Marine commandos fight militants in their own coin

November 27th, 2008 - 6:12 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Nov 27 (IANS) At first glance, they can be mistaken for militants. Sporting long beards and even toting AK-47 assault rifles - Indian Navy’s marine commandos follow in letter and spirit the adage of the counter-terrorism doctrine: “Fight a militant like a militant”.The Marcos (abbreviation of marine commandos), dubbed as the “bearded force” by the militants and having a knack of executing covert operations, were called in along with National Security Guards and army commandos as armed militants holed up inside two luxury hotels in the commercial capital of India-Mumbai.

“Trained sky divers and sea divers, the Marcos could sabotage enemy vessels and harbour installations. They can operate in beach, coastal, jungles and ravines areas. Being divers, they could reach hostile shores swimming underwater,” a senior navy official told IANS on condition of anonymity.

Officially known as the Indian Marine Special Force, the unit was raised in 1987 out of the naval divers to lead amphibious operations. The personnel volunteering for the force have to undergo a rigorous two-years training, by the end of which only 10-25 percent of the enrolled commandos remain.

Marcos have been active in Jammu and Kashmir as part of the army’s counter terrorist efforts. Their main task is to control the infiltration of terrorists from across the border into Jammu and Kashmir through Jhelum river and Wullar, a 65 square kilometer freshwater lake.

Some Marcos personnel are also attached with the Army special forces units conducting counter-terrorism operations in the area.

“They operate similar to the Israeli Mistaravim units sporting beards and wearing the pheren (Kashmiri suit), thus making them indistinguishable from the locals,” the official added.

The Marcos have gained a fearsome reputation among terrorists who refer to them as the Dadiwali Fauj (Bearded Army) since MARCOS are the only non-Sikh personnel allowed to grow beard, Jal Murgi (Water Hens) for the speed in which they assault from the water and Magarmachh (Crocodiles) for their amphibious capability.

Recently, the elite force earned accolades for the Indian Navy after they repulsed pirates attacks off the Somali coast on an Indian and a Saudi merchant vessel Nov 11.

In April 1986, the Indian Navy mooted a plan for a special force, which would be able to conduct reconnaissance, raids and even counter-terrorist operations in a maritime environment. Three Naval Officers were sent for training with the US Navy SEALS and further training was conducted with British Special Forces. These three Naval Officers formed the nucleus of the Indian Marine Special Force (IMSF) that was formally raised in February 1987.

The strength of the unit is a closely guarded secret, however sources say that the number could be close to 2,000 personnel. Currently, there are three main groups attached to the three naval commands - Mumbai (West), Cochin (South) and Vizag (East).

The unit’s quick rise has changed its role - it was intended to be dedicated to special maritime operations, but a considerable part of the MARCOS is doubling as marine infantry with the usual flexibility of commando forces.

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