New Delhi: Taking the first step towards gradually reverting to its original role of undertaking counter-terror operations, the National Security Guard has pulled out over 600 commandos from its VVIP security unit and used them for the first time during the recent Pathankot attack.
The plan has been in the making over the last two years and the terrorist attack on the forward Indian Air Force base in Pathankot became the first operation where these black cat commandos made their assault.
According to the new blueprint being worked upon by the elite force, two teams out of the total three of the 11th Special Rangers Group (SRG), stand withdrawn from VVIP security duties and have been tasked to undertake counter-terror operations along with and in assistance of the primary strike units-- the Special Action Group (SAG).
NSG commando teams are raised under five primary units, two SAGs manned by officers and jawans from the Army and three SRGs comprising personnel from paramilitary forces.
While each of the two SAGs (51 and 52) are tasked with counter-terror, counter-hijack and hostage rescue operations, the SRGs (11, 12 and 13) were used to render logistical support to the SAGs during such operations and have been primarily deployed for guarding high-risk VVIPs for many years now.
Each SRG has three teams, with over 300 commandos each, and the estimated strength of an entire unit is about 1,000 personnel.
Officials said the Pathankot operation was the first time that the unit was inducted into a full-scale anti-terror operation and select commandos were deployed to undertake door-to-door sanitisation of numerous buildings at the IAF station that was attacked in the early hours of January 2.
NSG commanders said the force, which was raised in 1984 for exclusive counter-terror operations but later entrusted with VVIP security duties, has the least number of 15 such protectees under its cover and, after its request to not burden it further in this regard, the government has not given it any additional responsibility in this domain for over two years now.
While one team of the 11th SRG and two units (12 and 13) are still tasked with the security of high-risk dignitaries, commanders of the special federal contingency force foresee a time when even these units will be gradually pulled out of VVIP protection duties.
"Not in the very near future but NSG is on it way to go back to its original charter of being a specialist counter-terror and an exclusive commando force. The last team of the said SRG will also be pulled out sooner than later and prepared for terrorist combat roles," they said.
They said the results of the first experiment at Pathankot have been satisfactory even as these units have been subjected to rigours undertaken by the strike units comprising personnel drawn from the Army, with each of its commandos undertaking precision firing, unarmed combat and special tactics course every day of the year.
The plan was mooted in 2012 when NSG commanders, keeping in mind the evolving terrorist attacks scenario across the globe, visualised an event where simultaneous assaults could be launched by them at multiple centres in the country and hence a good number of combat-ready commandos will have to be rushed in different directions.
While the 2008 Mumbai terror attack involved about 400 commandos over a period of three days, over 300 NSG men were deployed for the Pathankot operation that was officially called off in five days.
In what has come as a help, the government has also not given any additional duty in the VVIP security domain and assigned that task to central paramilitary forces like CRPF, CISF and ITBP.
The force's charter states that the primary role of NSG is "to combat terrorism in whatever form it may assume in areas where activity of terrorists assumes serious proportions and the state police and other central police forces cannot cope up with the situation".
"The NSG is a force specially equipped and trained to deal with specific situations and is therefore to be used only in exceptional situations. The force is not designed to undertake the functions of state police forces or other paramilitary forces of the Union of India," it says.
The force is modelled on the pattern of foreign special forces like SAS of the UK and GSG-9 of Germany but has now included the best practises of a few other such elite forces over the years.