National Security Guards – Past, Present and Future
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 NSG was
established under the National Security Guard Act of
1986 (Act 47 of 1986). The NSG provides security to
VIP's, conducts anti-sabotage checks, and is
responsible for neutralizing terrorist threats to
vital installations. Its missions include engaging
terrorists in specific situations, responding to
piracy in the air and on the land, and rescuing
hostages in kidnap situations. Its major missions
• 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;
neutralizing terrorists in specific situations;
hostages in kidnap situations.
In addition, the
NSG has been entrusted with:
Security of high-risk VIP's.
Anti-sabotage check of venues of visits/ public
meetings of VVIPs.
Creation of Bomb Data Information Centres.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
Lt. Gen. VK
Nayyar. Internal Security: Some Issues and
Aspects. Indian Defence Review. January
1993. p. 28.
H. Bhisam Pal.
Central Police Forces in India. (Bureau of
Police Research & Development, New Delhi). pp.
November 4, 2002. p. 80.
Op.cit. p. 181.
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.
online edition, Friday, September 13, 2002.
November 04, 2002. p. 80.
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.
Thunder II the NSG had 1,500 commandos pitted
against 50 terrorists.
Chronology of Operations (Selective)
- 30 April 1986: 80 officers, 180 JCOs and 1,500
commandos participate in clearing the Golden Temple
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.
– 20 May 1988: 1,500
commandos (all ranks) surround the Golden Temple for
yet another assault, in
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
September - 15 January 1988: Guarding of high-risk
terrorist code-named 'Jack.'
- 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.
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.
November 1990: NSG task force flown to Kolkata to
rescue hostages of a Thai airbus by Burmese
- 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
July-20 September 1991: NSG employed along with SIT
in search and strike missions after the
assassination of Rajiv Gandhi.
November - 16 December 1992: 150 commandos were
deployed at Ayodhya during the Ram Janambhoomi and
Babri Masjid crisis.
March 1993: 52 SAG mobilised and moved to Adampur
for rescue of hostages of Indian Airlines Flight IC
- 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.
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
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.
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
campus near Srinagar, killed 3 officers and the wife
of another. The 12 hostages were kept locked in a
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
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
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
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
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
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
December 2002 – Terrorists attack the Raghunath
temple in Jammu. NSG ready to be flown out but
called back at the last minute.
is used extensively to guard VIPs and VVIPs,
especially those in the 'Z-plus' category. Many
personnel are seconded to the
Special Protection Group
(SPG) which guards the Prime Minister. More than 19
persons currently enjoy
protection, mainly as a status symbol.
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
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