist anymore, after being outlawed by the Indian Supreme Court in July 2011. Arming natives has marked an escalation in violence, and organizations such as Human Rights Watch have denounced "an instrument of State terror." But the former members of the militia are now integrated into the regular forces. "They are essential for us. They speak the local language and guide us in the jungle," admits Ansari. In the Dantewada district, the members of the militia and their families --over 15,000 people-- live in refugee camps surrounded by barbed wire, out of fear of Maoist retaliation.

In the amphitheater, the lesson is finishing. In unison, the tribesmen chant anti-Maoist slogans. They swear to annihilate the rebels, who originate from their own villages and their own families, in a militarized region that is tearing itself to pieces, hidden from the eyes of the world.

Read the original article in French.

Photo- Bharat Rakshak

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7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.

But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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