Special Group (India)
Special Group insignia
|Part of||Research and Analysis Wing|
|Headquarters||Sarsawa AFS, Uttar Pradesh|
The Special Group (SG) is the Special Paramilitary unit of Research and Analysis Wing, India's foreign intelligence agency. It is also known as 4 Vikas, 22 SF and 22 SG.[Note 1] The unit is considered to be composed of the most elite soldiers of India and its responsibilities include conducting those operations with which the Indian government may not wish to be overtly associated.
Established in 1981, the SG was raised in the following year under Project Sunray. The unit is extremely secretive; its existence was previously unknown to the public. SG was reportedly involved in Operation Blue Star and it has undertaken black operations outside India. There are a total of 4 SG squadrons, with each squadron consisting of four troops. Each troop has a specialized skill-set.
The Special Group was created in 1981 as a classified unit of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) tasked for undertaking covert operations. The Directorate General of Security, 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. In early 1983, a group of six personnel were sent to a confidential military base in Israel. There they received training from a specialist team of Mossad for a few weeks. 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.[Note 2]
The original mandate of the SG was similar to that of the British Special Air Service and included counterterrorism and hostage rescue. However, this mandate was later transferred to the National Security Guard. The current mandate of the SG is not fully known.
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. The Non-Aligned summit was particularly important since it would cement India's position as the leader of the movement.
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. A unit was formed to prepare for Operation Sundown in the Sarsawa Air Force Base in Uttar Pradesh. 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.
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.
Operation Blue Star
|Two Special Group officers at the Golden Temple during Operation Blue Star. Note the distinctive black uniforms 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. 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. A few days before the operation began, the Special Group arrived in Amritsar. The Special Group was tasked to create an executable plan for this.
A senior officer from the British Special Air Service was secretly recruited to provide advice for this plan to the SG, after being cleared by then British PM Margaret Thatcher. 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.
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. 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.
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.
The Special Group has undertaken black operations outside India. In the late 1980s, it rescued a political prisoner in Bangladesh after being ordered to do so by the Prime Minister of India. 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. The Special Group was involved in providing training assistance to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, the most prominent militant group.
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.
Planned operation in Kandahar, Afghanistan
When the Indian Airlines flight 814 was forced by hijackers to land in Kandahar, Afghanistan, the SG was instructed to be ready for a potential rescue effort. Their mission was to clear a path for the National Security Guard to enable them to reach the aircraft and conduct an anti-hijacking operation. The plan entailed eliminating the members of the Taliban in the vicinity of the aircraft. However, public pressure eventually forced the Indian government to scrap the plan. The government agreed to the demand of the hijackers to swap imprisoned militants in exchange for the civilian passengers.
Counter-insurgency operations in Kashmir
The Special Group functions under the Directorate General of Security (DG Security) of Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), which is India's foreign intelligence agency. The unit serves under the command of the prime minister through the Cabinet Secretariat. Within RAW, the Secretary (Research) is responsible for the Special Group.
The SG is primarily based at Chakrata in the state of Uttarakhand and Sarsawa in Uttar Pradesh, where it is headquartered. Its personnel are volunteers recruited from all the branches of the Indian Armed Forces, including Indian Army’s special forces. After serving in the SG on deputation, its personnel return to their original units. SG personnel are distributed in three to four companies. 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.
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. The SG is also responsible for developing tactics and training procedures for other special forces of India.
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. The SG is reportedly provided with the newest equipment.
- The Special Group is different from the Vikas battalions of the Special Frontier Force; the name "4 Vikas" was given to it to create confusion. The designation of "22 SF" was given to the SG when it was deployed in Jammu and Kashmir (for counter-insurgency operations) to conceal the real name of the unit; obituaries for SG personnel who died carried this name. The number 22 in this designation is in succession with the number 21 in Indian Army‘s 21 Para (SF).
- Initially, the Special Group contemplated sending its officers to train with the British Special Air Service at the facility located in Hereford; SG made this proposal after its officers visited that facility. However, the Indian government rejected this proposal; SG later decided to stick to its own training facility.
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