ATbar Special Services Group & Pak-Sponsored Terrorism
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Special Services Group & Pak-Sponsored Terrorism

15/11/2009 | by Raman, B.  
First Published in the SAIR International Terrorism Monitor, Paper No.578

In my article on the October 10,2009, (terrorist raid into the General Headquarters (GHQ) of the Pakistan Army at Rawalpindi available at http://www.southasiaanalysis.org/papers35/paper3453.html), I had written as follows: "There are possibly other SSG officers ( in addition to Ilyas Kashmiri)---serving and retired---- who have similarly gravitated to the world of terrorism. As a result of this, knowledge of commando-style operations seems to be widespread in Pakistan's jihadi world. Till now, the international focus has been on the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) as the sponsor and trainer of jihadi groups. Indications of a similar role being played by at least some elements in or of the the SSG---- possibly in tandem with the ISI --- are coming to the fore now."

2.It was known in the past that some retired officers of the ISI had been guiding the various anti-Indian and anti-US terrorist groups in Pakistan. They were also allegedly helping them in their training and supporting the Neo Taliban of Afghanistan and Gulbuddin Heckmatyar's Hizbe Islami in their operations against the NATO forces and the Afghan National Army in Afghan territory. By using these retired officers for helping these terrorist organisations, the ISI and the Pakistani Army were able to maintain the deniability of their role in sponsoring terrorisn in the Indian and Afghan territories.

3. Amongst the senior retired officers of the ISI, who had come to adverse notice in this connection are Lt.Gen. Hamid Gul, who was the Director-General of the ISI during the first tenure of Benazir Bhutto (1988-90) as the Prime Minister, Lt.Gen.Javed Nasir, who headed the ISI during the first tenure of Nawaz Sharif ( 1990-93) and Lt.Gen.Mahmud Ahmed, who was the chief of the ISI during the first two years of Pervez Musharraf after he seized power in October,1999. While Gul was removed by Benazir, who disliked him, Nasir and Mahmud Ahmed were removed under US pressure because of their suspected links with the terrorists.

4. After the November 19, 2008, assassination in Islamabad of Maj.Gen. Amir Faisal Alvi, who headed the SSG till the middle of 2005 before he was sacked by Musharraf for unworthy conduct, there have been indications of similar contacts between serving and retired officers of the SSG and the jihadi world. While the details of the alleged unworthy conduct of Alvi, who was the brother of Lady Naipaul, wife of the famous writer, were never revealed by Musharraf, the speculation in Pakistan was that during an official visit to the UK, Alvi had spoken to his British interlocutors about the contacts of some Pakistani army officers with Baitullah Mehsud, who used to be the head of the Pakistani Taliban, and criticised Musharraf for not acting against them. On coming to know of this, it was reported, Musharraf sacked him. Alvi, who was born in Kenya, had the dual nationality of Pakistan and the UK.

5. Amongst the terrorist leaders who were exposed in the Pakistani media after the assassination of Alvi as former SSG officers were Ilyas Kashmiri, who became the Amir of the Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islami (HUJI) in Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir after having worked for the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LET) for some time and Capt. Khurram, who left the SSG in 2003, joined the LET and then gravitated to the Taliban. He was killed in Afghanistan in March,2007.

6. Khurram was the younger brother of Major Haroon Ashique, who took premature retirement from the Pakistan Army in 2001 after a meeting with Hafeez Mohammad Sayeed , the Amir of the LET. He and his brother occupied important positions in the LET till 2004. Subsequently, they developed differences with Sayeed and left the LET. Haroon joined a group of retired officers of the Army raised by Ilyas Kashmiri for assisting Al Qaeda and the Pakistani and Afghan Talibans. Khurram joined the Afghan Taliban.

7. The jihadi role of Haroon came to notice during the investigation of the assassination of Alvi. He was found to have been the ring-leader of not only the assassination, but also of the kidnapping for ransom on October 20,2008, of Satish Anand, a Karachi-based film distributor, who is reported to be the uncle of Juhi Chawla, the Indian film actress. The investigation reportedly brought out that both these incidents were orchestrated by Haroon on the instructions of Ilyas Kashmiri. Haroon, who is a Kashmiri from Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir, is presently facing trial in these two cases along with two accomplices.

8. The identities of the two persons referred to in the FBI's affidavit against David Coleman Headley as "Individual A" and "LET member A" still remain unclear. It is also unclear as to why the FBI is not revealing their identities.

