Indian Special Forces and the Proxy War

By N. Johnson Meetei *

( The aim of this paper is to suggest the NSG (National Security Guards) to be under the command and control of the Army after the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks )

The terror attacks on 26th of November 2008 in Mumbai clearly reminded all of us the neglected and ignored homeland security policy of our country. It has also very clearly demonstrated in a very shameful manner the way we react to such barbaric aggressions. The Mumbai police is highly praised for the sacrifices they made specially in the way they challenged the highly trained and well armed terrorists with their outdated 2nd world war rifles and the worthless bullet proof jackets.

But on the other side, it also tells us about the conditions we presently exist to fight such terrorists with sophisticated weapons and training. If there is a list of countries in the world that has been victims of terrorism and external aggression time and again, India and Israel will surely top the list. Both countries have been affected very deeply in very similar ways. But there is a vast difference in the response of these two countries towards terrorism.

Our country shies away with the idea of using all the sophisticated weapons and resources it possesses to counter terrorism while the tiny nation of Israel uses everything that it has for the same purpose. We are a "soft and considerate nation" but our adversaries are not like us. We are trained for "an eye for an eye" but we don't perform as such. Our well motivated and well trained soldiers finish their career always in the waiting line for orders that comes from never trained and never motivated leaders.

This only lead to more and more attacks inside the country, anywhere, anytime. Geographic considerations of both India and Israel are almost the same. Both countries are surrounded by hostile countries that do not blink an eye when creating support and violent activities. Of course, one argument has always been existing from experts that unlike India, Isreal is not surrounded by militarily stronger or equivalent countries. Very true.

Pakistan is not a militarily weak nation, so as China. We have already faced a humiliating defeat at the hands of the treacherous Chinese in the 1962 Indo-China border war. But militarily, this defeat came as a savior for our country's armed forces. Our political leaders also learnt a very big lesson. We learnt another lesson again after the Kargil conflict. But it seems that we forgot our own history very fast. The 26/11 mumbai attacks have woken up our political leaders again.

We are going for a massive purchase of military equipments again. It seems we react only to situations. Nothing seems to happen until someone throws a brick on the face of our political leaders. In fact we are a regional super power now in Asia along with China only because of the 1962 defeat at the hands of the Chinese. After the war with China, billions of cash was poured into the military so that we don't face another defeat ever again. We went through massive purchase of arms from all around the world.

The outdated weapons and equipments were upgraded in a massive scale. The result of this was the 1965 and the brilliant performance of our armed forces in the 1971 war with Pakistan which led to the creation of Bangladesh. But then we forgot to keep pace with the changing times. We were so blinded by the 1971 victory that we had to pay a very big price in the Kargil conflict in 1999.

We suffered a number of avoidable casualties just because our political leaders did not care to allot funds to buy and install the artillery fire locating radar. In the official report after the war, it was clearly mentioned that we suffered more casualties in direct enemy artillery fire than the casualties in the firefight to dislodge the Pakistani military personnel from our territory. The Pakistanis already had this radar bought from the USA.

All armies in the world are trained to fight a conventional war. India is no exception. But it is high time we accept the reality. India has been facing a war which is not conventional at all. This war is fought not in a battle field. The government calls it as "proxy war" from across the western border. It is a very convenient war for the adversary. It's also a very low cost and very effective kind of war. But times have changed.

India is now in a better condition to deal with this kind of terrorism courtesy September 11 in the United States. Military technology have also changed. Therefore, methods of war will also have to be changed. Even though not entirely, the way we fight a battle depends upon the kind of weapon technology that we possess. Military weapons and battle tactics are "two sides of the same coin". During the Kargil conflict, our soldiers had to face a lot of problems with the then newly inducted INSAS 5.56 rifles.

This rifle is an excellent weapon but during the Kargil war our soldiers had problems with "zeroing" the target and the rifle. Some of the units that fought in the Kargil conflict were new to this rifle. Now the army special forces are equipped with the Tavor. The official name of this weapon is TAR 21 Assault Rifle. Full name is Tavor Assault Rifle 21st century. This rifle was used during the "Operation Summer Storm" in Loktak Lake, Manipur by the Indian Para Special Forces.

Presently we face more threats from suicide bombers and suicide attackers than a full conventional war with tanks, artillery, infantry, warplanes, battleships etc. The USA has been very pro-active in its war policy and development of new advanced weapons and military hardware. Unconventional war calls for a very different kind of warfare fought by small troops specially trained, motivated, and armed with weapons that are different from the regular army units.

In the present global scenario, terrorism has become the most deadly and existing threat to human survival. All nations are slowly taking steps to ensure a terrorism free society. The fundamentalist terrorists have no name, no territory, no sympathy towards human lives. The primary objective of these terrorists seems to be more into taking revenge rather than going for a definite goal.

