Para Commandos is a special forces unit of the Indian Army’s Parachute Regiment and is tasked with missions such as special operations, direct action, hostage rescue, counter-terrorism, unconventional warfare, special reconnaissance, foreign internal defense, counter-proliferation, counter-insurgency, seek and destroy and personnel recovery. The unit’s heritage stems from World War II, with the creation 50th Parachute Brigade in October 1941.
The parachute units of the Indian Army are among the oldest airborne units in the world. The 50th Indian Parachute Brigade was formed on 27 October 1941, comprising the British 151st Parachute Battalion, and the British Indian Army 152nd Indian Parachute Battalion and 153rd Gurkha Parachute Battalion. The Parachute Regiment was formed from these and several other units in 1952.
In 1944 the 50th was allocated to the newly founded 44th Airborne Division. In the post-independence restructuring, India retained only one parachute brigade—the 50th. This brigade consisted of three distinguished battalions personally nominated by the then C-in-C, namely 1 PARA (Punjab), 2 PARA (Maratha) and 3 PARA (Kumaon). During J&K operations of 1947-48 these battalions had distinguished themselves with glory in the battles of Shelatang, Naushera, Jhangar and Poonch, wherein they were awarded the respective Battle Honours.
On 15 April 1952, the three battalions serving with the Parachute Brigade were taken away from their respective Infantry Regiments to form the Parachute Regiment. Since then the Parachute Regiment has grown to comprise ten battalions including Parachute (Special Forces) battalions. In that while, 8 PARA became a Mechanised Infantry Battalion, 21 PARA (Special Force) joined us from Maratha LI. During their short but eventful existence so far, battalions of the regiment have had extensive operational experience and singular achievements to speak of their level of professionalism.
1971 Indo-Pakistan War
In Bangladesh 2 PARA (airborne), which was a part of 50 (Independent) Parachute Brigade carried out India’s first airborne assault operation to capture Poongli Bridge in Mymensingh District near Dhaka. Subsequently they were the first unit to enter Dhaka. For this action 2 PARA were given the Battle Honour of Poongli Bridge and Theater Honour Dhaka.
Operation Bluestar 1984
In 1984 the Para (SF) were involved in Operation Blue Star. They were charged to lead an attack on the Holy Site of Sikh religion the Golden Temple for eviction of Sikh militants in Punjab. 8 members of 1 Para (SF) were given the task of assaulting two areas of the temple, of which one area required divers. However, there were a number of setbacks as a result of inaccurate intelligence on the strength of the militants who were trained by Gen. Shabeg Singh (ex-para sf) himself, operating low light, the conventional manner of the raid and the lack of incentive; all of which resulted in a mission failure.
The late 1980s saw the Para (SF) in action in Sri Lanka, as part of Operation Pawan. However, lack of proper planning by the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) and insufficient intelligence on the LTTE’s whereabouts, led the initial heli-borne assault on Jaffna University on 11 October 1987 to be a tragic failure however it was later because of the efforts of the Para (SF) that led to the capture of the jaffna peninsula, forcing the LTTE militants to take refuge in the forests.
Six soldiers lost their lives in that ill-fated mission, but unlike the Sikh Light Infantry who lost their lives gallantly fighting to the last, the Para (SF) due to their superior training, took refuge under a house, after they got misguided by a youth who offered his service to help the commandos track Prabhakaran by taking them for a wild goose chase. They engaged the enemy for a full 24 hours and picked up all their dead with their weapons after reinforcements arrived next morning.
Operation Cactus 1988, Maldives
With the capture of Maldives, an island nation off the south western coast of India on 3 November 1988 by PLOTE mercenaries, the army turned to the 50 (Independent) Parachute Brigade to carry out an airborne/air transported operation to liberate the country and return power to the legal government. This operation had 6 PARA spearheading the mission. 6 Para flew in on 4 November 1988 in a fleet of IL-76, An-32 and An-12 transport aircraft. One team rescued the president, another took over the airfield and a third rescued Maldivian security personnel besieged in their NSS HQ. Later 7 Para & part of 17 Para Fd Regt were also deployed to the Maldives. When mercenaries tried to escape by sea along with hostages, they were intercepted by the Indian navy. Thus, 6 Para, 17 Para Fd Regt conducted the first ever international intervention by the Indian army without any loss of life.
Kashmiri hostage-taking, July 4, 1995
Para (SF) took part in hostage rescue mission in 1995. The 1995 Kidnapping of western tourists in Kashmir was an act of kidnapping of six foreign tourists by Al-Faran, an organisation of Kashmiri freedom fighters, now known as Harkat-ul-Mujahideen from the Liddarwat area of Pahalgam in Anantnag district in south Jammu and Kashmir on July 4, 1995.One hostage was later found beheaded.Later Indian Security forces decided to storm the building to rescue hostages. It was a totally successful operation all hostages were rescued & resulted in the death of Abdul Hamid Turki, whom the army identified as the leader of Al-Faran, and four other Al-Faran members.