9. There are wheels within wheels in the Chicago conspiracy

10. Annexed is a backgrounder on the SSG (source http://www.specialoperations.com/Foreign/Pakistan/SSG.htm). Among the various tasks of the SSG is the protection of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal. After the Lal Masjid commando raid by the SSG in July,2007, a member of the SSG blew himself up in the officers' mess of the SSG at Tarbella Gazi killing a numbder of SSG officers in reprisal for the Lal Masjid raid. That incident brought out the infiltration of the SSG by the jihadi elements. (15-11-09)


(The writer is Additional Secretary (retd) , Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai.)

ANNEXURE

THE SPECIAL SERVICES GROUP OF THE PAKISTAN ARMY

Overview

In 1953-54 the Pakistan Army raised an elite commando formation with US Army assistance. To disguise its true mission, the new unit was simply designated 10 Bn. of The Baluch Regiment The battalion was posted to a new headquarters at Cherat near Attock City. In March 1964, a Mobile Training Team from the US Army Special Forces Group (Airborne) went to Pakistan to set up a new airborne school at Peshawar for 19 Baluch. The school included basic and jumpmaster courses. All members of 19 Baluch were airborne-qualified. The training team also included four riggers, who helped train Pakistani counterparts.

By this time 19 Baluch was already considered the SSG (Special Services Group) which was divided into 24 companies. Each company had specialization units, specialized in desert, mountain, ranger, and underwater warfare. The desert companies participated in training exercises with US Army Special Forces Mobile Training Team in late 1964. The scuba company in Karachi was renowned for its tough physical training.

In 1970 an anti-terrorist role was added. This mission was given to the Musa Company, an independent formation within the SSG. The name was given after the name of Prophet Musa (Moses). The company was originally formed in 1970 as a combat diver unit. In 1980, however, each company was given a diver unit. After the Musa company was converted to an anti-terrorist unit, it received training by British SAS advisors in Cherat during mid-1981.

In 1986, the SSG began a large-scale basic training program for Sri Lankan paramilitary militia forces. Commando and airborne training was given to members of the Sri Lankan Commando Regiment.

SSG units have also been seconded in covert operations in Afghanistan during the Afghan war, as air marshals on passenger airlines and as VIP security. At present, the SSG maintains its headquarters at Cherat and runs the Airborne School at Peshawar. Two SSG battalions are normally rotated through Cherat with a third battalion divided between the border and other strategic locations such as the Terbella Dam and nuclear research facilities. Each SSG battalion numbers 700 men in four companies. Each company is split into platoons and further sub-divided into 10 men teams. Battalions are commanded by Lieutenant Colonels, the group is currently run by a Colonel . ( My comment: It is headed by a Major-General since 2003)

Training

SSG officers must have at least two years of prior military experience and volunteer from other formations for three-year assignments with the SSG; NCO and enlisted men volunteer from other formations to serve permanently in the SSG. All trainees must participate in an eight-month SSG course at Cherta. The SSG course emphasizes tough physical conditioning. Included is a 36-mile march in 12 hours, a grueling requirement that was first institutionalized by 19 Baluch. They are also required to run 5 miles in 40 minutes with full gear. Following the SSG course, trainees must volunteer for Airborne School. The course last four weeks, with wings awarded after seven (five day, two night) jumps.

Many in the SSG school are selected for additional specialist training. A HALO course is given at Peshawar with a 'skydiver' tab awarded after 5 freefall jumps. A "Mountain Warfare" qualification badge is given after completing a course at the Mountain Warfare School in Abbotsbad; and a "Combat Diver" badge is awarded for the course held by the Naval Special Services Group SSGN at Karachi. Three classes of combat swimmers were recognized: 1st class to those completing an 18-mile swim; 2nd class to those finishing a 12-mile swim; and 3rd class for a 6-mile swim. SSG regularly sends students to the US for special warfare and airborne training. Later on, due to Siachen crisis, a Snow and High Altitude Warfare School was also established.

SSG Weapons and Uniforms

While they were designated 19 Baluch, the Pakistani special forces were distinguished by a green beret with the Baluch Regt. beret insignia on a maroon flash. A 'Baluch' tab, black with a maroon background, went on left shoulder. Combat uniforms were Khaki. The SSG dropped the green beret in favor of a maroon beret. A silver metal SSG beret is worn in a light blue felt square. A bullion SSG para wing with a black cloth background is worn on the left chest. A red cloth version is worn by a master parachutist who has at least 50 jumps. SSG "Riggers" wear a wing with the English word 'Rigger' stitched across the wing. A distinctive SSG badge featuring a dagger framed by lightning bolts, used since 1964 by members of 19 Baluch goes on the left shoulder; qualification tabs and badges such as Skydiver, SCUBA, or Mountain Warfare go on the right shoulder. A silver metal SSG insignia is occasionally worn on shoulder straps.