On Wednesday, two Garud commandos were killed in an encounter with terrorists in Kashmir’s Bandipora district. What is the Garud, the elite special forces of the Air Force mainly tasked with protecting airbases, doing on the frontlines in Kashmir?
The answer lies in the attack on the Pathankot Air Force Station by Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorists from Pakistan in January 2016. It took nearly four days and the lives of seven Indian soldiers before the terrorists who had infiltrated the base were finally gunned down. The Air Force Court of Inquiry into the incident, chaired by Air Vice-Marshal Amit Dev, was scathing in its indictment of the Garud, saying the lives of Indian troopers could have been saved if they had reacted correctly to the attack.
It was then decided that the Garuds needed to have ‘operational experience’ on the frontlines to make them more effective protectors of Air Force assets. Reports say that in August, two Garud units were attached with the Rashtriya Rifles deployed in Kashmir. The two martyred commandos, Sergeant Khairnar Milind Kishor and Corporal Nilesh Kumar Nayan, were among those.
On the face of it, inter-operability among special forces can only be beneficial. But in reality, the gamut of special forces trained for specific purposes in the country makes that a difficult proposition. For examples, the commandos of the highly-trained Parachute Regiment of the Army (the largest Special Forces unit in India, and among the oldest airborne commando units in the world) are trained to take the fight deep into enemy territory.
The National Security Guard, on the other hand, is trained for close protection of VIPs. Then there’s the Ghatak (killer) Force, armed and equipped to handle situations like terror strikes, hostage situations and counter insurgency operations. They also spearhead a strike ahead of a battalion. Given the different skill-sets required, care should be taken so that they don’t lose their specialist edge in the name of interoperability.