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Can the roofless Commandos protect Mumbai anyway ?

—India’s Black Cats set to become Stray Cats

By Makhdoom Babar (Editor-in-Chief)

ALL that is visible is a blur of black, the glint of metal and then two muffled cracks - shots from silencer-fitted machine pistols. These are commandos of an elite counter-terrorism squad of the National Security Guards (NSG) of India, wearing menacing black hoods
The basic training period at the organisation’s training centre at Manesar, 50km from New Delhi, last ninety days. Only those who complete the entire course successfully are in inducted into the NSG and given further specialised training. The probation grind saps the toughest of recruits and the drop out rate is 50 - 70%.
For starters there is a 26-item, 780 metre obstacle course, with a qualifying time of 18 minutes. If a person completes the course in 25 minutes, he is deemed fit. The best do it in less than nine minutes. The obstacles have to do with heights, horizontal gaps and vertical scaling and are difficult to tackle in sequence. As if this is not enough, there’s a target shooting session at the end of the obstacle course meant to test the aspirants’ performance under severe stress and exhaustion. In the Combat Room Shoot, the combatant enters a dark room, adjusts to the darkness and engages the target with either a torch light or a compatible laser image intensifier - all within three seconds. And not just in darkness but under the strobe lights of a discotheque as well, which are some of the most difficult shots to take. “We train them to take only head shots. And two at a go - the double tap system. It’s to ensure neutralization of the target. In the close hostage-terrorist situations we face there is little scope for body shots,” says Colonel Dutta.
To hone shooting skills the training centre has an Electronic Combat Shooting Range built at a cost of over Rs.1 crore. Divided into 11 zones and spread over 400 meters, a recruit has to cover the distance in six minutes 30 seconds and fire at 29 targets along the way. The target exposure time is between two and three seconds and the targets are of all kinds - vertically rising, popping out, moving and rotating. The faster a person engages the target the more points he scores.
It is not just non-reactive targets that they practice against. In twin room shooting, rival combatants enter contiguous rooms and watch each other’s movements on a screen. They are supposed to neutralize each other by shooting at the screen. The exercise test the combatants’ response time and accuracy under near-field conditions.
The men are also put through a battle inoculation program where they have to stand right next to the target while one of their partners shoots at it. “They have to become used to live bullets flying under their noses. Also the person shooting is conscious that if he misses by even a couple of inches the bullet is going to hit his partner.” says an instructor. They don’t wear the kavach either, a bullet-proof vest, designed by Colonel Dutta himself. The vest can withstand an AK-47 or a 7.62mm carbine shot at point blank range.
Some of them have received additional training in Israel and use weapons like the 9mm Uzi sub-machine gun. The NSG’s weapon of choice is the Heckler & Koch family of 9mm sub-machine guns, the 7.62mm PSG-1 sniper weapon and the H&K 512 12-gauge shotgun. They are also armed with state-of-the-art, day & night, surveillance gadgets and other sophisticated equipment.
Patterned on the lines of the German GSG9, the NSG is divided into two groups; the Special Action Group (SAG) and the Special Rangers Group (SRG). The SAG, which comprises 54% of the force, is the elite, offensive wing with all the members drawn from the Indian Army. The SRG has members on deputation from central police organisations like the CRDF, BSF, ITBP and the RAF. Its primary function is to play a supportive role to the SAF, especially in isolating target areas. For maintaining the young profile of the force, troops are rotated and sent back to their parent organisations after serving in the NSG for three to five years.
The smallest combat unit in the NSG’s counter in the NSG’s counter-terrorist operations is a hit which comprises of five members - two pairs, or partners and a technical support member. Four hits make a team which is under the command of a captain. The number of hits used for an intervention job depends on its complexity and the magnitude of the operation.
NSG members are assigned partners soon after completion of basic training and they train and even go on leave together. But as crack professionals, they are under orders to shoot their partner if he makes a single threatening step detrimental to the security of a VIP. On an average, a commando fires 2000 rounds of live ammunition during practice sessions throughout the year. This is apart from the two months that units have to spend in alert status and for whom it’s a daily stint at the range. “I did more firing in a week of alert status than in my entire 10-year stay in the Army,” says an NSG Officer.
On an average a person fires close to 14,000 rounds over a period of two months in alert. The target strike rate has to be above 85% for a person to remain in the force. But for all this, apart from VIP duty, the NSG has seen few operations, the most notable among them being Operation Black Thunder I and II in the Golden Temple complex in 1986 & 1988 and Operation Ashwamedh in 1994.
Operation Black Thunder I was conducted on 30 April 1986 when the NSG commandos stormed the Golden Temple. Compared to Operation Bluestar in 1984, however, this was a tame affair; no weapons were discovered and nobody was killed.
