/11 attacks gave rise to Maharashtra’s newest commando unit

11 attacks gave rise to Maharashtra’s newest commando unit

How the 26/ Within a year of the November 26, 2008 attacks, the state government, in what seemed like a knee-jerk reaction, put together an elite police commando force. The idea was to have a specialised unit of officers trained to take on the kind of terrorists who attacked the city.

The initiation of this elite unit called Force One, however, didn’t inspire much confidence. The shortlisted commandos underwent a two-week physical training camp, where they were made to run and complete a few obstacle courses on the Pune campus of the State Reserve Police Force. This was followed by 60 days of firing practice, a four-day course at the College of Military Engineering, Pune, where they learnt how to make and diffuse improvised explosive devices (IEDs), and another four-day course on smaller explosives by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).

They were also trained in the Israeli martial art of Krav Maga, a form of unarmed combat.

When, finally, Force One was inaugurated on November 25, 2009, one commando had fainted during the inaugural parade, while another was pictured holding an assault rifle incorrectly — with one hand on the barrel of the gun — which was laughed at by the National Security Guard (NSG) officers invited to watch the parade.

But, Force One was not going to take its duty lightly — after all, they were trained to be the city’s first line of defence if ever it was attacked again.

Dressed in navy blue overalls and maroon beret caps, Force One’s commandos today are admired for their level of training. “We have seen them train, and they are doing really well,” said one NSG officer posted in Mumbai.

Their headquarters, spread across 96 acres inside the Aarey Milk Colony in Goregaon (East), has one of the finest firing ranges in India. “The commandos are constantly training, so that they are ready to be put into action at any given hour,” said an IPS officer, and added that the selection process was gruelling.

“Only 5% of those who apply get through. There are several steps to qualify, prime among them being physical fitness. Only the best are selected,” the officer said.

This rigour has not only won Force One several competitions, but has also seen the unit train personnel from others forces. “Force One commandos recently trained the Mozambique police, and regularly train Quick Response Teams (QRT) of all units in Maharashtra, the Railway Protection Force (RPF) and also the Jammu and Kashmir police,” said another IPS officer.

The force, however, still faces one possible setback — it has never dealt with real combat.

“The difference between a commando of the Special Action Group (SAG) of the NSG and Force One is the former is a serving, battle-hardened Army personnel, who has seen action in Kashmir or the North-East,” said a serving Indian Army officer, who did not wish to be named.

“How effective Force One commandos will be in a real-life situation cannot be gauged yet. The proposition becomes different when you have bullets whizzing past your ears.”