NSG ..

National Security Guards – Past, Present and Future

Dr. Bhashyam Kasturi

The National Security Guards (NSG) were raised as a Federal Contingency force in the eighties to fight the increasing menace of terrorism that was evident in the aftermath of Operation Bluestar in Punjab. That there was resistance to the idea within and outside the establishment to such a force is evident; the rationale being given that there already were forces that could be used for such forces.1  The para-commandos and the Navy Commandos (Marcos) are already trained and equipped to perform such missions. Apart from that, a special operations group was raised within the Cabinet Secretariat's Special Frontier Force for anti-terrorism.

  • The neutralization of specific terrorist threats to vital installations or any given area;
  • The handling of hijack situations, involving piracy in the air and on the land;
  • Engaging, and neutralizing terrorists in specific situations;
  • Rescue of hostages in kidnap situations.

In addition, the NSG has been entrusted with:

a)     Security of high-risk VIP's.

b)     Anti-sabotage check of venues of visits/ public meetings of VVIPs.

c)      Creation of Bomb Data Information Centres.

d)     Train state police personnel in anti-terrorist, VIP security, PSO duties, bomb detection and disposal, etc.2

Till date, the NSG is reported to have undertaken 103 operations, including the latest operation, Vajrashakti, to free the Askhardam temple complex in Gujarat of terrorists.3 The NSG has a total strength of approximately 7,500 personnel, and is divided into two groups - the Special Action Group (SAG) and the Special Rangers Group (SRG). The SAG, which comprises 54% of the force, is the offensive arm with personnel drawn from the Indian Army. The NSG has two SAG's – 51, which is trained and equipped to carry out counter-terrorist operations, while 52, is trained and equipped for counter-hijack operations. The SRG, on the other hand, has members on deputation from Central Police Organizations. The primary function of the SRG is to play a supportive role to the SAG, especially in isolating target areas. There are three ranger groups (11, 12 & 13), which are meant to provide immediate support and undertake all facets of anti-terrorist operations. Presently the SRG is not available for intimate support to the SAG in case of CH/CT tasks in view of their extended VIP security duties.4

The NSG was established following the 1984 army led Operation Bluestar that caused widespread damage to the Golden Temple complex. Shortcomings in that operation indicated the need for a special force for executing such operations with greater precision. The NSG since its establishment has been deployed on a few major occasions, including Operation Black Thunder I & II in the Amritsar Golden Temple complex in 1988, and the Operation Ashwamedh storming of a hijacked Indian Airlines aircraft at Amritsar Airport in April 1994.5 The force has seen operations in several places and differing environments. It has been involved in all types of internal security missions, including anti-hijack, counter-terrorism and other missions in strike mode. It has also been deployed as intelligence gatherers and pathfinders in places like J&K. And the NSG's most public face has been its utilization for providing VIP security. The NSG has patterned VIP security on the same lines as protection of the Prime Minister by the Special Protection Group.

The initial aim was to raise a force on the lines of the German GSG-9, but given India's size and population it was realized that a force structure that could cater to India specific requirements was necessary. In fact, it was thought prudent to have three different regional units for local action, rather than have a central force that could be transported to the trouble spots as and when required. This never happened and the NSG remained a Delhi-centric organization. The army-paramilitary mix of the force right from the start was aimed at bringing together the best of both worlds. To this end, the idea of the SAG forming the striking arm while the SRG performed associated, but equally important tasks like path-finding, intelligence gathering, logistics and so on, made eminent sense. From all appearances today, the NSG has not evolved into the cohesive fighting force as envisaged. The force has developed over a period of time a distinctly police orientation and lacks a unified approach to combating terrorism.

This is both an internal organizational problem as well as one of command and control. It may be worthwhile studying the second aspect first. The NSG as a counter-terrorism force was meant to act under the administrative and operational control of the Cabinet Secretariat. Subsequently, the elitism of the force being resented by others led to the government moving it under the Home Ministry and it became just another para-military force, which it was never meant to be. The chain of command for a counter-terrorist organization has to be clear and precise. The vagaries of the Home Ministry in terms of authorizing operations, buying and equipping the force and the like are too trite to be repeated here. But it is apparent the NSG cannot fight the counter-terrorist war of the next generation with weapons of the last generation.

There is a certain disinclination within the organization to work towards cohesiveness. The cause of this lies in putting the SRG on VIP security duties. In a recent interview, the NSG DG made it clear that NSG would continue to perform VIP duties, with the SRG providing the manpower. In case of special persons like Dr Farooq Abdullah, the SAG also gets involved. This bifurcation of functions takes away the force, especially the SRG from the essential task it is trained to do  -- acting as a back up for the SAG. The problem of the SRG not being able to conduct support operations has an impact on the functioning of the SAG also. In recent operations, this has hampered the pace of work simply because the SAG has a command and control problem with other police forces and is unable to better coordinate its strike mission.

