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PARA COMMANDOS

Special thanks to Counter Terror & Hostage Rescue.

Para Commando Insignia. Image © Counter Terror & Hostage Rescue

© Army Aviation Corps, Indian Army

During the 1965 Indo-Pak War, an ad hoc commando unit comprised of volunteers from various infantry regiments was organized by Lieutenant Colonel Megh Singh of the Brigade of the Guards. The unit was nicknamed, Meghdoot Force, and performed well in combat. Thus in June 1966, the Indian Government authorised the Parachute Regiment to form a permanent commando unit. Known as the 9th Battalion, it was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Megh Singh and he used members from the Meghdoot Force as its backbone. In June 1967 elements of the 9th Battalion, were taken to form a second commando unit, designated as 10th Battalion, at Gwalior. However in July 1967, both units left Gwalior with the 9th Battalion, operating in the northern mountains and the 10th Battalion, operating in the western desert. In 1969, these battalions were renamed as the 9 and 10 Para Commando battalions.

Para Commandos had their first taste of combat in the 1971 Indo-Pak War where they performed gallantly. The 9 Para Cdo saw action through a daring raid on a Pakistani gun position at Mandhol. This raid resulted in the destruction of six 122mm guns belonging to the Pakistan Army's 172 Independent Battery. Apart from the destruction of guns, ammunition and other vital equipment, the Pakistanis suffered 37 killed, 41 wounded and a great loss of face. This raid, launched at a crucial time which enabled the 25th Infantry Division to progress their operations on Daruchian (a Pakistani occupied post), won the 9 Para Cdo the Battle Honour of Mandhol.

The 10 Para Cdo was baptised in combat with successful raids on enemy posts at Chachro and Virawah, under H.H. Maharaja Sawai Bhawani Singh Bahadur who won a Maha Vir Chakra for these daring raids. By the late 1970s, Indian paratroopers began experimenting with High-Altitude, Low-Opening (HALO) techniques. At the same time, the 1 Para Battalion was selected for conversion into the Army's third Para Commando unit. In the mid-1980s, there were plans of bringing the three Para battalions together under a new aegis of a Special Forces Regiment. However these plans were abandoned, and they continue to be trained and recruited by the Parachute Regiment.

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A Para Commando armed with the Indian version of the 7.62mm FN-FAL, called the Self Loading Rifle. The weapon is fitted with a US-made AN/PVS4 Starlight night vision device used for passive night vision and aimed fire using ambient light (moonlight or starlight) for illumination.

1984 saw the Para Commandos being involved in Operation Bluestar, the eviction of Sikh militants from the Golden Temple in Punjab. 80 members of 1 Para Cdo was given the task of assaulting two areas of the temple, one of which required divers. However, poor intelligence on the strength of the militants, the broad daylight, conventional manner of the raid and the lack of high precision CQB (close quarter battle) skills gave the commandos a hard time. The diver mission was aborted after the first team got bogged down. The commandos eventually achieved their aims but at the cost of 17 dead and many more wounded.

The late 1980s saw the Para Commandos in action in Sri Lanka. However, lack of proper planning by the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) and insufficient intelligence on the LTTE's whereabouts, led the initial heli-borne assault on 11 October 1987 to be a tragic failure. Six Para Commandos losing their lives in that ill-fated mission. After the failed assault into Jaffna City, the 10 Para Cdo participated in November 1987 for a heli-borne assault in the town of Moolai, 14 miles to the north-west. 25 guerrillas were killed and an arms depot sized. In order to give the commandos battle experience, 10 Para Cdo was rotated home in early 1988 and replaced by 9 Para Cdo. This battalion was scheduled to return home in June 1988, but the tour of duty was extended due to a planned air assault into the coastal swamps around Mullaittivu. The mission was a great success, in that it located several arms caches. The 9 Para Cdo also provided 12 men for the security of the Indian High Commission in Sri Lanka.

