Thursday, March 23rd, 2023 01:14:11

Special Forces Need Of The Hour

Updated: October 6, 2016 3:50 pm

The terrorist attack at Uri in Jammu and Kashmir which led to the death of 17 soldiers has once again exposed the frailties which India is battling to fix. The death of 17 soldiers is massive loss to the nation and is a slap on the face of India. The terrorist were believed to be sponsored by Pakistanis and managed to enter India despite massive patrolling along the LOC. This attack has deeply angered the whole nation. There is outpouring of emotion seeking retaliatory action from the Indian side. Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently chaired a high-level meeting to review the security situation in Jammu and Kashmir in the wake of terror attack in Uri. Union government is still gauging the option while army has promised that action against Pakistan will be taken at an appropriate time.

India has limited option including military as well as diplomatic. Diplomatic options have been tried before, such as after the Parliament attack in 2001 but has not yielded desired result. Despite international condemnation Pakistan continues to send terrorists to India without impunity. While the clamour for a military strike post Uri is high, India’s armed forces have several considerations to make. Many experts also feel that the “window” for a strike visibly shrinks with each passing hour after an attack, as the international community begins to exert pressure on India to show restraint. A military operation of any kind will no doubt lead to counter strikes from Pakistan, whose military is already under pressure, and drumming up the “threat perception” from India. India will need to be clear about having clear targets and coordinates of terror camps and terror leaders, as any civilian casualties will spark further repercussions.

Traditionally India has maintained a numerical and conventional superiority over Pakistan. However, as the Uri attack and the ones before have shown, Islamabad will continue to leverage non-state actors to target India and undermine its strategic underpinnings. The loss of armed forces personnel also impacts the morale of the men and women who guard India’s external boundaries and form the bulwark of its internal security. While there is no doubt that there were lapses in past attacks and the Uri attack on several levels – intelligence, military and political – it is also an opportunity to redress the lapses in a meaningful manner. The Indian political, military and intelligence establishments must use this opportunity to tell the world that India means business.

With the clamour mounting on the government to retaliate against Pakistan, the idea of making surgical strikes to end the terror camps being operated in PoK ( Pakistan occupied Kashmir) has again got the traction.  People of the country got attracted to this demand when the Indian Army had launched attacks at two points along the Indo-Myanmar border last year, killing several militants involved in attacks on security forces. The operation was a response to the June 4, 2015, attack on an Indian Army convoy in which 18 soldiers of the 6 Dogra regiment were killed. The option of sending Special Forces inside Pakistan to attack guerrilla training camps has been weighed by India, but that could go wrong as Pakistan is not Myanmar.

Elite forces of India

Ranked as the 7th largest country in the world and flanked by a few difficult neighbours, it is definitely a Herculean task to safeguard a country like India. But nothing can be too big a task for us Indians. We know very well how to protect ourselves from terrorists and insurgent attacks. Thanks to the elite Special Forces we have. Here are 8 Indian forces every Indian should be proud of



MARCOS (Marine Commandos) is a Special Forces unit that was raised by the Indian Navy in 1987 for direct action, special reconnaissance, amphibious warfare and counter-terrorism. The training of MARCOS is probably the most stringent in the world with the commandos being tested for physical and mental toughness. Called as the “Dadiwala fauj”, meaning the “bearded army” by terrorists because of their bearded disguise in civil areas, MARCOS are capable of operations in any kind of terrain, but specialise primarily in maritime operations.


Para Commandos

Formed in 1966, the Para Commandos are part of the highly-trained Parachute Regiment of the Indian Army and are the largest part of the Special Forces of India. The parachute units of the Indian Army are among the oldest airborne units in the world. The main aim of a Parachute Regiment is quick deployment of soldiers behind enemy lines to attack the enemy from behind and destroy their first line of defence.


Ghatak Force

True to its name ghatak (which means ‘killer’ in Hindi), this infantry platoon goes for the kill and spearheads strikes ahead of a battalion. Every infantry battalion in the Indian Army has one platoon and only the most physically fit and motivated soldiers make it to the Ghatak Platoon. The Ghatak soldiers are well-trained, superiorly-armed and equipped to handle situations like terror strikes, hostage situations and counter insurgency operations.


Garud Commando Force

Formed in 2004, the Garud Commando Force is the special forces unit of the Indian Air Force. The training for being a Garud is the longest among all the Indian Special Forces. The total duration of training before a trainee can qualify as a fully operational Garud is around 3 years. The youngest special force of the services, the Garud Commando Force is entrusted with the duty of protecting critical Air Force bases, carrying out rescue operation during calamities and other missions in support of air operations.