In circumstances where the NSG is dependent on other forces for intelligence and back-up support it is difficult for them to coordinate. This fact is well illustrated by the NSG Force Commander, Brigadier Seethapathy reportedly having said after the SAG decided to withdraw from the hunt for sandalwood smuggler, Veerapan that the NSG would only conduct the final assault but would not get involved in jungle combing, a task which the SRG should have been performing. Brigadier Seethapathy, is believed to have written to the Deputy Prime Minister, L K Advani, expressing disappointment over the inability of the STF to provide intelligence inputs on the bandit's exact whereabouts in the forest.6 The suggestion by the force commander that intelligence should be provided by the STF and local police is also an indicator that the force does not have its own intelligence assets, even though there is an officer of DIG rank looking after intelligence. But these are problems of a long-term and require analysis within the force itself.

The core of the problem is the attitude of the national security establishment to the employment of Special Forces. By putting it under the head of a para-military force, the very nature, orientation and character of the force has changed. The other problem is the lack of integral assets for a force of the NSG type, which is meant to possess rapid mobility, firepower and technology. All this has been evident for decades now, but government apathy has tended to compound matters. To cite one example here would suffice. During the mobilization for the Akshardham operation, the NSG was embarrassingly stuck in Delhi's rush hour traffic for a couple of hours, making it difficult for it to get from the Manesar base to Palam Airport, where an IL-76MD is always on standby to fly them to wherever is needed.7 Similarly, an integral intelligence capability is essential for this force. Whether at Amritsar, or in J&K, the NSG whether being independently used or in conjunction with other forces, intelligence gathering capability internally is of paramount importance.

The question uppermost in the minds is how to change things now. It is possible.  I for one would argue that it is never too late. Within the given constraints, the government can undertake to do some things. It should release money immediately for equipment that has been requested. Minimum requirements can be met and future needs studied. It can shift VIP security duties from the NSG to the SDG, a force drawn from the CRPF, which is providing perimeter and other security to the Indian Prime Minister and other former Prime Ministers. Since there are two SAG's it stands to reason that at least two SRG's are required for each SAG, for support operations. Thus one more SRG should be raised. It may well be worthwhile to do an internal audit (if already done well and good) as to how many times in operations the SRG, has supported the SAG.

Given India's size it makes sense to have integrated assets in place within the existing framework of the organization. If one wants to change things a bit and have different units co-located for regional operations, like in J&K or the north-east, then dramatic changes will be necessary. But since the NSG is training police units to perform counter-terrorists missions, like the Special Operations Group (SOG) in J&K, it seems more useful to improve inter-force communication so that the NSG can be on hand in quick time, if necessary. The future of terrorism and counter-terrorists action and equipment is probably being kept in mind within the force, but it stands to reason that this be discussed with the government too so that a rounded perspective on the future may emerge. It is only then that a projection of the future CI environment and its response will emerge.

If one were to take a few examples and analyze the NSG it would clarify matters. The operation to clear the Akshardham complex in Gujarat – codenamed Vajrashakti – is a good one to start with. Basically, the SAG was called a few hours after confirmation came of the presence of the two terrorists in the complex. But the SAG while on alert was delayed because of rush hour traffic. The solution according to some is to give them vehicles of the Delhi police so that they can get past rush hour traffic with blazing sirens. What stops the government from acquiring a couple of Mi-17 helicopters for airlift from Manesar to Palam Airport? The Cabinet Secretariat has several air assets and two helicopters added to the force would not matter. Two helicopters at Manesar, would be a boon to the NSG.

Further, action at the temple complex could have been completed at night, if the force had image intensifiers and thermal imaging, much of this material is commercially available off the shelf. Thanks to the priests in the temple having cellphones / satellite phones, the NSG force on the spot was able to ascertain the layout of the temple complex. So instead of waiting for the morning, (which was sensible psychologically) the NSG could have wrapped up the operation by midnight. Let us consider the role of the NSG during the IC-814 hijack in 1999. The NSG was alerted the moment Delhi air-control got a message about the hijack. The IG (Ops) NSG was involved with the Crisis Management Group right from the start. But politically it had been decided against an operation. At Amritsar, the plane carrying the NSG reached late, because the force had been waiting for negotiators to arrive at Palam!8

The NSG did fly with the then External Affairs Minister, Jaswant Singh to Kandahar, but they remained mute spectators to the entire episode, when in fact they should have made a show of force by being on the tarmac at the time the exchange of hostages took place. One other problem in most operations has been the force to terrorist ratio. This has been in most cases 10:1.9 This tends to discourage the theory that special forces are any different from regular forces. Recently, during the 2002 Assembly elections in Jammu and Kashmir, the NSG deployed only a Company, in three different places in the Valley for quick reaction to terrorist strikes. This is an indication of the actual strength of the force and the kind of thought processes that are required prior to operational deployment.

