|#922||27083||November 03, 2012||By V Mahalingam|
The Times of India reported that the National Security Guard (NSG) has pulled out around 900 of its commandos from VIP guarding duties and sent them for training in counter – terror operations as part of their original charter. The news would have cheered the Indian public on two counts. Firstly, guarding of VIPs by trained commandos is a monumental waste, such tasks being within the ambit of local police forces. Personnel from the NSG are specially selected and trained at great expense for a specialised counter terrorism role and using them for mundane security duties was counter-productive. The second count would pertain to the belief that this step would increase the counter terrorism capability and enhance the security of the environment. The latter hope is however misplaced.
Reinventing a role for the Special Rangers Group
The original charter of NSG visualised an organisation consisting of five major units each with approximately 900 personnel besides other minor units. Of these, two were the strike elements designated as the Special Action Groups (SAG), one for counter terrorism and the other on a counter hijack role. These units are capable of interchanging their roles if the situation so warrants. Both these units were to be manned by handpicked army personnel with on ground soldiering experience from the combat arms of the Army. The other three major units titled the Special Ranger Group (SRG) wereto be manned by personnel selected from the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF). These units were meant to provide combat support to the SAGs by establishing cordon or a firm base as deemed necessary.
The hidden aim of inducting the CAPF in the NSG stems from a desire of the bureaucracy and the political class to maintain a balance between the Army and the Police Forces in the elite force. The fabrication of the outfit in the present form was at the cost of the tax payers’ money without any tangible benefit in terms of counter terrorism capability. The absurdity and impracticality of the idea were too overwhelming to be missed or ignored.
NSG is a federal contingency force meant for employment anywhere in the country. Every time an operation is planned, a huge SRG contingent, at least four to five times the strength of the strike elements will be required to be airlifted for establishing the cordon. In certain situations, a cordon may have to precede the surgical strike. Their actions may require police powers and local expertise in terms of knowledge of the area and the local language, all of which the SRGs lack. NSG is dependent on local police for logistic support, follow up investigations, legal actions in terms of filing FIRs, as well as producing witnesses and evidences. The security implications of mobilising such a huge force for a Special Forces operation are manifold. These issues have all along been an impediment in employing SRGs in counter terrorism operations. It is precisely for these reasons, that the assistance of the local Army formation was sought to establish a cordon during the Hazratbal crisis in 1993. They were also not employed during the 26/11 terror strike in Mumbai.
Consequently, at one point in time the SRGs were jobless and the VIP security duties were invented to keep them going as a part of the NSG, a turf requirement. The fact that VIP security duties and Special Forces operations had nothing in common was of no consequence. Now that some of the VIP security duties have been withdrawn, an effort is being made to re-reinvent a role for the SRGs by putting them through the counter terrorism training.
Need for restructuring NSG
NSG’s strength at present is very nearly ten thousand troops with four hubs spread around the country. Two regional centres are also proposed to be raised. Additional squadrons each have already been added to the SAGs and SRGs. Can we equip them with state of the art weapons and equipment? The efforts required to train and maintain the skills of such a large force are colossal.
We still do not appear to have grasped the essence of structuring or employing Special Forces. Strength of these forces does not lie in numbers as the powers that be seem to think. They are not meant to be employed on routine law and order or insurgency situations. It is not meant for neutralising common tactical targets like a militant, a criminal or capture weapons in an insurgency area and that too without any intelligence back up. They are the instruments meant to carry out surgical strike to neutralise or secure strategic objectives and undertake missions of national importance. One of the reasons why this force is losing sight of its raison d'êtrefor creation is its CAPF status as part of the Home Ministry. Their demands for weapons and equipment get diluted when viewed collectively with the other forces. It is time this force is shifted under the Cabinet Secretariat preferably under a body created to coordinate Special Operations.
Hubs and Numerical Strength
Considering the number of operations launched by the NSG since its raising, troops employed in each of them and their time plot, do we really need such a huge force, the hubs and the regional centres? Are they meant to handle both counter hijack and counter terrorist situations? Is it practicable? Will the time gained by positioning the hubs in various parts of the country make any difference in the launching of a major terrorist operation of the type envisaged for Special Forces? Will they improve the counter terrorism capability in the country? Delivering the NSG raising day lecture, MK Narayanan the erstwhile National Security Advisor felt that creating four NSG hubs were redundant and unnecessary.
Time Frame for Launching Special Operations
When a mission is conceived, tremendous amount of effort and time is required to gather process and produce the intelligence inputs needed to launch an operation. Forces require time to study the information, carryout reconnaissance, understand the objective, plan the operation, choose the weapon systems for the envisaged task, carry out rehearsals where necessary, deploy their strike elements and protective elements at selected places and be sure of certain critical issues before carrying out the strike. The strike will always be at a time of their choosing for tactical reasons. Operations cannot be rushed or pressure brought on the Force to act instantaneously. There are battle procedures and other means available to gain time in situations like the 26/11 which needs to be applied scientifically and diligently. Operation “Neptune Spear” conducted by the DEVGRU of the US SEAL to get Bin Laden took over five years to mature and execute. We can take a few lessons from the operation.
Need for Coordination and Support
However talented a special force may be, it needs the support and the backup of the state government, local police and the intelligence community besides the other security forces and agencies within the country. All these elements need to be trained alongside to achieve synergy. An apex body like the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) in the US with necessary authority is needed to requisition and coordinate all the necessary efforts. The confusion that prevailed outside the Taj Hotel in Mumbai during Operation Black Tornado cannot be allowed in the future.
Another important aspect pertains to the leadership of this Force. While junior leaders will have to have adequate operational experience besides professional training, the head of this organisation will have to have practical on ground experience of leading troops and conducting operations at the formation level. Police officers undoubtedly have very good knowledge of law and order and security issues, but lack practical experience in conducting military operations which an Army Officer especially from the Infantry gain right through their service starting from the platoon level. There can be no compromise on experience in a Special Force.
Special Forces cannot be allowed to multiply or bloat the way CAPF have expanded in our country. Turf issues and aspirations of empire building cannot be allowed to determine their role or the structure. Elitism, superior skills, state of the art weapons and equipment and not numbers will dictate the outcome of their operations. These Forces are of no value if they are not supported by every single organ of the country. That will require the creation of an authority to demand, coordinate and employ such resources.
The strike elements in the NSG are as good as, if not better than some of the world’s best Special Forces. Failure to keep politics out in the matter of structuring, training, employing and providing resources to the elite Special Force will cost the nation very dearly at a crucial moment.
Brig V Mahalingam (Retd) is a Defence Analyst based in New Delhi
Views expressed are personal