By Kartikeya Sharma - The Week, 16 June 2002
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A helicopter whirred on to the sprawling grounds of Manesar, the headquarters of the elite National Security Guard (NSG). A troop of agile men, with ponderous backpacks and sleek guns, rushed into the chopper, which leapt back to the sky like a metallic dragonfly. A simulated counter terrorism operation was in progress. The chopper was flying 30 Black Cat commandos to an unknown destination for a sting operation. The exercise was no game. The bullets were real, and so were the booby-traps and the stun guns.
A shooter should clock at least 85% hits, otherwise he is told to pack his bags.
The team leader has been instructed to take out terrorists from an imagined hideout. The cryptic directive is one man, one bullet, and the exercise was aptly called trial-by-fire or agnipareeksha. Each commando strained his nerves to give his best, for each knew that on another day the agnipareeksha would be played out in the real world, with real trigger-happy antagonists. The Week spent two days with the Black Cats at Manesar, Haryana and witnessed what went into the making of the elite commando force. These cats are expected to be on the prowl to tackle the terrorist threat arising from the Indo-Pak face-off.The trainees, taken on deputation from the Army and the para-military forces, undergo a twelve-week probation course. This is a tough school, where about 40% of those who enrol fail to make it. The training ranges from rough hand-to-hand combat to ambush sessions. A shooter should clock at least 85% hits, otherwise he is told to pack his bags. The men are trained to go without food and sleep for four to five days at a stretch.
Every trainee has to pass a battle assault obstacle course. The 26 obstacles have to be surmounted in 16 minutes in phase one and 14 minutes in phase two. The men have to dodge live fire, climb 60-foot walls, and run 25 miles with a minimum weight of 25 kg. The mind is also put under the microscope. Each trainee has to pass a psychological examination which tests mental stability, motivation levels and clarity of thought. "The commando has to be group-oriented. We make sure that a self-centred person does not enter the unit. We are looking for tough men who can learn to work with others," said B.S. Dhillon, Inspector-General, Training. After the initial phase, trainees are taught the use of specialised weaponry, advanced martial arts, precision firing from moving vehicles, and survival skills. They are also taught to dress well and mingle with surroundings. They are prepared for...well, almost anything.
Lethal weapon: An MP-5 sub-machine gun which can be fitted into a briefcase.
The NSG has five combat divisions. The two Special Action Groups (SAG), whose commandos are drawn from the armed forces, are in charge of anti-terrorist and anti-hijack operations. One specialises in bus, train and plane interventions, and the other has expertise in sniffing out militants. The Special Rangers Groups (SRG) are in charge of VVIP protection, and are sourced from the paramilitary forces and the state police. The NSG was a child of the times. After Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's assassination, which followed the botched Operation Blue Star, the Centre decided to raise a force solely to fight terrorism on all terrain. The force was tested during Operation Black Thunder in Punjab in 1987. K.P.S. Gill, former Director-General of Police, said: "The Black Cats were under my command during Operation Black Thunder. They performed very well."
The NSG has trained commandos of state police forces, and police and army men from Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Nepal and Mauritius. About 25 personal guards of the Sri Lankan president were trained by the NSG. Most sought-after is the offensive driving course, which teaches the driver of a VVIP vehicle to deal with a terrorist strike and protect his passenger. Recently, the NSG set up the National Bomb Data Centre, which collects data on various types of explosives and detonators used by terrorists. In order to keep up with the latest trends, Ranjit Shekhar Mooshahary, Director-General of the NSG, and Inspector-General Dhillon left for Israel to participate in an anti-terrorist programme and to select weapons. I.A. Extros, the NSG Group Commandant stationed at Samalkha, said, "We are the last word on terrorism in the country, and beyond us there is no one." That is no overstatement.
VVIP Protection is No Burden
Ranjit Shekhar Mooshahary is a senior IPS officer, who was earlier Additional Director General of Police in Kerala. At present, he is the Director General of the NSG. He spoke to The Week about the multifaceted profile of the elite command force.
Q. The NSG has recently set up the National Bomb Data Centre. What does it do?
A. We have been studying explosives for sometime. It was felt that there should be a national-level agency to carry out post-blast investigations and prepare documents which other agencies could use for reference. The studies would help minimise the impact of the explosive, assess its strength, and also the strategy employed by the terrorist. We would also be compiling data on explosives used by various terrorist organisations. This is fifth such institution in the world after Australia, United Kingdom, USA and Canada.
Q. Was FBI assistance sought in this project?
A. No, but we sent our officers to international conferences.
Q. Are you sharing information with other agencies?
A. Yes, it is taking place wherever possible.
Q. Is NSG lending its expertise to the Delhi Metro rail project?
Q. When will NSG start deputing Sky Marshals in Indian aircraft?
A. I cannot comment on this.
Q. The NSG brief has been extended from counter terrorism to VVIP protection and sanitisation of VVIP areas. Is it a burden?
A. No. it is not a burden. We are capable of delivering much more than this. We can perform the duties without being over-stressed.
Q. Critical equipment like electronic jammers, thermal imagers and bomb suits are yet to be purchased by the NSG. When will it be procured?
A. We have an elaborate plan for requisition of equipment and in due course, we will obtain them. This will be done in two to three years time. It will be in phases.