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‘Mustafas of Desert Warfare’
Posted:Jun 4, 2017
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By Sumit Walia
The Indian Army's Special Forces (SF) units are among the most ruthless, dangerous and determined killing machines on earth. Their physical and mental strength is beyond imagination. Just 4500 men are selected from 1.25 million army men.
There is no recruitment rally for any of the 10 SF battalions, because each one of them (jawans and officers) is a volunteer from other army units. 90% of candidates who volunteer for SF fail during probation. Those who finally join SF units are `Men apart, every man an emperor`.
My first encounter with SF was in Agra in 2001. During a dinner, a friend who had passed out of IMA, asked then Major Rajesh Shyoran, Sena Medal of SF, `Like you, I want to earn the Maroon beret and `Balidan (sacrifice)Badge.` Major Shyoran said, `See, it is simple. Either you have it in you or you don’t. Agar tumhara Dil, Dimag aur Ghutna ek line main hai, you can make it.`(If your head, heart and knees are in a line, you can make it)
Shyoran explained `Dil – we need men with extraordinary courage who are willing to accept any challenge under any circumstances. Dimag – we need men with undying spirit, who refuse to give up. You are out of the race the moment you show your break point during training or probation. Ghutna – Men with great physical strength and endurance, who can endure unimaginable hardship, who can keep running with full battle load for miles even when the body refuses to – without food, water or rest.`
Nothing much was available in public domain because everything related to them – their training, weaponry, tactics, missions, capabilities etc is shrouded in secrecy. This is my tribute to the 10 Para (SF) battalion which is going to celebrate its golden jubilee on 1st June 2017.
Making of a Scorpion
Any officer eager to earn the Maroon Beret must write to the Commanding Officer of the SF unit he wishes to join. After his request is accepted, the candidate undergoes six months of training.
10 Para (SF) are also known as Desert Scorpions. Officers and jawans opting for 10 Para (SF) are trained specially for desert warfare. At the start of the probation, they are given a tent, a bucket, a knife, a rope and a lantern. Rigorous physical training happens day and night with no specific routine as there is no specific training manual. They get trained, sometimes, without food for four days, one litre water for three days and without sleep for seven days. Sleep deprivation starts the moment probation starts. He will always have a 10kg sandbag on his back – this sandbag is affectionately called permanent buddy. The aim is to make the candidate realize that he is more capable than he ever imagined. The moment he shows any weakness, he is out.
Every month he has to complete 10km, 20km, 30km and 40 km speed walk with full battle gear, an additional 25 kg, within a stipulated time.
Scorpions are better navigators than modern GPS systems. In the desert, there are no roads, no landmarks, nor many human colonies. There are just sand dunes that keep shifting every night. In such vast and clueless places, they are halo/air dropped in the middle of nowhere, with just a compass in their hand. Using that compass and stars, they reach their destination without fail, every time. They are taught to survive with literally nothing to eat or drink. They collect dew at dawn to survive. Just 300 ml of water is good for them to survive for 2 days in 50+ degrees in the Thar desert. Normal humans need over 10 litres a day to survive. They are taught to eat anything that moves in the desert area. They specially enjoy eating scorpions. They know what to eat to stay alive to complete the mission. The battle is not won by dying but to kill the enemy.
During the 6-month probation period, no candidate gets rejected because 90% give up themselves and return to their respective units. Before declaring any candidate fit for the unit, the Commanding Officer would consult the candidate’s probation officer and all others around. This is very important as the whole unit is a one close knit family. For that Maroon Beret, apart from physical and mental toughness, one must have the camaraderie to prove his worth.
When an officer is selected, the CO will bring the Maroon Beret placed in the oldest trophy won by 10 Para, which will also be filled with drinks. The candidate will have to drink it all, empty the trophy and wear his Maroon Beret himself. No one will place the maroon beret on his head because, as they say in SF units, he has earned it. During the dining-in ceremony, after his first drink, candidate officer will have to break a piece of his glass, chew it till it becomes (almost) sand and gulp that down with whisky. Showing camaraderie, all other officers do the same.
Candidates do not earn the ‘Balidan’ badge earning the Maroon Beret. They have to undergo Para training in Agra to earn the Para Wing badge and wait for the first successful operation to earn the badge, symbolizing sacrifices on the battlefield.
After the probation, there is specialized training at SF Training Centre, in weapons, communications, navigation, medical and demolition techniques. These five trainings are crucial because, in any mission, there would be a team of at least five commandos.
10 Para (SF) are specially trained for operations in desert – from the southern border of Punjab to Gujarat. But they are always ready to take on any task, anywhere. They make their frequent trips to Jammu & Kashmir. 10 SF were among the first who went up the Kargil hills and brought back information about the scale of intrusion.
Terrorists in J&K fear SF units because they know the SF will wait for them endlessly, sitting still, for days, in the rain, dew or ice, with food or without and will not go home without capturing the terrorist dead or alive.
During a covert operation, disguised as brainwashed Kashmiris/jihadi Pakistanis, Maj Sangram Singh (Shaurya Chakra) and Capt Vikas of 10 Para (SF) stayed with LeT terrorists in their camp in a jungle for four days. During this covert operation, they gathered a lot of information and killed all 4 terrorists. The Army broke the Lashkar e Toiba network using that information.
The glorious past:
The 10 Para SF was raised in 1967 by splitting 9 Para (SF). Within four years, they took part in the 1971 war and conducted one of the most successful commando operations in the world – The Chachro Raid. This operation is a case study in the US special forces and UK special forces – SAS. Under the leadership of the legendry Lt. Col. Sawai Bhawani Singh(Maharaja of Jaipur), 10 Para (SF) prepared for this raid for 6 months. The 10 Para (SF) captured town after town and handed them over to regular units of the Army – a surgical strike in literal sense. So thorough and accurate was the planning, the preparation and the execution that 10 Para (SF) captured Chachro, Virawah, Nagarparkar, Islamkot, Lunio without a single causality. The enemy lost 36 men and 22 were taken as prisoners of war. For this successful operation, 10 Para (SF) received Battle Honours – Chachro 1971 and received 10 gallantry awards while the CO, Lt. Col. Bhawani Singh, received the Mahavir Chakra.
In 1987, 10 Para (SF) was a part of the Indian Peace Keeping Forces in Sri Lanka. Like other SF battalions, 10 Para are also masters in every field and have produced excellent sportsmen and mountaineers.
In 2002, 10 Para (SF) was given three days’ notice to prepare for the World Special Forces competition. Under the command of Capt Virendra Salaria (Shaurya Chakra) and Capt TR Krishna Das (Sena Medal), a small team from 10 Para (SF) participated and won the competition for India after beating Special Forces from the USA, the UK, France and Russia.
The list can go on and on but most of them will not talk about their missions. Every SF soldier carries so many stories to narrate and leaves a legacy behind. At the end, I remember what Maj Poonia of 10 Para (SF) said in a seminar in in 2012. A student asked him `Don’t you guys have any fear? All these risky operations are so dangerous.`
Major Poonia’s reply left everyone speechless `Everyone fears but the love for our country and countrymen; IZZAT, honour, pride of the PALTAN and brotherly support of our fellow brother-in-arms leaves that fear far behind. Our training has made so confident that when we face any challenge, we don’t think about the hurdles, our mind starts thinking about how to accomplish the mission. There is simply no room for fear. `
(Sumit Walia is a IT consultant by profession and military historian by passion. He can be contacted at  It_sumit@yahoo.com)
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