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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Could India have pulled it off? A Special Forces Analysis

The world woke up to the news of Osama Bin Laden being killed by American operatives deep within Pakistan, in the affluent suburb of Abbottabad, barely 2 days ago. Operation Neptune's Spear (some say it's Operation Geronimo) was executed clinically on President Obama's orders with no reported casualties on the attacking force's side. I was on a particular forum I frequent and people were bandying about the idea that India (especially India's Naval MARCOS commandos) could have pulled off a similar raid.

Well here's a little excerpt from the rather lengthy reply/analysis I wrote comparing the structure of the USA's special forces unit-organisation to India's. Note that I'm merely analyzing with whatever information is available publicly, not commenting on an individual soldier's ability. Feel free to point out mistakes or give your opinion (as long as it's kept civil) in the comments section below. Just putting it out here since plenty of readers thought it well-reasoned. If nothing else, here's hoping it provides you an interesting read. 

While I'm patriotic, calling the MARCOS the "best" out there would be fallacy. Especially against DEVGRU/SEAL Team Six which was sent in with CIA operatives to get Bin Laden. But they are certainly one of the best if not as good as the SEALs. They don't have access to the same training methods or level of secret facilities or weaponry. The MARCOS are good. But they don't have a specialized Spec Ops air insertion unit like the 160th SOAR (a.k.a the Night Stalkers who I'm pretty sure were involved in the raid a day or two ago) who get the best of the best equipment and practice in the worst weather possible flying at low level. It's not the Navy's fault that MARCOS doesn't have such support but just that they don't have the money or will to develop such an inter-services special ops support force.

Again, there's no reconnaissance unit always around with Indian forces unlike the US which has innumerable spy satellites and Predator drones. Lastly, not enough air support either with the state our Air Force is in. Certainly no AC-130 gunships or attack helicopters. The Indian Air Force doesn't have enough planes for normal sanctioned force strength (hence the current purchasing spree) let alone to spare for a special division.

Also see how our supposedly-elite forces like the NSG are mostly used for VIP protection (unlike the US which uses the Secret Service for protecting high value targets). Instead of using just the Special Rangers Group, often even the elite Special Action Group members are put to this task. Nice way to pull them off their vital training regimens and make them guard politicians instead. Further, they come under command of a police DG, even though their members may be drawn from the Army, unlike the Marcos which is under the Navy.

 Indian navy sailor B.K. Gurung holds his position on the flight deck of USS Mustin (DDG 89) during a visit, board, search and seizure drill April 7, 2007, while under way in the Philippine Sea. The drill is part of exercise Malabar 07-01, a U.S. and Indian naval exercise held off the coast of Okinawa, Japan.

The US however organizes their forces differently. The Spec Ops portion is handled by the SEALs and Delta Force out of Fort Bragg abroad. They probably used Delta Force (SFOD-Delta now ACE) too but they'll never say it because officially the name "Delta Force" doesn't exist even if Chuck Norris plays them :P . On domestic soil, though these operators may be involved, the primary task of such ops goes to the FBI's HRT. Apart from this, to handle emergencies such as terrorist attacks within each city, there's a SWAT Team on hand too. All well equipped.

The CIA in addition to its own Special Operations Group has its "contractors", and I don't mean Blackwater, I mean the kind that are officially not working for the CIA but are usually former operatives of some of the above mentioned units unofficially sanctioned to "do what must be done". So you see, there just isn't anything to match this kinda structure. It's not the Navy MARCOS commandos' fault, it's just that, despite cross-training with the SEALs and the British SAS on several occasions, there is no single JSOC (Joint Special Operations Command) here to take care of the requirements of all these guys or political will-power to give them free rein and an increased budget.

Sad part is they keep increasing the salaries of politicians and giving tax breaks to the BCCI instead of using the money to pay these soldiers who actually sacrifice plenty so that we can stay safe or augment the defense institutions. But no, we forget each terrorist attack after a small candle lighting ceremony. Nothing much is done. The reduction in usage of Black Cats for mere VIP security was marginal, made just in reaction to the public uproar following the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. The NSG (National Security Guards) received equipment upgrades like Non-Skid Shoes and training from Germany's elite GSG-9 only after these attacks, and still doesn't have enough planes and helicopters to achieve the anywhere-in-the-country-within-4-hours mobility that the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team boasts.

Coming to the question of whether a country like Pakistan would take kindly to a strategic commando strike by India, it would probably end up escalating things to an almost war-like state. They'll use that "intrusion" as an excuse if India tries it. The Americans are kinda expected to take shots within the country so unless the Pakistanis got tipped off about them going after OsamaCO's head. Plus they're throwing billions of dollars worth of aid at Pakistan which no one else is doing.

There was some reporter on TV quizzing the Air Chief Marshal PV Naik whether India has the capability to carry out such surgical strikes against terrorists. From the way the Marshal thought about it and paused while saying "India.... has the capability" it seemed like he was himself doubtful. The Russian Spetnaz, the Americans, Israel (with its Sayeret Matkal Unit 269 and Mossad) have shown time and again that they can take out who they want - whether legally or not - if said individual is a thorn in their rear ends. Examples include the terrorists who carried out the inhuman slaughter of Jewish athletes at the Munich Olympics. Sadly, India doesn't have too many cases of such proven counter-terrorist action. Here, commandos put their lives on the line to capture a single terrorist and kill the rest and instead of interrogating him brutally, then shooting him and dumping his body in the sea, the government keeps each terrorist safe and sound, gives them books to read, lets them spit at magistrates and "respect their human rights". Sad, but true.
By no means are the Indian Special Forces less formidable or less motivated, it's just that there is much that needs to be done to modernize them and support them, the way a soldier, who puts his life at risk so that we can sleep peacefully in our homes, should be aided. 



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