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The May 2, 2011 US Special Forces raid in Abbottabad that killed Osama bin Laden has triggered intense activity in the Indian Special Forces (SF) family. Many of these have been formal reviews, while most others informal discussions. There is almost unanimity across the board about one major aspect: though they have some of the finest men in the world, they are not capable of carrying out an Abbottabad-style raid in another country.
"We are not capable for a variety of reasons, " says Lt-Gen R K Nanavatty, a former army officer closely involved with the evolution of Indian SFs. "For any such initiative, political understanding of Special Forces operations is very important. Only then can you decide on the technology, time, training and other aspects of raising and preparing SFs for such strategic moves. "
A retired SF officer agrees with Nanavatty to say that the Indian political hierarchy has very poor understanding of the value of SF operations. "Special operations (by India) today are controlled by people who do not understand them, " the officer says. "We don't have a national security strategy under which the place and importance of SFs are defined, " he adds.
Nanavatty goes to the extent of saying that Indian SFs have not carried out a single operation that has met a strategic aim. "We have got very good operatives but everything else is missing, " says the retired SF officer. The list includes absence of a dedicated aviation wing for most SFs and lack of technology upgrades.
While there is need for better political understanding of SF ops, which cripples the units and stops them from reaching full potential, the fighting forces are themselves in a growth phase that most observers are unhappy about.
The post-26 /11 expansion of NSG, with hubs in major metros, has not impressed many within the ranks and outside. Insiders are increasingly complaining about "HR issues" that have cropped up because of poor leadership. A few weeks ago in Mumbai, a frustrated NSG soldier fired in the air, but the incident was suppressed. Sources attribute the incident to "poor manmanagement" in the hub.
The NSG expansion has also been adversely affected by the army's refusal to give an adequate number of officers on deputation. This has obviously led to a shortage of officers in the NSG. In fact, many officials have now begun arguing against deputation of personnel to NSG at such frequent intervals. "Let people volunteer for the force, and if they are doing well let them continue for longer periods instead of compulsory shuntouts, " says a former NSG officer. Each of the eight SF units is believed to be suffering from a shortage of about 80 to 90 personnel.
The lack of a cohesive political and military appreciation of SFs and their strategic importance also leads to bizarre decisions. "India is the only country that sends SFs for UN peacekeeping operations, " a serving officer says. He also points out that though India has as many SFs as the US, it doesn't have footprints outside India. This is when the US, UK and other countries have their SFs spread all over the world for intelligence gathering, which is crucial to preparing them for future operations. SF officers and other observers are calling for an integrated Special Forces Command under the direct supervision of the Prime Minister's Office. "Otherwise, we would suffer the ignominy of the kind we saw in 26/11, " says an SF officer. Even as the NSG was waiting for an air force plane to turn up and take them to Mumbai to fight the terrorists, the SF unit of the Special Frontier Force, which had its own aircraft, was sitting idle. "Probably those taking the decision were not aware of it, " says the officer.
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