Thursday, February 17, 2011

Special Service Group (SSG)

     In 1953-54 the Pakistan Army raised an elite commando formation with US Army assistance. To disguise its true mission the new unit was simply designated 10 Bn. of The Baluch Regiment The battalion was posted to a new headquarters at Cherat near Attock City. In march 1964 a Mobile Training Team from the US Army Special Forces Group (Airborne) went to Pakistan to set up a new airborne school at Peshawar for 19 Baluch. The school included basic and jumpmaster courses. All members of 19 Baluch were airborne-qualified. The training team also included four riggers, who helped train Pakistani counterparts.

By this time 19 Baluch was already considered the SSG (Special Services Group) which was divided into 24 companies. Each company had specialization units, specialized in desert, mountain, ranger, and underwater warfare.
The Special Service Group (SSG), also known as Black Storks,  mandated with six primary missions: unconventional warfare, foreign internal defense, special reconnaissance, direct action, hostage rescue, and counter-terrorism. The SSG is an independent commando division of Pakistan Army. It is an elite special operations force similar to the United States Army Special Forces (Green Berets) and the British Army's SAS. The desert companies participated in training exercises with US Army Special Forces Mobile Training Team in late 1964. The scuba company in Karachi was renowned for its tough physical training. 
     19 Baluch (SSG)'s first CO was Lt Col (later Maj Gen) Aboobaker Osman Mitha who commanded it for six years till 1961. The first Officer Commanding of its Alpha Company was Major (later Lt Col) Gaideen Khan Abdullai Mahsud. Their initial training and orientation as regards tactics was based on the US Special Forces pattern with whom they co-operated closely in the Cold War years.


Indo-Pak War of 1965

The SSG jawans were initially deployed along the Afghan border to repel Afghan incursions into Pakistan but the first major deployment came during the war of 1965. Around 120 officers and men were dropped on the night of 6/7 September near the Indian airbases of Adampur, Pathankot and Halwara in an ill-conceived operation to destroy Indian combat aircraft and put the bases out of action. Badly planned, lacking any solid intelligence, and even more badly executed the operation ended in a disaster. However the SSG sources declare it as partially successful: according to them all aircraft from Pathankot airbase were evacuated and 2 Indian infantry brigades (One brigade by admission of Gen JN Chaudary, Indian Army Chief at that time in his autobiography) kept searching for these paratroopers. Due to the difficult terrain and poor visibility, none of the teams were able to regroup after the drops. Most of the SSG personnel were taken POW including and only a few made it back to Pakistan. Captain Hazur Hasnain and a few jawans captured an Indian Army jeep and made it back via Fazilka By 1971, the SSG had grown to 3 Battalions with 1 permanently stationed in East Pakistan.

Indo Pak War of 1971

The performance of the SSG in the 1971 was much better despite Pakistan's Surrender to India,with 1 Commando Battalion making a spectacular raid on an Indian artillery regiment and disabling several of their guns besides inflicting casualties.

In 1970 an anti-terrorist role was added. This mission was given to the Musa Company, an independent formation within SSG. The name was given after the name of Prophet Musa (Moses). The company was originally formed in 1970 as a combat diver unit. In 1980 however each company was given a diver unit. After the Musa company was converted to an anti-terrorist unit, it received training by British SAS advisors in Cherat during mid-1981.  In 1986 SSG began a large-scale basic training program for Sri Lankan Paramilitary militia forces. Commando and airborne training was given to members of the Sri Lankan Commando Regiment.

       SSG units have also been seconded in covert operations in Afghanistan during the Afghan war, as air marshals on passenger airlines and as VIP security. At present, the SSG maintains its headquarters at Cherat and runs the Airborne School at Peshawar. Two SSG battalions are normally rotated through Cherat with a third battalion divided between the border and other strategic locations such as the Terbella Dam and nuclear research facilities. Each SSG battalion numbers 700 men in four companies. Each company is split into platoons and further sub-divided into 10 men teams. Battalions are commanded by Lieutenant Colonels, the group is currently run by a Colonel.

       During the Soviet war in Afghanistan, the SSG deployed there, disguised as Afghans and provided support to the Mujahideen fighting the Soviets. Author Aukai Collins, in the book My Jihad, gave the Pakistani infiltrators the title "Black Storks".

      Military operations

  • The SSG was first used in 1965 in the State of Jammu & Kashmir. In an operation codenamed Gibraltar, their aims were continued reconnaissance, sabotage of Indian military facilities and the eventual liberation of Kashmir from Indian control.
  • The SSG took part in Operation Clean Wash with French forces to eliminate a group of terrorists in Mecca in 1979.
  • In the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 they were once again used, this time in assistance to regular infantry units and for non-conventional and rescue operations. In the face of the massive political and military onslaught in East Pakistan, the SSG could do little in turning the tide of war. Pervez Musharraf commanded a company of commandos during the war.
  • SSG troops arrested Sheikh Mujibur Rahman on the night of 25 March 1971 during Operation Searchlight. Upon his arrest, they sent a message to Dhaka Cantonment headquarters saying, "Big bird in the cage".
  • The SSG was active in Afghanistan in the 1980s during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, conducting covert and direct action missions. Again, when the balance of power shifted, it led some covert operations against the very Afghan government (Taliban) that Pakistan (along with USA, Saudi Arabia and UAE) had once aided, this time as part of the allied forces in operation Enduring Freedom. The SSG has aided in the capture of many senior Al Qaeda leaders, most notably Abu Zubaida and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed
  • The SSG has worked with the US CIA's Special Activities Division and has been active inside the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) targeting al-Qaeda operatives for Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Predator strikes. These strike have led to what has been described as highly successful counterterrorism operations.
  • The SSG has also conducted operations on the Siachen Glacier against Indian positions.
  • In addition, some covert operations in United Nations military missions in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Somalia and Sierra Leone have also been executed by SSG operators.
  • In Operation Black Thunderstorm, SSG troops abseiled from helicopters into Daggar, a town northwest of Islamabad, killing up to 50 militants.

