Thursday, May 8, 2008

Special force being groomed to fight insurgency

NEW DELHI: Naxal-hit states will soon have access to a specific Central para-military force, dedicated to quell insurgency, to be called the Special Action Force (SAF), comprising young officers and jawans picked from CRPF and especially trained in nuances of counter-Naxal operations, including jungle warfare and guerrilla tactics.

The SAF is not only designed to incorporate the team-based approach of the Andhra Pradesh’s GreyHounds, rather than the company-specific structure of the Army, but is also proposed to be trained by former Greyhounds boss K Durga Prasad. Mr Prasad’s deputation to SAF, according to CRPF sources, has already been cleared.

Starting with an initial strength of 10 battalions, SAF will have a very young age profile, with officers who are under 35 and an under-25 constabulary. The force will boast of a heavy concentration of officers, nearly three times the current ratio of officers in a normal CRPF battalion, which, a senior CRPF official told ET, would make it a closely-supervised and more accountable force.

The SAF proposal has been cleared in principle: While the administrative go-ahead is in, financial clearances will follow soon. MHA has already directed CRPF to start the process of identification of the rank and file of the proposed force and start their specialised training in counter-Naxal operations. The training will equip officers and jawans in jungle warfare, besides familiarising them with CPI(Maoist) organisational structure and operational strategies.

Interestingly, though SAF will initially concentrate on anti-Naxal operations, its mandate would be wide enough to incorporate future deployment for counter-operations against all types of internal conflict, including insurgency and terrorism.

Although a SAF battalion will have about the same strength as a CRPF battalion, the former is expected to operate in smaller units or teams of 30 personnel each (unlike the CRPF where a company comprises 100 personnel), led by an assistant commandant. Three assistant commandants will report to a deputy commandant, and at least 5 deputy commandants will be working under the battalion commander. The force, comprising a total strength of 10,000, will be headed by an IG-level officer.

The Naxal-hit states have welcomed the idea of a dedicated anti-Naxal force, with one of the DGPs pointing out that the specialised training of the personnel in jungle warfare would cut down on the time gap between arrival of the force and actual deployment. According to the police chief of an affected state, at least 5-7 weeks are needed at present to impart ‘situational training’ to the Central para-military forces, involving familiarisation with the local terrain and the police manual, before they can be deployed for counter-operations.

As for the effective strength of CRPF going down by 10 battalions due to the diversion of its personnel to SAF, the same is likely to be made up with fresh recruitment.

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