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|September 25, 2002|
The Rediff Special/George Iype
One for all, all for one!
The National Security Guards, who swear by this motto, lost a commando during the gun battle with the two terrorists inside the sprawling Akshardham temple in Gandhinagar, capital of Gujarat.
The Black Cats, as the NSG are called because of their black uniform, is India's elite anti-terrorism force.
The Black Cats were set up in the aftermath of Operation Bluestar, when the Indian Army forcefully entered the Golden Temple, the most important religious shrines of the Sikhs, in June 1984 to flush out Sikh terrorists hiding in the temple complex. In the hunt for the terrorists, the Golden Temple suffered considerable damage. It was then that security experts advocated the need for a special force for executing such precise operations against terrorists rather than use the Indian Army.
Established under the National Security Guard Act 1985, the Black Cats are today the country's premier counter-terrorist force conducting anti-sabotage checks, countering hijackings, rescuing hostages from kidnappings, neutralizing terrorist attacks to vital installations, and providing security to important politicians.
"The NSG goes in, strikes, achieves its objectives, and quietly comes back, just like the mythological chakra (disc) which would behead the demons and return to the finger of Lord Krishna," says Nikhil Kumar, who once served as director general of the elite force.
Kumar feels the NSG is one of the finest counter-terrorist units in Asia and the force has acquired great experience from varying insurgency operations, especially in Kashmir, and in Punjab when terrorism was at its peak there.
However, other former officers of the approximately 7,500-strong NSG lament that its role as South Asia's best anti-terrorism force has been eroded over the years because some Indian politicians use the Black Cats as personal bodyguards and a status symbol.
"Ours is the best-trained and dedicated combat force in the country. But our only grouse is that we are being deployed to hunt for forest smuggler Veerappan and to guard some irrelevant political leaders," pointed out one former NSG officer.
The NSG personnel are evenly divided into two groups -- the Special Action Group and the Special Rangers Group. The former is the elite and offensive wing with members drawn from the Indian Army. The latter has members on deputation from central paramilitary organisations like the Border Security Force, the Central Reserve Police Force, the Indo-Tibetan Border Police and the Rapid Action Force.
The crack force has some of the toughest training schedules. On an average, a commando fires more than 2,000 rounds of live ammunition during practice sessions every year. For two months every year, the Black Cats spend on alert status, firing some 14,000 rounds to ensure that their strike rate is above 85 percent. The NSG has set up an Electronic Combat Shooting Range outside Delhi to improve the shooting skills of the Black Cats.
Some NSG operations over the years:
One incident where the NSG was unable to help was the infamous hijacking of Indian Airlines flight IC 814 flight from Kathmandu to Nepal in December 1999. Tragically, the Indian government's Crisis Management Group, instead of authorising the NSG to take action immediately when the aircraft was at Amritsar airport, went into a long huddle. By the time the CMG ordered the NSG to act, the panicky hijackers had forced the aircraft to take off from Amritsar, finally landing at Kandahar, Afghanistan.
Officials say since 1998, when militancy began in Jammu and Kashmir NSG teams have been conducting various combat operations in the troubled state. The NSG mission in Kashmir continues and remains low profile for reasons of security. A senior NSG officer says while the Indian Army is often accused of committing excesses in Jammu and Kashmir, not a single complaint of torture or execution has been leveled against the NSG all these years.
Vinayak Rao, a retired IPS police officer of the Andhra Pradesh cadre, says the Black Cats are one of the best anti-terrorism forces in the world because "we have trained many of them in Israel." Not much is known about this aspect but officers say the NSG gets extensive, sophisticated training with Israel's Shabach.
Rao feels there is a need for more NSG commandos. "Innumerable terrorist attacks are taking place in the country, especially in Jammu and Kashmir, and the number of Black Cats involved in anti-terrorism duty is insufficient these days," he says.
He points out that Punjab today is terrorism free because of the NSG. In the early 1990s, a full-fledged NSG battalion was deployed in Punjab to train the local police. The NSG imparted such sterling combat training to the Punjab police in counter-terrorism that militancy soon disappeared from the state.
"Kashmir is a different case. I doubt the NSG will be of any great use in Jammu and Kashmir," Rao adds.
Design: Uday Kuckian
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