With the capture of Maldives, an island-nation of the coast of south-western India on 03 November 1988 by PLOTE mercenaries, the Para Commandos were once again called into action. 10 Para Cdo along with the 6 Para flew in on 04 November 1988 in a fleet of IL-76s, An-32s and An-12 transport aircraft. Later that morning, Mi-8 helicopters were used to fly the 10 Para Cdo to the outlying islands to search for escaping mercenaries. Operation Cactus, as it was called, was successful and ended without any loss of life for 10 Para Cdo or the other Indian troops. Since the mid-90s the role of Para Commandos as a counter terrorist force has increased substantially. They are now actively involved in counter terrorist operations in Kashmir as an essential part of the Home Ministry's decision to conduct pro-active raids against militants in the countryside and mountains. The practice of take-the-fight-to-them involves extensive aerial reconnaissance followed by para-dropping operators into the target area. These missions continue for weeks at a stretch and include raids on terrorist camps and ambushes along infiltration routes.

Outfitted for a High Altitude, Low Opening (HALO) parachute jump, this commando wears a black jumpsuit, helmet, wrist altimeter, and square-canopy parachute with US leaf pattern camouflage cover. He has a 7.62mm Self Loading Rifle as his primary weapon. Close examination of his badge on the upper left shoulder, reveals the insignia of the Western Army Command.

Personnel include Para Commandos, NSG and special units of the Rashtriya Rifles - a paramilitary unit created to deal with the Kashmir insurgency. They may also include MARCOS personnel, many of whom are seconded to the Army for CT operations. Despite the Army's insistence, the government has not sanctioned cross border raids on terrorist camps in Pakistan. There have been some claims in the press of Para Commandos taking part in hostage rescue missions in Kashmir but no definite details are available. The 9 Para (SF) took active part in the 1999 Kargil conflict, where they conducted a number of raids to remove a combined force of Pakistani special forces (SSG), light infantry and militants who had infiltrated across the border and had dug in on the mountaintops. They typically operated in 6 man teams (5 men and 1 officer) and collected intelligence, such as the number of sentries and gun placements, on mountaintop bunkers using pitch black darkness and night vision as help. They also took part in the follow up raids.

The Para Commandos were recently involved in Operation Khukri, in Sierra Leone in June 2000 where Indian troops were part of a multinational UN peacekeeping force. About 120 operators commanded by Major Harinder Sood were airlifted from New Delhi to spearhead the mission to rescue 223 men of the 5/8 Gorkha Rifles who were surrounded and held captive by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels for over 75 days. The operation, involving Mi-25/35 helicopter gun ships of the Indian Air Force and other infantry battalions, was a complete success with no Indian casualties other than a few shrapnel wounds. The SAS (Special Air Service), who were present as part of the British force, loaned the Para Commandos their Chinook transport helicopters for the initial assault.

The Para Commando battalions have been re-designated as the 1, 9 and 10 Parachute (Special Forces). On 01 February 1996, the 21 Maratha LI became the next battalion to join the Parachute Regiment and was raised as the 21 Para (SF) by Colonel Vishwas Bhaskar Shinde. The 2, 3 and 4 Parachute battalions have subsequently joined the ranks as 'special forces' battalions. Previously, each Para (SF) battalion had a geographical specialization and remained assigned to that sector, i.e. 1 Para (SF) was specialized for mountain warfare, 9 Para (SF) was specialized for jungle warfare and 10 Para (SF) was specialized for desert warfare. Today, all the Para (SF) battalions are capable of operating under any circumstances - anywhere. The concept of 'geographical specialization' for each Para (SF) battalion has ceased to exist.

(left) Para commandos parade through Rajpath, in full battle gear, during the annual Republic Day Parade in New Delhi. Their coveted maroon beret is a trademark for Para Commandos worldwide.

(right) An army recruitment advertisement illustrates a Para Commando, to bring the point home to potential young candidates eager to join the Indian Army.

