Special Forces for Indian Conditions

The debate on Special Forces (SF) surfaces off and on and it dies down without taking it to its logical conclusion. Ironically, the concept has rarely been addressed in its entirety. The concept loses its sheen when discussed in isolation. It remains a theoretical exercise. It has been seen that more often than not, the western model is aped or replicated whether it suits Indian conditions or not. The debate, therefore, remains inconclusive and cosmetic in nature, being far removed from ground realities and needs. The basic issue of the requirement of SF in our context needs to be understood in the correct perspective. Taking SF for Commando Forces needs to be guarded against. The traits / characteristics of SF to act as a Force Multiplier need to be better understood. SF are and have always been synonymous with strategic interests. Strategic interests are at national and global levels. SF if employed in isolation and not in concert with national aims and objectives result in wasting a very potent and scarce resource.  If national level objectives or strategic objectives were concise and clear, then SF would not end up as Commando Troops. For carrying out commando type of tasks, we already have highly trained commando troops at formation levels as well as at Infantry Battalion levels (now called ‘Ghataks’). Thus, some of the issues that need to be debated upon are, firstly, to establish the ‘Need’, ‘Necessity’ and ‘Imperative’; secondly, it’s ‘Quantum’ and thirdly who should ‘control’ them. To understand about these issues in correct perspective, the roles generally assigned to SF are as follows: ·         Prepare the ground for conventional operations. The US SF were employed in northeastern Iraq prior to the US offensive in Iraq. ·         Act as a catalyst.  Allied SF were extensively used in Iraq and Afghanistan.

·         Operate behind enemy lines – covert warfare. 

·         Act as a Force Multiplier in conjunction with conventional operations. To achieve the role, SF soldiers have to be physically very fit and mentally robust. They specialise in unconventional and unorthodox warfare, counter insurgency warfare, counter terrorism operations, commando assaults, deep reconnaissance or intelligence collection forays. SF forte: specialist in water borne operation, scuba diving, underwater demolition, riverine combat, raids along the coastal lines, parachuting, helicopter assaults, psy operations, and raids on land and counter terrorism operations.  To achieve the specialty of SF, the soldier has got to be as calm and motionless as a surgeon, as picky about details as an accountant, as brainy as a scientist, and also be earthly and profane, with controlled violence, a maverick as well as a team player. The concept of employment precludes application in large numbers. SF are generally employed in small teams. Small teams act as fourth generation warfare and are dovetailed into conventional plans at the strategic levels. These teams are usefully used as human tripwire as also part of deception plans at the highest level. Therefore, SF soldiers should be thought of and planned as a weapon system to act as a Force Multiplier. This resource and asset should not be frittered away at tactical levels. The SF have a very comprehensive training curriculum. Detailed planning is required for infiltration plans including aerial insertion. They need to be masters in micro terrain analysis and mission analysis, proficient in metrological survey, well versed with rules of engagement, able to understand demographics and local population, and proficient in dealing with area specific terrorism threats. They need to adjust quickly to the friction and fog of war. For operating deep inside enemy territory, they need to be free fall parachutist, underwater diver, and outstanding sniper.  SF personnel should be expert in escape and invasion.  For strategic employment in an alien land SF soldiers ought to be linguists and experts in memorising maps. The purpose of highlighting the above aspect of SF is to explain in most simple words about what goes into the making of this elite force. When we talk about creating a Division sized force as also creating an SF command on the lines of the US Army, we forget that the US has a global army and has global interests. So far, our strategic thinking is restricted to nations in the immediate vicinity. Therefore, do we really require large numbers of SF?  The quantum has got to be in conformity with our strategic needs. Unless we want to end up employing them as mere commando troops, which is a criminal waste of SF effort and inputs that have gone into training such a force? Apparently, a clear-cut policy on employment of SF at the national level is conspicuously absent and most of the time this very important resource is used to enhance the interest of local commanders. It amounts to augmenting and supplementing efforts at tactical levels and not at strategic levels.

Based on threat perceptions and to protect our national interests, including sea-lanes and economic zones, there is certainly a need to increase the number of SF units from the  existing five. The recent tsunami in the Indian Ocean has brought to the fore new Indian Initiatives. Our reach has clearly been demonstrated. Our future requirements need to be assessed keeping in view the role India will have to discharge as an Asian power This will also cater to the needs of future wars or types of warfare, which envisage increased reliance on SF. 

Since it is a strategic force, control should be exercised at strategic levels. However, for peacetime on the job training, the control could be exercised by theatre commands as hitherto done. This force should be employed under the aegis of CDS as and when it comes into effect. For the time being, the SF should be placed under the CIDS for judicious and timely employment. The ‘Garud’ Force created by the Air Force for installation protection is merely carrying out the function of firefighting i.e. immediate response.  Similarly, the Marcos of the Indian Navy are meant for immediate response in the naval domain. Whether they are the Garuds of the Air Force or the Marcos of the Indian Navy, they are in a true sense, service specific forces to deal with local contingencies.

Therefore, we should not blindly follow the US or UK model of SF. Their needs and interests are much too different.  They are known to fight battles and wars not on their own territory. SF are always employed with a definite plan, whether it is ground preparation or gaining intelligence or psychological operations to achieve strategic objectives. The need of the hour is to equip them with state-of-the-art weapon systems and equipment to improve their mobility and lethality .We need to equip and train our SF to meet our immediate needs, as also long-term needs. Stability and consistency in the strategic thinking is a must .It should not be changed with the change of people at the helm of affairs. Continuity is a must to work on such a concept as the gestation period is long and cost inputs are very high. Therefore, a progressive and consolidative approach is a must.  Thus, there is a need to equip and train the existing assets to the highest standards before embarking on new additions. We have an outstanding existing infrastructure to train SF and we should optimise its utilisation. There is also a need to continuously review our needs and have additions to the existing infrastructure, as training is a time consuming and costly proposition. Prudence, therefore, demands that instead of creating a SF for the sake of having an elite and exclusive force, it better be evaluated based on our strategic interests. The strategic interests will encompass geo-political ambitions, national ideology, and the terrain and demographics of the projected area of operations. Amongst the tasks mentioned earlier, another important task could well emerge if the weapons of mass destruction in our neighborhood fall into the hands of Jihadis. If the need doesn’t warrant a high degree of sophistication it could well be the model being followed by ISI in the state of Jammu & Kashmir and more recently in the Northeast after the fall of the Taliban in Afghanistan. They may call them ‘Jihadis’ but in fact they have done much beyond their mandate in the state of Jammu & Kashmir and are likely to do so in the Northeast. These so called jihadis have changed the Sufiana culture in the Valley and in parts of Doda and Udhampur districts of Jammu & Kashmir. Before 1989, there were no beef or pork shops in the state of Jammu & Kashmir. Both Hindus and Muslims were explicitly following aan unwritten convention. After 1990 the proliferation of beef shops has surpassed all imagination. Obviously, this was done under coercion. This is just one example of Talibanisation carried out by the so-called jihadis. These jihadis have addressed a lot of other areas, which have radically changed the psyche of the peace-loving Kashmiris into a militant mindset. This process has been carried out in a very systematic and deliberate manner. Ethnic cleansing is still being carried out with a calibrated response. The SF model could well be a regular model or irregular model. Even the most disorganised guerrillas in Iraq, though irregulars, are some sort of Special Forces and are playing havoc. A word of caution here, the type of SF should not be mixed up with the type of warfare / tactics being adopted. We must, therefore, decide what type and quantum of SF we need and in what context. The writer is former Commandant, Counter Insurgency Jungle Warfare School, Mizoram. Courtesy: Indian Defence Review, vol 19.4