Several things need to happen at the national-political level before a force such as the NSG can find its rightful place in the national security lexicon. The political-military establishment must realize the value of such forces as the NSG and institute proper command and control mechanisms. Second, they must provide for adequate finances that can keep the force up-to-date with recent technological and weapons developments. The NSG is a national asset. Let it be treated as one and the requisite infrastructure to support it be created right away. Its talents should not be wasted as with several other such specialized forces raised in the past. Manpower accretion in the NSG though sought is a waste. What the force needs is inclusion of force multipliers and integral force projection capability. This is the future of the NSG. In the prevailing internal security environment, India should expect many more terrorist strikes wherein more and more sophisticated weapons will be used. The aid of technology will be taken to force new situations on nations. The NSG should be ready and on hand to counter such strikes in the future. The future suggests that the NSG should enquire into the technological and psychological aspects of terrorist actions and plan for possible counter options.


  1. Lt. Gen. VK Nayyar. Internal Security: Some Issues and Aspects. Indian Defence Review. January 1993. p. 28.
  2. H. Bhisam Pal. Central Police Forces in India.  (Bureau of Police Research & Development, New Delhi). pp. 176-177.
  3. Outlook, November 4, 2002. p. 80.
  4. Bhisam Pal. Op.cit. p. 181.
  5. National Security Guards -- /ARMY/Special-Forces/NSG.html. A fuller discussion can be found in Bhashyam Kasturi. National Security Guards: Organisation, Operations and Future Orientations. Indian Defence Review. Vol. 8 (3), October 1993. pp. 59-63.
  6. The Hindu, online edition, Friday, September 13, 2002.
  7. Outlook, November 04, 2002. p. 80.
  8. Anil K Jaggia and Saurabh Shukla. IC814 Hijacked: The Inside Story. Roli Books. 2000. pp. 59-60. It is interesting that this book suggests that the Special Operations Group of the Special Frontier Force (SFF) under the R&AW was also kept ready for operations and to trial the hijacked IC 814.
  9. In Black Thunder II the NSG had 1,500 commandos pitted against 50 terrorists.

The NSG Chronology of Operations (Selective)

29 - 30 April 1986: 80 officers, 180 JCOs and 1,500 NSG commandos participate in clearing the Golden Temple in Operation Black Thunder I. Temple cleared and handed over to Punjab Police on 01 May 1986. No casualties on either side.

December 1987 – The NSG was airlifted to Andhra Pradesh after Naxalites took hostage six IAS officers on 27 December 1987, while they were returning from a tribal welfare meeting at Pulimatu. The Naxalites wanted the release of eight of their comrades in jail. The state government initially took a tough stand, but later released all eight internees and the NSG did not have a role to play.

January 1988: The NSG conducted Op Black Hawk, a heliborne operation in the Mand area of Punjab. In this operation two terrorists were killed and one 7.62mm was recovered. It was a massive operation, says Ved Marwah, but did not get many spectacular results like in Black Thunder.

10 – 20 May 1988: 1,500 NSG commandos (all ranks) surround the Golden Temple for yet another assault, in Operation Black Thunder II. Sniper teams armed with Heckler & Koch PSG-1 rifles with night scope took up positions, including atop a 300-foot water tower. While commandos from the 51 SAG divided into assault squadrons, the SRG were used to seal off the area around the temple and for tactical support. In the three-day operation between 15 - 18 May 1988, the NSG cleared the temple. 30 terrorists were killed, and 217 surrendered. In mid-1990s, a NSG battalion was again deployed in Punjab to confront the Sikh rioters. There they began training the Punjab Police in counter-terrorism.

05 September - 15 January 1988: Guarding of high-risk terrorist code-named 'Jack.'

03 - 08 November 1988: 600 commandos of the NSG were mobilized for Op. Cactus, the airborne operation to repulse the coup in Maldives. But subsequently, they were tasked for rescue mission of hostages on board MV Progress Light.

04 August 1989: Op Mouse Trap in the Tarn Taran district of Punjab, in conjunction with Punjab Police and other security forces. NSG was able to demonstrate that it was possible to achieve area dominance at night, if the strategy and tactics were right. Ved Marwah calls this Op Night Dominance.

10 November 1990: NSG task force flown to Kolkata to rescue hostages of a Thai airbus by Burmese students.

25 - 26 January 1991: The NSG was involved in Operation Ani Ben, on CI tasks in Baroda, (Gujarat) where Punjab terrorists were holed up inside a house. Two terrorists were killed and two AK-47s were recovered.

