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DSA is as much yours, as it is ours! (August 2016)

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The origins of Special Forces lie in the beginnings of warfare and the willingness and audacity, of some to try a different method of fighting the same objective, defeating the will of the enemy to continue to fight. Special Forces have always existed as a military unit, mostly as a disorganised but highly motivated lot of volunteers who saw a different operational option. As militaries evolved into better organised services, so did the lot of those who saw themselves as the special, the ones who did things differently. Although it took many more years, lots more wars, for the concept of an organised Special Forces to take root. That too didn’t happen without a fight, but from within.


A professional, conventional, military has never created its Special Forces without outside intervention. Never in modern history, from the time the concept of Special Forces came to be understood and accepted as a military necessity. For the simple reason that the two, albeit from the same military and anthem, come from two vastly different perspectives. For the conventional military soldier, operational planning and execution revolves around the concept of mass, the bigger the better. But the atomic origins of the Special Forces is based on the belief of ‘more with less’. The twain shall never meet, as the saying goes.

External influence coupled with the willingness of some crazed soldier to offer services has generally been the recipe for raising Special Forces around the world. If it took a recuperating David Sterling influencing Prime Minister Winston Churchill to raise the Special Air Service, it took some commissars suitably convinced by the motivated Red Army soldiers to create the Spetsnaz in the erstwhile Soviet Union. In India’s case, it took a motivated late Col Megh Singh influencing a bewildered military leadership to allow his bunch of motivated men to mount unconventional operations during the 1965 war with Pakistan.

Since the origins of India’s Special Forces were largely accidental and influenced by the evolving military circumstances, largely so has been the case of understanding, raising, training, manpower management, equipping, deployment and the structural adjustment. In one word, ad hoc. India has still not understood the concept of Special Forces and neither has it created the structures to suitably employ them. So, they remain largely a single operation phenomenon, a glorified Ghatak platoon of an infantry battalion. The operation into Myanmar is a case in point and which came to be touted as the epitome of Special Forces capability.

A recalcitrant military bureaucracy, an indifferent Ministry of Defence and an ignorant political leadership, have all combined to thwart the growth of India’s Special Forces. Ignorance in military matters is the primary culprit and when combined with bureaucratic interference, or indifference, the result is foreseen.

Since the bureaucracy has an expansive mode, India has followed the more is better option. So, the number of Special Forces units has expanded exponentially, without achieving the requisite capabilities to be actually classified as such. Language skills is the biggest casualty in India’s Special Forces, for each specialist can continue to draw his additional pay and perks without showing this elemental perquisite. How a covert operation can be conducted in Mauritius without the knowledge of their Creole remains a mystery. Even as the Army increases the number of its Special Forces battalions, the Navy and the Air Force haven’t fallen behind. Both have largely under utilised resources, static and ceremonial. Hardly the capability the country needs.

The military structure as it exists today, in operational terms, has no institutionalised role for the Special Forces. If they do find being a cog in the wheel, it is largely because of individual acumen rather than institutional acceptance. And that remains the bane of India, military planning and it’s Special Forces. Many a times the military makes a mistake as was done recently in the operation to evict Pakistani terrorists from a building in Pampore.

It was the epitome of how not to use Special Forces. What has to be understood, as a prima facie, is that a mass is not better and the Special Forces plan their operations the best. For it takes a certain mindset to understand and implement their capabilities. And in the case of the Special Forces, what has to be understood indispensably, is that the mind is the ultimate weapon.



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