1999 Kargil War
During Kargil War Approximately 2 airborne battalions and 1 Para (SF) battalion were employed.
Operation Khukri 2000, Sierra Leone
Operation Khukri was a rescue mission conducted by the 2 PARA (SF) in Sierra Leone, June 2000. About 90 operators commanded by Major (now Lt. Col.) Harinder Sood were airlifted from New Delhi to spearhead the mission to rescue 223 men of the 5/8 Gorkha Rifles who were surrounded and held captive by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels for over 75 days, just 90 Para (SF) forced 2000-5000 members of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) divided into 5 battalions to surrender that ultimately led to the liberation of Freetown
Operation Summer Storm 2009
On April 11, 2009, the 57 Mountain Division of the Indian Army based in Manipur, along with the para-military Assam Rifles and State Police, launched a counter insurgency operation, codenamed ‘Operation Summer Storm’ in the Loktak Lake area and adjoining Keibul Lamjao National Park of Bishnupur District, located south of State capital Imphal. This first major mobilisation of troops this year ended on April 21. As the troops began pulling out, the Army spokesperson described the operation as a success, disclosing that 129 militants, all belonging to the People’s Revolutionary Party of Kangleipak (PREPAK) were killed. The Forces also claimed to have located and destroyed five militant camps during the Operation and seized 10 weapons, including sixty nine AK-series rifles, forty eight rocket launcher, and an unspecified quantity of explosives and improvised explosive devices (IEDs). No militant was arrested. No fatality among the Special Force (SF) personnel or civilians was reported.
Ongoing COIN Operations in J&K and Eastern States
Paratroopers and Para (SF) have conducted thousands of COIN operations in J&K, Assam and the eastern states in India. Sometime these units work with Rashtriya Rifles (COIN force) in complicated operations. Since the mid-1990s the role of Paratroopers and Para (SF) as a counter terrorism force has increased substantially. They are now actively involved in counter terrorist (CT) and counter insurgency (coin) operations in Kashmir as an essential part of the Home Ministry’s decision to conduct pro-active raids against militants in the countryside and mountains. Personnel include Para (SF), Paratroopers (Airborne), NSG and special units of the Rashtriya Rifles – a paramilitary unit created for counter insurgency operations in Kashmir. They may also include MARCOS personnel, many of whom are seconded to the Army for CT operations.
Counter terrorist operation in Samba
On September 26, 2013 terrorists dressed in Army fatigues stormed a police station and then an Army camp in Jammu region killing 10 people, including an Army officer, in twin ‘fidayeen’ attacks after they sneaked in from across the border early on Thursday, barely three days ahead of a meeting between Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan. The attack was on a police station and the 16 Cavalry unit of the Army in Samba district falls under the jurisdiction of 9 corps, headquartered at Yol Cantonment in Himachal Pradesh. The three heavily armed terrorists, believed to be from Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) and who were holed up in the camp of the cavalry armoured unit at Samba for several hours after they barged into the Officers mess, have been killed during a fierce gunfight with 1 Para (SF) of army. The bodies of the three terrorists aged between 16 and 19 are in the custody of the Army.
Counter insurgency operation in Myanmar 2015
Based on Precise intelligence inputs, the Indian Air Force and 21 para (SF) carried a cross-border operation along the Indo-Myanmar border and destroyed two Militant camps one each of NSCN (K) and KYKL, along the Indo-Myanmar border. The operations were carried out inside the Myanmar territory along the Nagaland and Manipur border at two locations. One of the locations is near Ukhrul in Manipur. The army attacked two transit camp of the Naga militants.
The Parachute Regiment presently has seven Special Forces, six Airborne, two Territorial Army and one Counter-Insurgency (Rashtriya Rifles) battalions in its fold. The regiment has tried raising new battalions to augment the strength of the special forces however the task hasn’t been completed due to the tough selection phase.
In the mid-1980s, there were plans of taking away the three para commando battalions from the Parachute Regiment and bringing them together under an individual specialized organisation, the Special Forces Regiment. However, after several logistic and administrative obstacles, these plans were abandoned and they continue to be trained and recruited by the Parachute Regiment.
Para (SF) operate in assault teams, which work individually behind enemy lines whereas the Paratroopers (Airborne) work in large teams and coordinate with other units as their role involves occupying large areas behind enemy lines. The total strength of the regiment stands about to 4500 with the majority being in the Paratroopers(Airborne), while the Para (SF) stands about 1200 operators. They have to hide their identity from general public.