Para (SF) operate in companies or sometimes even at the battalion level. They are trained in special tactics, unarmed combat and survival in their natural surroundings. They have access to all types of infantry weapons required for a particular mission. All Indian paratroopers are volunteers; some enter the regiments direct from civilian life, while others transfer in from regular army units. There is a probationary period of three months when trainees undergo various physical and mental tests, during which many are rejected. This three month probationary period, is when an individual is tested physically, mentally and psychologically. The individual is subjected to the most harshest of physical and mental stress and strain. During this time the biological clock of the individual is also subjected to changes. As one Para Commando puts it, "Only the 'hard-nuts' are able to stay put, the squeamish get separated out. An alert mind with a 'never-say-die' attitude is what the Para Commandos look for."

Those who pass are sent to the PTS (Paratroopers Training School) at Agra, Uttar Pradesh where five static line jumps at 1250 feet, including one at night, entitle the trainee to wear the coveted parachute wings on the right chest and the maroon beret, with the parachute badge attached to it. A commando patch, in light blue letters on a maroon background, is also worn on the right upper sleeve. After receiving their badge, Para (SF) undergo further specialized training to suit them for their role. They return to PTS to undergo the free-fall course, which in order to successfully pass requires at least 50 jumps from altitudes up to 22,500 feet. Both HALO (High Altitude Low Opening) and HAHO (High Altitude High Opening) techniques are learnt. The ability to use the HAHO method and specially designed manoeuvrable parachutes called HAPPS (High Altitude Parachute Penetration System) to conduct stealth insertions over distances up to 50 km is also perfected

Daily routine begins with a 5 km morning run in BDUs (Battle Dress Uniforms) and combat boots after which weapons, land navigation and field craft training is conducted. Infiltration, assault and ambush tactics are refined and perfected. Special attention is given to CQB, urban warfare, counter terror warfare and unarmed combat. Night training involving 20 km treks with 60 kg (132 lb.) loads and live ammo is conducted once a week. Monthly forced marches with 65 kg combat loads over 30 km and quarterly night drops with full combat loads are also conducted. In addition to this in-house training the commandos also attend a number of schools run by the Army that specialize in unconventional warfare. These include the Junior Leaders' Commando Training Camp in Belgaum, Karnataka, the Parvat Ghatak School (for high altitude mountain warfare) in Tawang, Arunachal Pradesh, the High Altitude Warfare School (HAWS) in Sonamarg, Kashmir and the Counter Insurgency Jungle Warfare School (CIJWS) in Vairengte, Mizoram. These schools are among the finest of their kind anywhere and routinely host students from other countries.

Colonel Vishwas Bhaskar Shinde of the 21 Para Cdo at Barmer, Rajasthan. Circa late 1990s.

Recently the Indian government has allowed USSOCOM (United States Special Operations Command) personnel to attend courses held by CIJWS and may grant access to HAWS as part for further military cooperation between the two countries. In reciprocation, many operators are sent to the US to train with the Army Rangers and other units. U.S. Army Special Forces have conducted joint HAHO training with the Para Commandos in 1992, underwater training in 1995 and anti-terrorism training in 1997. Para Commandos can also undergo a complete Combat Divers course, in which they earn a combat diver badge. They are also experienced in launching heli-borne assaults and typically employ Mi-8 / Mi-17 type helicopters for this purpose. The Bali-Dan (Sacrifice) badge is conferred after a stint of one year with the Para (SF), or a six month stint with the battalion if it is involved in active operations.

  • The goals of the Para Commandos are;
  • To function as elite battle units of the infantry.
  • To establish commando superiority in a battle zone.
  • To disrupt enemy operations by clandestine means.
  • To sabotage enemy lines of communication via the command means.
  • To subvert & sabotage enemy vital areas & points by clandestine attacks inside enemy lines.
 

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