Operation Black Tornado- NSG operation in Mumbai 26/11 attack

NSG was created after the assassination of Indira Gandhi. It is a mix of volunteers from the Army, para military forces and the Police force. In a unique org structure, NSG’s lower rung leadership is formed of the volunteer officers from the Army but overall command is under an IPS officer. There are two battalions- 51 and 52 for counter hijack and hostage rescue situation respectively. The inherent organizational weaknesses and conflicts came to the fore during 26/11 operations. In spite of those issues, NSG men went in and did their job without any complaints.

As early as Sep 2008, the CIA station chief in Delhi had informed RAW about a pending terrorist attack on Mumbai by LeT. By mid-Nov information about a terrorist laden boat, starting from Karachi was also passed on…with Taj hotel being a probable target. In spite of all that, the valuable intelligence was lost in the complex maze of multiple agencies and general bureaucratic and systemic ineptness. Terrorists landed unopposed and went around spreading mayhem.

As a major tactical breakthrough, the terrorists managed to wipe out the top leadership of state police’s anti terror unit. The local and central administration realized that matter was fast getting out of hand and announced on national media that the NSG was being mobilized. Now, both our media and political class are either naive or simply stupid to be making such announcements and breaking news stories as it removes the element of surprise that the NSG could have had once they got face to face with the terrorist. Now the terrorist knew who  were coming to engage them and when.

The NSG was based out of Manesar in Gurgaon. Hastily the troops were loaded into trucks and moved to Delhi airport for the airlift…naturally, they got caught in the traffic jams and To add to their woes, one of the truck broke down on the highway. Finally when they reached the airport…no planes waiting for them. Somehow they managed to get hold of  the RAW’s aviation wing’s IL-76 which flew them to Mumbai, reaching at 5 am.

Another rather thoughtless decision was to ask the team of 200 commandos to split up and engage the terrorist at all three locations simultaneously. Better option would have been to engage the three installations, one by one. The teams were provided with very sketchy intelligence of the location/events/number of terrorists. The fact that city police had lost their ATS leadership was a major drawback. The teams didn’t even have the maps of the hotels they were about to enter and clear out. Most of the hotel staff were either dead or in hiding. In spite of all these setbacks…NSG started top-down clearing of rooms in both the Taj and the Trident. Only 1600 rooms to be cleared without a master key at hand. One good thing was that the Navy  commandos MARCOS had been hastily deployed and they provided some useful information to the NSG as they prepared their assault plans.

Now the Taj had been tastefully built by Jamsetji Tata. It had thick granite walls on which even rocket launchers were useless. NSG also felt a paucity of snipers to pin down the terrorist. So they came up with an ingenious idea. They put two snipers in the Fire truck trolley which kept swinging across the face of the hotel. This gave the impressions that their were snipers covering the hotel from multiple angles and did restrain the terrorists to a great extent.

During the fight at the Taj, Maj. Unnikrishnan’s buddy commando was severely injured. He evacuated his injured buddy and then rushed back after the terrorist. As the visibility was low due to smoke and dust, before he could locate the terrorist, the terrorist fired a burst of automatic fire and Major Unnikrishnan was martyred and was awarded the Ashok Chakra (peace time Param Veer Chakra). The small team size was making it difficult for NSG to trap the terrorist.  After a 60 hour long operation, NSG finally managed to clear out the two hotels.

Nariman house was also targeted by the terrorist because of the presence of Israeli families. As the terrorist had blown up the staircase, NSG decided to go in through the roof. They got hold of two Mi-17 helicopters whose brave pilots decided to go in despite no armor plating to protect them. This was the moment of another faux pas by our imbecile journalist who started doing a live telecast of the heli-borne operation. One of the terrorist came to the roof to shoot at the helicopter but as luck would have it, the pilot had erred and was hovering over the wrong house. After frenetic signalling from the ground, pilot realized his mistake and came over the correct roof. Had he been their in the first place, the terrorist could have caused major damage. Once the commandos landed, there was fierce gun fight and another Ashok Chakra was earned through a supreme sacrifice by Hav. Gajendra Singh. The troops shall enter the room by placing frame charges to breach the wall and neutralize the two terrorists.

Although the operation did receive fair amount of criticism esp. from the Special Forces community, but it did bring out the organizational and systemic lacunae plaguing an elite force like the NSG. Some of those issues are still there and the decision to expand the elite force by creating new hubs had both positive and negative impact. But overall, the NSG in this operation lived upto its name and reputation and we can safely assume that would do a better job, if needed in the future.

– Jai Hind

Ref India’s special Forces by Lt. Gen. P C Katoch and Saikat Datta

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