At the same time, they are also very well trained, well equipped and well financed. The individuals who carried out the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks were no ordinary foot soldiers. They used tactics that are taught similar to the special forces proving very clearly the involvement of the Pakistan's elite special force, the SSG (Special Services Group). Unlike India's NSG being under the command and control of the home ministry, the Pakistan SSG exists entirely under the Pakistan Army. The infiltration tactics of the 26/11 attackers starting right from Karachi in Pakistan till Mumbai were the signature of a very well trained group of commandos.

So now how do we fight such an adversary? In our country, the term "special forces" has become a very confusing term. It seems, after the Mumbai attacks, almost every state in the whole country seems to be putting efforts raising their own "special force". But our political leaders will keep the NSG because we need someone to be blamed for taking such a long time to come to the scene, for being so late, for being so poorly equipped, for all the innocent lives lost due to the delay, for not having their own transport aircraft, etc etc !!

It will be very true to say that our political leaders have a stereotype of depending only on the NSG, ignoring the fact that other anti terrorism assets are available nearby from the army, navy and the airforce. If only we have had a Joint Special Forces Command with a senior level officer from either the army, navy or the airforce in command, there would have been no need to wait for the NSG to come all the way from Haryana or New Delhi to finish the unfinished counter operation from the elite navy MARCOS and the Mumbai Police whose personnel were already on the scene.

Proper instructions or orders from the top level of the central government would have been enough to activate all the elite resources of the army, navy and the airforce. Under no circumstances these three armed forces would have refused to undertake the task of eliminating the terrorists if only the proper authority from the central government would have issued the orders. The reality is that we still do not have a proper command and control structure in place to deal with situations like the Mumbai attacks. It will be very shameful for the citizens of this country to say that the army special forces, navy MARCOS and the airfore GARUD are not trained or equipped to carry out the Mumbai operations.

In any case, let us try to see how we can do better. The NSG functions directly under the home ministry and is responsible for counter terrorism (CT), anti hijacking, hostage rescue etc. The NSG is divided into two components, the SAG ( Special Action Group and the SRG (Special Ranger Group ). The primary task of the SAG is actually the primary objective of the NSG itself such as CT, anti hijacking, hostage rescue etc.

Please consider the fact that all members of the SAG are entirely from the army. On the other hand, the primary task of the SRG is isolation and cordoning the target area. It is manned entirely of personnel from the Central Paramilitary Forces like the CRPF, CISF, ITBP, etc. The NSG also protect VIPs even though they are not officially chartered to do so.

This VIP protection detail is done by the SRG. The SRG role of isolating and cordoning the target area can be done by the state police or any other paramilitary force of the home ministry. This particular role does not have to be performed by the NSG. Therefore it will be much and more better organized if the SRG is separated from the NSG and then merge it with the SPG (Special Protection Group) which has a similar role protecting VIPs.

Because, other than the role of the SRG protecting VIPs, the role of isolating and cordoning target areas can be done by the state police force or the paramilitary forces. Now as for the SAG, as it is already manned entirely by the army personnel, it will be very correct and more sensible if the entire command and control is given to the army.

Presently the SAG wing of the NSG exists in the form of "borrowed time" of the Army personnel. An Inspector General from the police controls the entire NSG (read SAG), which consists of only army personnel. After detaching the SRG, the remaining NSG, then only with the SAG, should become an elite anti terrorism force of the army like the SAS, DELTA Force etc. It is also very strongly suggested that we have a Joint Special Operations Command consisting of the army NSG, navy MARCOS and the airforce GARUD.

But in case if there is a very strong opinion that the NSG should be in its present form then we should seriously consider the logic behind keeping and operating army personnel under the control and command of a police officer. Police officers are not trained like the army. It takes an "Army Commander to command the "Army". Many senior army officers, both retired and serving, have expressed views similar to this paper.

After all these, things will be better organized and situations like the Mumbai terror attacks will be dealt in a more faster and coordinated manner. The MARCOS will no longer have to hand over an "ongoing operation" to the "delayed" NSG because if we have the army NSG united with the navy MARCOS and the airforce GARUD under the "Joint Special Operations Command", the responsibility of CT, anti hijacking and hostage rescue will fall under the joint command itself.

Therefore, the handover of responsibility by the MARCOS to the NSG like in the Mumbai terror attacks will no longer exists. As the global security has increased, our special forces will also have to be re organized, re structured and better armed to tackle these threats. The use of our army Para Special Forces battalions like a "Super Infantry Battalion" should be reconsidered. We need to be pro active. We need to be leaders, not followers.

* N. Johnson Meetei ( OSD to the Hon MLA, Manipur Lagislative Assembly, Govt of Manipur) contributes regularly to The writer can be reached at johnson_nus(at)yahoo(dot)com
This article was webcasted on April 09th, 2010.

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