01 July-20 September 1991: NSG employed along with SIT in search and strike missions after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi.

25 November - 16 December 1992: 150 commandos were deployed at Ayodhya during the Ram Janambhoomi and Babri Masjid crisis.

27 March 1993: 52 SAG mobilised and moved to Adampur for rescue of hostages of Indian Airlines Flight IC 486.

24 - 25 April 1993: NSG Commandos storm a hijacked Indian Airlines Boeing 737 with 141 passengers onboard at Amritsar airport during Operation Ashwamedh. The hijacker, Mohammed Yousuf Shah, is killed before he can react and no hostages are harmed.

27 October - 18 November 1993: Operations at Hazratbal Shrine in Srinagar. A task force of 20 officers, and 180 commandos was moved on 27 October 1993 to Srinagar. The operation was called off after final preparations had been made.

October 1998: As part of the implementation of the Union Home Ministry's decision to conduct pro-active strikes against militants, commando teams supported by IAF Mi-25/35 helicopter gun-ships began striking at terrorist groups deep inside the mountains and forests of Kashmir. After helicopter reconnaissance were conducted to pinpoint the militants, the commandos - comprising NSG and Rashtriya Rifles personnel - were para-dropped, along with supplies, into the area to hunt the militants. They had to rely on these supplies and their ability to live off the land until replenishment every fortnight or so. These missions are possibly ongoing.

15 July 1999: NSG commandos end a 30-hour standoff by killing 2 terrorists and rescuing all 12 hostages unharmed in J&K. The terrorists had attacked a BSF campus near Srinagar, killed 3 officers and the wife of another. The 12 hostages were kept locked in a room.

21 August 1999: After interrogating three captured terrorists, the Delhi Police Crime branch confirmed that two more terrorists were hiding in a one-storied house in Rudrapur, Uttar Pradesh. Since the terrorists were considered armed and dangerous (their colleagues were arrested with 100+ pounds of RDX), the Delhi Police sought assistance from the NSG. A 16-man team arrived at the house at 4:45 a.m. They began their assault at 5:30 a.m., before first light. The first militant managed to fire at the commandos with a pistol he kept by his bedside, but was killed an instant later. The second terrorist was shot before he had a chance to fire and died 40 minutes later. No NSG personnel were injured.

December 1999: Terrorists hijack Indian Airlines flight IC814 from Nepal, and land in Amritsar, Punjab. Within minutes of landing, the Crisis Management Group (CMG), which authorizes the use of the NSG, is informed. But the CMG wastes precious hours and by the time the go-ahead is issued, it is too late. On the other hand, the NSG team on alert was elsewhere and no other team was raised during the delay. The hijacked plane took off before the NSG reached Amritsar Airport. The plane lands in Kandahar, Afghanistan where one hostage was killed. Finally, the Indian Government agrees to the terrorists' demands to release three jailed terrorists. The hostages are released and the terrorists escape to Pakistan.

February 2000: Following the Flight IC 814 fiasco, the Indian Government decided to implement an Air Marshal programme. At least two NSG operators will be present on flights over select routes. These operators will be armed with weapons firing lethal, but low-velocity, fragmentation rounds to minimize danger to the passengers and prevent penetration of the aircraft. Another decision taken was to deploy NSG teams permanently at eight sensitive airports around the country, especially those bordering Pakistan and the North East. This decision will cut short reaction times for the NSG and eliminate hassles involved in flying the teams to the hijack site. It is not known if this plan has been put into action.

September 2002 – SAG commandos fly to the Karnataka state in India, in an effort to catch sandalwood smuggler and forest brigand Veerappan, in the wake of kidnapping of a former minister of the state cabinet, Nagappa. They pull out after suggesting that intelligence for the operation was inadequate. A small team is left behind to help, the hostage is eventually killed in December 2002.

October 2002 – Two terrorists attack Akshardham temple complex in Gujarat. NSG flies in, delayed by traffic in Delhi. They carry out assaults in which one commando is killed and another one is seriously injured. But by morning the two terrorists are killed and the operation successfully completed. Op Vajrashakti.

December 2002 – Terrorists attack the Raghunath temple in Jammu. NSG ready to be flown out but called back at the last minute.

Ongoing: The NSG is used extensively to guard VIPs and VVIPs, especially those in the 'Z-plus' category. Many NSG personnel are seconded to the Special Protection Group (SPG) which guards the Prime Minister. More than 19 persons currently enjoy NSG protection, mainly as a status symbol. NSG coverage should be provided based on a person's threat perception rather than status.

The chronology of operations is compiled from the Bharat Rakshak site, Ved Marwah's book Uncivil Wars and Bhisham Pal's work cited above. This article originally appeared in the Indian Defence Review (IDR) and has been reproduced here with the permission of the author.