Operation Black Thunder II was conducted on 12 May 1988 when 1000 NSG commandos had arrived at the temple. Black Cat sniper teams armed with Heckler & Koch PSG-1 rifles with night scope took up positions, including atop a 300-foot watertower. While commandos from the 51 SAG divided into assault squadrons, Special Ranger Groups were used to seal off the area around the temple and for tactical support. On May 15th, the NSG began its attack.
Machine gun fire and rockets were used to cut holes in the temple’s minarets, followed by teargas canisters. Once it was determined that the towers had been abandoned, the SAG used explosives to break holes into the temple basement. By May 18th, all militants had surrendered at the cost of only 2 wounded Black Cats. In mid-1990 an NSG battalion was again deployed to Punjab to confont the Sikh rioters. There they began training the Punjab Police in counter-terrorism. The NSG was raised by the Cabinet Secretariat as an armed force under the National Security Guard Act of 1985. They are popularly known as Black Cat Commandos because of the black nomex coveralls the black balaclavas they tend to wear while in the field and on parade. They also have a superb bomb disposal squad. They have strength of around 7500 personnel.
The NSG is trained in the following; Neutralisation of specific terrorist threats in vital installations or any given area. Engaging and neutralising terrorists in specific situations. Handling hijack situations involving piracy in the air and on the land. Rescue of hostages in kidnap situations. In addition, NSG provides security to high risk VIP’s, conduct anti-sabotage checks of venues of visits/public meetings of VVIP’s and VIP security. It has been reported that an NSG contingent is permanently stationed at New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport for any hijacking scenarios. The NSG is an elite force providing a second line of defense to the nation. They have played a pivotal role in safeguarding the unity of India and have commendably foiled attempts of anti-national elements to tear apart the social fabric of the country. The NSG has maintained an edge over terrorist outfits in possession of latest technology and are considered among the finest special operations units in all of South Asia. However, as Colonel Dutta says, “We are like nukes. The ultimate back-up.”.
Well this all might be right or can be based on great exaggeration. But Colonel Dutta and his NSG Establishment are answerless if asked how can these so-called Black Cats deliver when they are roofless when in it come to live a life> One wonders what can all these training procedures and tactics deliver if these so-called commandoes have no place to live. They might be ready to handle international terror threats in the financial capital of India but India’s these elite commandos must first overcome an older Mumbai problem and what is that? That is finding a home.
According to Indian Daily, The Hindustan Times, by November 15, this year some 250  NSG commandos, or the National Security Guards, will have to move out of the police barracks in Kalina, Mumbai, where they were putting up when they came to the city on June 30 earlier this year. But they have no alternative space to shift into. The plan was for the Central Government to build a hub on a 23-acre plot in Marol within four months —for which the Maharashtra government allotted the plot to them. Kalina and Marol are western suburbs in Mumbai.
The National Building Construction Corporation, which is supposed to build the hub has, however, not yet started work as private infrastructure development firm RPS Infraprojects Pvt Ltd currently occupies the plot. Hindustan Times claims that when its staffers visited the site, they found the plot had several structures like RPS’ offices, a testing laboratory and cement mixing plant, yet no construction.
Additional Chief Secretary (Home) Chandra Iyengar said the government can’t do much. “If NSG accepted the land like that, I cannot comment. Well this reflects how much serious the government of India is in countering terrorism. It clearly proves that Indian government gives a damn to facilitate those who it appoints to counter terror and combat terrorists. In crystal clear way, the Indian government has not cared for giving a proper living conditions to those who are to responsible primarily to protect India and specially the city of Mumbai about which the Indians have already started shouting that the city is bound to get yet another terror attack. The defence analysts are of the firm view that any soldier and particularly a commando cannot give 20% of its abilities to deliver if he does not have a proper place to live and sleep what these NSGs of India are, apparently, going to go through. “There is no match between Pakistan’s SSG and India’s NSG as SSG Commandos have been trained over the years in the most professional guerilla warfare manners and have been given proper official accommodation all over the country right from the beginning while the NSG personnel are just a bunch of street killers who have been given just primary military training and then left in the streets of their country”, asserted Colonel (Retired) Badshah Khan, a former SSG officer when contacted.
It remains a fact that the Indian authorities have started shouting and shouting very loudly that they fear that Mumbai is prone to another high level terror attack from certain terrorists, planning it in Pakistan. However, with the current situation that the India’s top counter terror combatants are facing, one can say that even some underworld Don of Mumbai can play havoc with city as the commandos would just be struggling to find a place to live and sleep. One can just advise the Indian authorities that they should better fix its security loopholes first rather than crying across the world behind the phobias of a terror attack from outside the country.

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