- Raisina Debates
- May 10 2018
There are media reports that the Union Home Ministry is considering the deployment of National Security Guard (NSG) teams in the valley. The proposal involves deploying a unit of Black Cat Commandos in the Kashmir valley for highly specialised anti-terror operations, particularly to deal with hostage situations. Presently, these tasks are being conducted by the Army’s Special Forces (SF), who are equally well trained.
The present army concept of operations is to exhaust the terrorist by continuous engagement and neutralise him with minimum casualties. Most civilian casualties have been either in response to interfering in operations or caught in the cross fire. This is mainly due to them unheeding instructions of staying away from encounter sites. Hostage situations are extremely rare in the region. Instances of family members of the trapped terrorists or even the owner of the house where the terrorist is trapped have ventured in seeking his surrender. None have been made hostages.
The Home Ministry statement went on to add that the NSG would not be deployed for every operation but would be kept standby and only used in specialised operations to counter militants. Routine counter insurgency would be handled by the Army and para military forces.
This is again an action being taken by bureaucrats and ministers sitting ensconced in their offices in Lutyens Delhi, based on the recommendations being forwarded by the NSG, which assumes it is being left out of operations and desires baptism by fire. While the NSG is trained for specialised operations, however, its employment in the valley would only enhance command and control issues.
The valley already has a plethora of forces operating, including the Army, the CRPF, the BSF, Garuds (air force commandos) and MARCOS (naval commandos). The Garuds and MARCOS have had limited success and they do not operate independently. The Garuds operate under the Rashtriya Rifles (RR) and the MARCOS in conjunction with the Army, though they are deployed and dominate the Wular Lake. The CRPF, though working in conjunction, is not under the army. To add to this confusion are plans for induction of the NSG.
There are questions which the government must consider before it plans the induction of the NSG. First, would they operate independently? Second, which agency would decide whether a specific operation should involve the NSG or it should continue being a normal counter insurgency operation? Third, when should this decision be taken, on receiving inputs or on commencement of operations or once contact is established?
Fourth, if the NSG is to be deployed, which force would secure the area for them? Finally, would the NSG be the agency which would command the operation, once it is employed, and deploy forces for ensuring success or would it operate under the local army commander of the operation? After all, it would be the agency to launch the assault.
In every operation, there is a single commander responsible for the deployment and employment of forces, irrespective of which agency they represent. Presently almost all operations are Army led and involve employing the CRPF and the SOG for cordon and crowd control, while the Army tackles the terrorists. Multiple commanders with multiple forces, each seeking to pass instructions, would only add to confusion. In operations where an error in judgement involves life and death, having no clear directions and chain of command would only enhance confusion.
Militant operations are time sensitive. Delaying and prolonging operations only enhances stone pelting and more confusion. If a decision to launch the NSG is taken, depending on the level at which it is done, there would be delay for the movement of the force, its reconnaissance and the final launch. Every force needs time to prepare, plan and then launch.
Such delay could be detrimental to success and would possibly permit the militants to escape. Hence, a decision to deploy the NSG in Kashmir to gain combat experience may appear ideal on paper but would add to the burden and problems of those who are familiar with the terrain, nature of operations and have a laid down operating procedure.
The Army also employs SFs, of which it has sufficient forces already existing in the valley for specific operations. These forces, apart from being highly trained, have deep understanding of the terrain as also are highly motivated. Hence, all its operations have been a success, despite casualties. Since the RR and the SF are from the same stock, there is no question of any one-up-man-ship. They work as a team. They train and operate together.
In the present scenario, to avoid any false claims of success, post every joint operation, the press conference is conducted jointly, with representatives of the State police, the CRPF and the Army. No one agency seeks credit. Adding a small detachment of the NSG would imply pushing in additional forces under separate leadership channels.
The Pathankot Air Force terror strike was a classic example of how not to operate. The NSG was pushed in with its own command and control structure, ignoring the GOC of the local formation who was better equipped and possessed the manpower to handle the operations. Though it was a successful operation, it overshot time and led to increased casualties.
The intention is not to doubt the capabilities of an elite and well-trained force like the NSG. It had its specific roles and should confine itself to it. However, deploying it in the valley for specific and limited nature of tasks would only add to confusion in command, control and conduct of operations. The valley has sufficient forces, which have made a difference, as the number of encounters and figures of elimination of militants’ bear evidence. Adding to the forces already deployed would not bring any worthwhile results.
If the ministry’s desire is to enhance their combat experience, then it should adopt the Garud model and place them under the command of the army’s RR or SF battalions. In this context, they would operate with those aware of the nature of operations and terrain and be an integral part of the operating force, rather than consider itself as an elite force meant only for limited and specific tasks. The recommendations of the Army and other forces which operate in the region should be the final deciding factor for its induction, rather than just meeting the needs of the force itself and pushing it into a region where it remains unwanted.
The views expressed above belong to the author(s).