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Commandos in the crosshairs

columns Updated: Aug 25, 2010 18:28 IST
Amitava Sanyal
Amitava Sanyal
Hindustan Times
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Nothing connects the word ‘commando’ to popular imagination in a more engaging manner than Commando Comics, the comic books that lit up the imagination of generations of kids. They were more than just books that you read in torchlight under the quilt just before entering dreamland. They were informative too: I learnt my first few German words — achtung (attention), gott (god), himmel (sky) — thanks to the Tommies and Jerries lighting up the pages of these odd-sized books.

Now that I sport a moustache, I can also point out how much of it was British Army propaganda (pretty much all of it), or how much was about a Christian sense of right and wrong, heroism and cowardice (more indirect than the propaganda). But there’s no denying the popularity of the series that is still not out of print after more than 45 years in publication.

At the end of a tense week during which we watched endless images of Indian commandos storming Mumbai landmarks taken over by terrorists, let’s look at some commando stories down the decades — and one not-so-real one.

Raising a regiment
The British claim it was Churchill who gave the go-ahead for the raising of the first set of commando fighters in modern history. Well, in 1939, a year before Winston nodded, the Germans had formed the Brandenburger Regiment, the first such force. The Americans raised their own Rangers later and deployed them full-fledged for the first time during Operation Torch in northern Africa in late 1942.

Whose war is it anyway?

In 2006, BBC’s Newsnight programme obtained the first pictures of Israel’s Mossad training Kurdish forces in northern Iraq. It was vehemently denied by Israel till then. So paranoid had been the Jewish state that it had told its special forces soldiers, who were sent in 2004, that they would be disowned if discovered. But as an interviewee informed, more than 100 peshmerga fighters were trained at these camps.

Underwater soldiers
The Mumbai terrorists are said to have come in by the sea route. The recent cases of piracy in the Arabian Sea also riveted our attention to this frontier of warfare. While our leaders debate how they will secure our 5,700-km coastline, let’s look at how Turkey, which has a much shorter coast to guard, has raised troops adept at underwater operations. This clip feels like a promo, but it also works as a parody for the same reason.

Eye for an eye
It’s not just modern governments that have raised commandos. One of the most feared gangs of self-proclaimed commandos were the Red Army Faction, which terrorised Europe between the 1960s and the 1990s. One of the hottest movies of 2008, Uli Edel’s Baader Meinhof Complex, takes a poignant look at this ‘band of outsiders’ led by high-school dropout Andreas Baader and journalist Ulrike Meinhof.