Force One

Force One came into being in the year 2010 after the deadly 26/11 terrorist strikes in Mumbai. The prime role of this special elite force is to protect the city of Mumbai from terrorist attacks. This force boasts of the fastest response time in the world and responds to a terror strike in less than 15 minutes.


Special Frontier Force

Raised in the aftermath of the 1962 Sino-Indian war as a special force for covert operations behind Chinese lines in the event of another war with China, it was never really used for its intended role and has mainly served as an elite special operations and counter-insurgency force. This covert paramilitary special force operates under India’s external intelligence agency RAW and reports directly to the Prime Minister via the Directorate General of Security in the Cabinet Secretariat. It’s so classified a set-up that even the army may not know what it’s up to.



COBRA (Commando Battalion for Resolute Action) is a specialised unit of the CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force) that was formed to counter Naxalism in India. It’s one of the few Indian Special Forces, that’s exclusively trained in guerrilla warfare. Since its inception in 2008, it has successfully wiped out a number of Naxalite groups from India. Set up with a grant of Rs 13,000 million, it is one of the best-equipped paramilitary forces in India.


National Security Guard

The National Security Guard is India’s premier counter-terrorist force. The NSG provides security to VIPs, conducts anti-sabotage checks, and is responsible for neutralising terrorist threats to vital installations. The selection process is so demanding that it has a drop out rate of about 70–80 percent. The 7500 personnel strong NSG is evenly divided between the Special Action Group (SAG) and the Special Rangers Group (SRG).

Modern warfare changed dramatically after the September 11, 2001, attacks by the Al Qaeda on the USA. Conventional forces began to understand and appreciate the value for specialisation and the use of covert small teams that could be inserted into enemy-held territory to carry out raids or surveillance for strategic gains. This called for an expansion of Special Forces units, demanding high levels of specialisation and equipment. In 1980, following a major debacle in Iran, the US senate had passed an amendment to create the Special Operations Command, or SOCOM – a body that would hold exclusive preserve over the Special Forces. Under the United Progressive Alliance government, a task force set up under Naresh Chandra to re-organise India’s complex security architecture, a similar proposal had been mooted to create a Special Forces Command and consolidate the various units spread out across different service headquarters and ministries. But as the National Democratic Alliance government took over in May 2014, the committee’s recommendations were shelved and the idea of creating a specialised command was never carried forward, but it is hoped that this demand will now be cleared in the wake of the Uri attacks.

But, can India do it is the very pertinent question to be asked here. For this we need to have a precursor of the history of the Special Forces in the country. As Saikat Datta informs at that just before war broke out between India and Pakistan in September 1965, Major Megh Singh, who had been by passed for promotion, had the temerity to approach the Commander of India’s Western Army, Lt Gen Harbaksh Singh, and propose a new concept of warfare that had not been previously explored. Megh Singh, originally commissioned as an Infantry officer in the Brigade of Guards, was convinced that the war could be better fought if they used unconventional means of warfare, where small teams deployed behind enemy lines strategically could influence tremendous outcomes far beyond the size of the teams.

Lt Gen Harbaksh Singh, known as a maverick general open to new ideas, immediately accepted Megh Singh’s proposal. He was at liberty to create a small commando unit that would be deployed behind enemy lines in the war that was coming. If the proposal succeeded, Lt Gen Singh promised, he would give Megh Singh command of a new battalion. That was the start of India’s experiment with Special Forces and behind-enemy-lines activities that would be formalised a few months after the war.

Megh Singh’s ideas weren’t original. Faced with Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s blitzkrieg in North Africa during the Second World War, the British were hard-pressed to put up a resistance. In the melee of war, a young captain, David Stirling, hopped into the offices of Commander-in-Chief, General Claude Auchinleck, to explain his plan. Both Auchinleck and his deputy General Neil Ritchie saw merit and immediately sanctioned his audacious plan. Stirling was convinced that the best way to beat Rommel’s mechanised forces was to create small teams capable of long-range missions behind enemy lines, hitting their fuel, oil and lubricant supply lines, halting the enemy where he least expected to be. The plan worked and the British Special Forces, the legendary Special Air Service was born.


