Those who helped defend Pathankot: All you need to know about NSG, SF

  • Rahul Singh, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Jan 10, 2016 13:14 IST
Combination photograph of a NSG commando and a PARA COMMANDO that was later redesignated as Special Forces.

India’s response to the fidayeen attack on the Pathankot fighter base has set off a fierce debate over whether the National Security Guard (NSG) or the army’s Special Forces (SF) should have handled the operation. The four day operation ended with all six terrorists being killed while seven security personnel also lost their lives. One of those martyred was Lt Col Niranjan who belonged to the NSG.

Here’s what you need to know about the two elite forces of India:


The NSG was set up in 1984 soon after the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi as a counter-terrorism force to be used in exceptional circumstances.

The army raised its first Para Commando units in 1966. The redesignation of these units as Special Forces happened in the mid-1990s.


The NSG is trained and equipped for counterterrorism operations, hostage rescue, anti hijack operations and urban warfare. It also guards VVIPs.

The SF specialises in covert operations, warfare in jungles, mountains and deserts, low-intensity conflict and hostage rescue.


The NSG is equipped with German Heckler & Koch MP5 submachine guns, Swiss SIG SG 551 assault rifles, Austrian Glock-17 pistols and Heckler and Koch PSG1 sniper rifles.

The SF is armed with Israeli TAR-21 assault rifles, US-made Colt M4 carbines and a mix of Israeli Galil and Russian Dragunov sniper rifles.


Half of the NSG personnel, also known as Black Cat commandos, are drawn from the army. The paramilitary and state police forces contribute the rest.

Army personnel volunteer to join the SF and have to undergo a rigorous selection process. The SF comes under the defence ministry.


The NSG is deployed at four hubs across the country to mount a swift response. Two more are planned. The hubs came up after the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks in 2008.

The SF units are continuously deployed in operations in Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeast.

Read | When terror came calling: How the Pathankot air base attacked happened

Read | Missed clues, security gaps in run-up to Pathankot airbase attack

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