Lt Gen (Dr) AKS Chandele PVSM, AVSM (Retd)
Special Operations, carried out by ‘Special Forces,’ either independently, or in conjunction with other conventional operations, are characterised by speed, surprise and violent action. They are usually covert, low profile by a limited force, against an unsuspecting enemy and based on specific intelligence. Tasks include carrying out special reconnaissance, counter terrorism, search and rescue of hostages and sabotage and demolition. Special Forces personnel are highly trained in combat, can operate in all types of environment, utilise self reliance, are able to easily overcome obstacles, use unconventional skills and equipment to achieve objectives and above all, possess extraordinary physical strength and courage.
From the Ninjas of medieval Japan to the Green and Red Berets and SEALS of today, Special Forces have always been part of military folklore. History of warfare is replete with instances where operations by Special Forces have obtained results much greater than the size of force employed, sometimes even changing the course of the campaign. During the Burma campaign in 1943-44, Maj Gen Orde Wingate raised the famous ‘Chindits’ Long Range Penetration Groups, to operate deep behind Japanese lines, maintained by air supply. In the first operation, a force of 3,000 specially trained troops marched 1,000 miles to strike at the enemy from behind and destroy his rail and road communications. In the second operation, a much larger force of 20,000 was flown in by gliders and transport aircraft. Despite suffering heavy casualties due to enemy action and disease, the Chindits were able to inflict extensive damage to the enemy, keep much larger forces tied down and were a big boost to the otherwise flagging British morale in the subcontinent.
Now more than ever before, with the set piece conventional war being replaced by unconventional warfare and with the global war on terrorism, there is a greater need for Special Forces. US relies extensively on Special Forces as part of its present security strategy. The failure of the rescue attempt of the American hostages from the Iranian embassy in 1980 led to the creation of the United States Special Operations Command, which is a unified command of the Special Forces of each of the three services. UK Special Forces under its MoD is a combined HQ of the three wings of its Special Forces. Russia’s Spetsnaz is a force particularly trained for anti-terrorism role. Most nations have Special Forces trained and armed, based on their threat perception.
Indian Army had raised two Para Commando battalions, 9 and 10, in the mid sixties. Conversion of additional Parachute Regiment battalions to Para (Special Forces) commenced in 1978. Presently, there are eight such Special Forces battalions. Apart from the army, the Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force too have their own Special Forces, MARCOS (Marine Commandos) and Garuda, though smaller in numbers. MoD last year approved in principle a proposal for the setting up of a tri-service Special Operations Command under a three star general. However, going by past record, how soon this proposal will be implemented is a moot question.