In another sign of increasing India-US cooperation on fighting terror, US army’s Special Forces are conducting their first-ever joint counter-terrorist training with National Security Guards (NSG) at Manesar in Haryana. Christened Exercise “Balanced Iroquois”, this three-week long specialist training began on 18 October 2015 and will end this week.
“The inaugural exercise clearly captures the momentum and vigor from the US-India relationship to ensure India’s security and that of its neighbours,” US Ambassador to India, Richard Verma told The Indian Express.
India and the US have been cooperating extensively on counter-terrorist activities, as witnessed after the terror attack on a police station in Punjab’s Gurdaspur district in July. By decoding the GPS captured from the terrorists, the FBI was able to track down that the terrorists started from Pakistan. Similarly, the Night Vision Device, captured from terrorists in Gurdaspur, was tracked down by the Pentagon as having been lost at a battlefield in Afghanistan.
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“The exercise is an important step between our respective security forces and is indicative of the deep and growing security relationship between the US and India,” Ambassador Verma added.
Exercise “Balanced Iroquois” is aimed at creating interoperability between the NSG and the US Special Forces, should the need ever arise during a crisis caused by terrorists.
“We want to be the guys NSG calls for help,” an American military official said.
“But before we reach that stage, we need to develop mutual trust between the two forces. We can look at intelligence exchange, sharing of tactical intelligence, providing advisors, setting up a combined operations room and then, conducting a combined raid,” the official added.
More than a dozen member strong team of the US army special forces, which flew in on their special aircraft to Delhi, is taking part in this exercise with 30 members of NSG’s 51 Special Action Group (SAG). US army and Indian army Special Forces take part in Exercise Vajra Prahar every year but this is the first time NSG, which comes under the Home Ministry, is training with the US army Special Forces.
51 SAG, a unit fully manned by officers and men on deputation from the army, is India’s premier counter-terrorist response team for any terror related crisis in the country. The soldiers from 51 SAG led the counter-terrorist operations in Mumbai during the 26-11 terror strikes, undertaken by Pakistani terror group Lashkar-e-Toiba. Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan of 51 SAG was posthumously awarded the Ashok Chakra for his gallant action during the Mumbai terror strike.
According to sources, Hawai-based Special Operations Command Pacific of the US Army has been trying to engage NSG for the last 10 years but it is only since the arrival of Modi government that “things have started moving along”. The plans for this joint training were first mooted in 2013, and were further discussed during President Obama’s visit to India in January.
After the US Special Forces and NSG troopers took part in “friendship jump” during Aero India at Bangalore in February, the discussions progressed at a fast pace. But this being the first instance of Home Ministry working with the Pentagon, the American side was faced with some problems pertaining to issue of visas for their soldiers.
The ongoing exercise focuses on flat range work, tape drills, classroom work on operational planning and medical aid, day and night firing, and Night Vision Goggle assisted firing into a facility. Exercise “Balanced Iroquois” is however light on scenario building, which means that it does not characterize the mock terrorists as belonging to Lashkar-e-Toiba or Taliban. It will culminate in a mock counter-terrorist operation at a special setting in the NSG campus at Manesar and at a civilian warehouse near the campus.
Before this exercise, NSG has conducted joint training with Special Forces from Germany, France, Israel, Australia, Thailand and Russia. The NSG has also provided exclusive training to ‘First Responder Force’ of 10 Indian states.