In July 1967, Army Headquarters agreed to create two commando units – 9 (Para Commando) and 10 (Para Commando), the former for the mountains of Kashmir and the latter for the deserts of Rajasthan. Since parachuting was an essential skill, the two battalions were for ensuring administrative made a part of the much older Parachute Regiment. This was done to ensure that the two young units did not face any trouble in terms of procurement, administrative controls and assimilation into a tradition-bound army. In 1987, just before the Indian Army was deployed in Sri Lanka, Army Headquarters agreed to conduct a full-fledged study of the use of Para Commandos. A three-member committee was set up under Brigadier Nico Bahri, along with Colonel Sukhi Mann and Colonel Rustom K Nanavatty. Following the recommendations of the Bahri Committee, Army headquarters officially agreed to separate the para commando units from the conventional airborne battalions. In 1994, the Special Forces Regiment was born with its Regimental Headquarters in Nahan, Himachal Pradesh.

The need for Special Ops Command

The attacks in Pathankot, Pampore and Uri were all in the sub-conventional domain. They were carried out by non-state actors with active help from the Pakistani military leadership.The answer to such attacks, therefore, does not lie in the domain of a conventional response. To do so would be fraught with risks at the military, diplomatic and political levels. A conventional response could also lead to rapid escalation of conflict and lead to many unintended consequences.

As the trio of Lt. Gen. Hardev Lidder, Lt. Gen. Prakash Katoch and Saikat Datta, experts in this domain suggests on that the answer lies in the sub-conventional or the unconventional domain where India continues to lack capabilities. A good way to redress this imbalance is to raise a Special Operations Command, which has been on the cards for several years. This was a recommendation of the Naresh Chandra Task Force set up by the United Progressive Alliance government, which failed to implement it in time. This recommendation, like the one to institute a Chief of Defence Staff, must be implemented forthwith so that it has time to settle in and mature and deliver the capability that India desperately seeks.

Today, the nature of conventional warfare has changed dramatically. Nations seek deniability, as well as the ability to strike at strategic targets far beyond their territorial boundaries. This needs the extensive deployment of Special Forces that can operate in the sub-conventional or the unconventional domain. India needs to think about expanding its ability to strike far away from its shores, at targets that are strategic and also the centres of sponsoring a proxy war. To get this ability, India needs a deliberate and well thought out strategy that will take years to unfold, but can shape the wars of the future.

A Special Operations Command will go a long way in consolidating the various Special Forces units that are dispersed throughout India’s security architecture and serve different masters. In its current stage, the armed forces Special Forces are disparate, with little or no commonality. This has a profound impact on its capabilities. Members of the Special Forces don’t train together, they don’t have the same objectives, and they don’t share the same equipment.

Then, the Special Forces that lie outside the military are under a different command and control, and except for taking officers and troops on deputation, have little to do with the armed forces. The Union Home Ministry has its own Special Forces components that work on a completely different grid. Consolidating these disparate elements and bringing them under a cohesive command and control will dramatically enhance India’s abilities to plan and execute complex special operations far from home.

All the forces that are considered Special Forces or were raised as such must be consolidated under this Command. Specifically, the four original Special Forces battalions of the Indian Army – 1, 9, 10 and 21 Para (Special Forces) – that have gathered considerable experience, expertise and capabilities and can form the nucleus of this proposed Command. The remaining Army special forces battalions can be left to the various Commands to carry out tactical operations. The Navy’s Special Forces, known as the MARCOS must also be placed under this proposed Command, so that they can add their expertise and capabilities. This also creates jointness along with the special operations-capable elements of the Indian Air Force, which will provide the much needed airlift capabilities. But while these will form the nucleus of the Special Operations Command, there are many other elements that need to be added to achieve the capability India needs to respond to sub-conventional threats.

Role of Intel

The mere creation of a Special Operations Command is not adequate unless it is linked to the intelligence apparatus of the nation. Today, the three intelligence services – Intelligence Bureau, Research & Analysis Wing and National Technical Research Organisation – work under different ministries and departments and have no institutional linkages to the Special Forces. Whatever linkages that exist are all at the tactical level and are usually ineffective on the ground. This needs to change if India seeks to create a credible deterrence to the decades of terrorism that it has faced.

But merely bringing intelligence with the Special Forces will not be adequate. Admiral William McRaven, who planned and executed Operation Neptune Spear, which led to the neutralising of Al Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden, has always emphasised that special operations are strategic in nature. They are operations that have an inordinately high political risk, but also equally high deliverables.

For a country of the size of India, with its complex security challenges, this is the interface that can deliver results. The highest decision-makers must have access to the best professional advice from men and women who have dealt with such operations, without having to depend on traditional military hierarchies. This is not to suggest that the traditional military hierarchy be kept out of the loop.

They must be included, but a dedicated Special Operations Command chief must get a seat at the high table to render professional and sound military advice.

 by Nilabh krishna

Comments are closed here.