Special Group (India)

Special Group
SG-Badge.png
Special Group insignia
Active Since 1981
Allegiance  India
Type Special forces[1]
Role
Part of Research and Analysis Wing
Headquarters Sarsawa, Uttar Pradesh[4]
Nickname(s) The Mavericks[5]

The Special Group (SG) is the special forces unit of India's foreign intelligence agency, Research and Analysis Wing, that is tasked to undertake covert operations. The unit is considered to be composed of the most elite soldiers of India and is responsible for conducting operations with which the Government of India may not wish to be overtly associated.[4][2] Since the unit is confidential in nature, most of the information about its activities is highly classified.[2][3][4]

History

Origins

The Special Group was created in 1981 as a classified unit of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) tasked for undertaking covert operations.[2][6] The Directorate General of Security,[2] which was a confidential organisation created with assistance from the CIA after the Sino-Indian War of 1962, went under control of RAW in 1968. In 1982, Project Sunray was initiated by the Directorate, under which an officer from the Para SF of the Indian Army was tasked to raise a unit comprising 250 personnel.[3] In early 1983, a group of six personnel were sent to a confidential military base in Israel.[3] There they received training from a specialist team of Mossad for a few weeks.[6] This team, which had earlier rescued hostages from Uganda's Entebbe airport with some assistance from RAW, was composed of commandos from the Sayeret Matkal.[3][6][Note 1]

Security at International summits in 1983

The Non-Aligned Movement summit and Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in 1983 was conducted under the direct vigil of the SG to prevent any untoward event.[3] The Non-Aligned summit was particularly important since it would cement India's position as the leader of the movement.[7]

Operation Sundown

Operation Sundown was the code name of a covert plan in which the Special Group was to abduct Sikh extremist leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale from Guru Nanak Niwas in the Golden Temple complex, Amritsar.[8] A unit was formed to prepare for Operation Sundown in the Sarsawa Air Force Base in Uttar Pradesh.[8] In December 1983, an officer from the Counter-Revolutionary Warfare Wing of the British Special Air Service arrived in India to provide advice regarding the plan. Extensive rehearsals were also carried out.[8][9][2]

The operation was never started due to the then Prime Minister of India Indira Gandhi's rejection on religious grounds; the operation may have hurt the religious sentiments of the Sikh people. In addition there was a risk of numerous civilian casualties as a collateral damage of the operation.[10][8]

Other options such as negotiations subsequently failed and the law and order situation in Punjab continued to deteriorate.[10][9][11]

Operation Blue Star

External image
Two Special Group officers at the Golden Temple during Operation Blue Star.[3] Note the distinctive black uniforms[6] and the damaged structure in the background.

By the end of 1983, the security situation in Punjab was worsening due to the erupting separatist militancy.[12] Operation Blue Star was the code name of the Indian military action carried out between 1 and 8 June 1984 to remove militant religious leader Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and his followers from the buildings of the Harmandir Sahib (Golden Temple) complex in Amritsar, Punjab.[13] A few days before the operation began, the Special Group arrived in Amritsar.[1] The Special Group was tasked to create an executable plan for this.[2]

A senior officer from the British Special Air Service was secretly recruited to provide advice for this plan to the SG,[1] after being cleared by then British PM Margaret Thatcher.[14] A group of SG personnel clad in black uniforms, armed with AK-47 rifles and Night vision goggles, began the assault on 6 June 1984.[6]

The Special Group was responsible for the eventual death of Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and Shabeg Singh during Operation Blue Star, despite the 1 Para (SF) claiming credit for it.[4] This is associated with the fact that they were shot dead using AK-47 rifles. Such rifles, which were purchased secretly from Europe, were present exclusively with the SG at that time.[4]

Prime Ministerial security till 1985

In the aftermath of the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1984, SG personnel provided security to the Prime Minister of India until the creation of the Special Protection Group in 1985.[3]

Black operations

The Special Group has undertaken black operations outside India.[4] In the late 1980s, it rescued a political prisoner in Bangladesh after being ordered to do so by the Prime Minister of India.[4] After a civil war started in Sri Lanka in 1983, India used it as an opportunity to curtail foreign influence in the country; India provided training and equipment to the militant groups fighting in the war.[15] The Special Group was involved in providing training assistance to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam,[4] the most prominent militant group.[15]

Planned raid near Kahuta nuclear facility

During the 1999 Kargil war, the Indian government had planned a raid near the Kahuta nuclear facility in Pakistan and had asked the Special Group to prepare for it. Ultimately, however, the raid was called off.[4]

Counter-insurgency operations in Kashmir

The Special Group are known to be involved in the ongoing counter-insurgency operations in the Jammu and Kashmir region across the Line of Control.[2][4]

Overview

Organisation

A diagram showing the command structure of SG

The Special Group functions under the Directorate General of Security (DG Security) of Research and Analysis Wing, which is India's foreign intelligence agency.[2][16] The DG Security also oversees the Office of Special Operations.[16] The unit serves under the command of the Prime Minister through the Cabinet Secretariat.[4][3]

The SG is primarily based at Chakrata in the state of Uttarakhand and Sarsawa in Uttar Pradesh, where it is headquartered.[2][4] All of its personnel are from the Indian Army, mostly from the Para (Special Forces).[2][4] SG personnel are distributed in three to four companies.[2][3] An SG team is kept on high alert for contingencies round the clock. There are a total of 4 SG squadrons, with each squadron consisting of four troops. Each troop has a specialized skill-set. The SG has dedicated branches specialising in intelligence gathering, operational planning, communications and training.[2]

Responsibilities

The responsibilities of the Special Group includes clandestine intelligence operations and covert operations, with which the Government of India may not wish to be overtly associated.[2][3] The SG is also responsible for developing tactics and training procedures for other special forces of India.[2]

Training and equipment

The Special Group is considered to be the most capably trained special forces unit of India and is considered to be very well equipped.[3][4]

See also

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