File photo: Reuters
File photo: Reuters

Govt initiates steps to create special forces division

  • Major General A.K. Dhingra appointed as the first chief of Armed Forces Special Operations Division
  • The special forces division is expected to have some 3,000 commandos–drawn from Indian Army’s special forces, Indian Navy’s MARCOS unit and Indian Air Force’s Garud unit

NEW DELHI: India on Wednesday initiated steps to create a special forces division, appointing a Major General rank officer as the chief of the new Armed Forces Special Operation Division, a defence official said.

Once it takes shape, the division is expected to be the first choice for the government to undertake any major counter-terrorism operation, a person familiar with the development said.

Accordingly, Major General A.K. Dhingra has been appointed as the first chief of the Armed Forces Special Operations Division, the clearance for which was given by Prime Minister Narendra Modi during the Combined Commanders’ Conference last year, the official said. According to news reports, Dhingra is a special forces veteran, from the elite 1 Para Special Forces Regiment.

“Major General AK Dhingra appointed as the first Chief of the Armed Forces Special Operations Division. The tri-services formation will have Special Forces commandos from Army’s Parachute Regiment, Navy’s MARCOS and Air Force’s Garud Commando Force," news agency ANI said in a Twitter post.

The proposed new division is expected to have some 3,000 commandos––drawn from the special forces of the Indian Army, the Marine Commando (MARCOS) unit of the Indian Navy and the Garud unit of the Indian Air Force. The Indian Army has some 6,000 special forces personnel, while the Navy and Air Force have about 1,000 special force commandos, according to various estimates.

At present the army’s special units are the ones that deal with terrorist operations in Kashmir for instance and the National Security Guard that draws personnel from the army takes on special challenges like the 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai where 10 terrorists from the Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Toiba targeted two luxury hotels, a train station and a Jewish centre besides other locations. At least 166 people were killed in the attacks. The MARCOS and later the NSG were involved in the counter terrorist operations at the two luxury hotels and the Jewish centre.

“India has been facing terrorism threats for decades now and there has been a view that we need a special team to take on such threats with specialised forces operating in synergy with each other," said the person familiar with the development cited above.

The new unit is to work under the Integrated Defence Staff (IDS) which is headed by a Lt General rank officer.

The setting up of a special operations unit––known as the Special Operations Command––was first proposed by a committee headed by former cabinet secretary Naresh Chandra in 2011. Chandra also served as defence secretary.

The defence official cited above said that defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman, defence secretary Sanjay Mitra and the chiefs of the three services played a major role in the implementation of the decision to set up the Special Forces Group as well as the Space as well as Cyber warfare centres. The Cyber warfare centre aims to look at sharpening offensive capabilities while the Space warfare centre––which is expected to come up in Bengaluru––will be looking at protecting India’s space assets including military satellites.

The constitution of the new division “will bring about much needed and long awaited synergistic action among all the three services to operate in an integrated and more effective manner which will lead to the success of counter terrorism operations," said Kamal Davar, former head of the Defence Intelligence Agency.

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