        Counter terrorism operations

  • In September 1986, Pan Am Flight 73 was hijacked by four Palestinian terrorists while it was refuelling in Karachi. As negotiations stalled and the terrorists started to kill passengers, SSG stormed the plane. The SSG killed one hijacker and captured the rest.
  • In February 1994, Afghan hijackers took over a school bus with 74 children and 8 teachers. They drove to the Afghan mission in Islamabad where they released 57 students but kept 16 boys and the teachers. The negotiations led nowhere and it was decided to free the hostages by force. The Pakistani authorities had somehow managed to inform the children of the impending raid. The SSG commandos used a secondary explosion as a distraction and entered the room at the Afghan embassy where the hostages were being held, killing the three hijackers.
  • In May 1998, three members of the Baluchistan Students Federation took over a PIA Fokker plane because they were angry at the government for conducting nuclear tests in Baluchistan. As negotiations dragged, SSG commandos rushed the plane and apprehended all 3 hijackers. None of the passengers were harmed during the assault.
  • In July 2007, the SSG was the main assault force which re-took the Lal Masjid from Islamic extremists. The SSG suffered 11 killed and 33 wounded. On September 13, 2007 a suicide bomber killed at least 20 personnel of the SSG and injured dozens others at the officers mess of the sensitive cantonment area of Tarbela-Ghazi. The blast has reported to been a vendetta attack by the Islamic fundamentalists who were attacked in the Red Masjid siege in July. According to reliable sources a civilian wearing a white cap with a long beard walked with his bicycle towards the SSG mess and blew himself up there.
  • On 30 March 2009, SSG successfully participated in thwarting the 2009 Lahore police academy attacks.
  • On 10 October 2009, militants attacked the Pakistan Military Headquarters, taking hostage 42 civil and military officials. SSG commandos rescued 39 hostages and killed 9 militants, capturing one. The militants have been linked to Ilyas Kashmiri being a leading Al Qaeda commander operating along side Tehrik-e-Taliban. A total of six SSG commandos and three hostages were killed in the operation. As reported by ISPR (Inter Services Public Relations) The operation was undertaken by SSG's Counter Terrorism Force. Three more SSG commandos, injured during the operation, died in the hospital on October 12.

SSG interaction with other elite units

SSG conducts regular (bi-annual) exercises with the Turkish Special Forces which have been designated as the "Ataturk" series. The first of these exercises was held in December, 1998. The Turkish force included 21 officers and 14 non-commissioned officers. The second exercise of this series was held in November 2000, while Atatürk-III concluded in September 2002
During the 1980s and then into the 1990s, SSG held many similar training exercises with US Special Forces called "Inspired Venture". These exercises were usually held during the early months of January and February with approximately 150 US troops. The exercises were focused on weapon familiarization and use, mountain-warfare along with tactics, raids and ambushes, and eventually airborne operations.
The SSG also conducts exercises with Chinese special forces. In 2006, China and Pakistan conducted an eight-day exercise called the Pakistan-China Joint Exercise Friendship-2006.
SSG has also been reported to train with the Jordanian special forces and Iranian special forces and conducts training for special forces of other Middle Eastern countries who come to Cherat.


Pakistani Special Forces have 10 battalions
  • 1st Commando Yildiram Battalion
  • 2nd Commando Rahbar Battalion
  • 3rd Commando Powindah Battalion
  • 4th Commando Yalghar Battalion
  • 5th Commando Zalzaal Battalion
  • 6th Commando Samsaam Battalion
  • 7th Commando Zarrar Battalion (Anti-terrorism)
  • 8th Commando Janbaz Battalion
  • 9th Commando Battalion
  • 10th Commando Battalion
Each battalion consists of 700 men in four companies, with each company split into platoons and then into 10-man teams. Battalions are commanded by Lieutenant Colonels
Plus three independent commando companies:
  • Musa Company - Specializes in Amphibious Operations
  • Zarrar Company - Specializes in Counter-terrorism


     SSG officers must have at least two years of prior military experience and volunteer from other formations for three-year assignments with the SSG; NCO and enlisted men volunteer from other formations to serve permanently in the SSG. All trainees must participate in an eight-month SSG course at Cherta. The SSG course course emphasizes tough physical conditioning. Included is a 36-mile march in 12 hours, a grueling requirement that was first institutionalized by 19 Baluch. They are also required to run 5 miles in 40 minutes with full gear. Following the SSG course, trainees must volunteer for Airborne School. The course last four weeks, with wings awarded after seven (five day, two night) jumps. none SSG airborne students only have to complete a the five day jump.

Many in the SSG school are selected for additional specialist training. A HALO course is given at Peshawar with a 'skydiver' tab awarded after 5 freefall jumps. A "Mountain Warfare" qualification badge is given after completing a course at the Mountain Warfare School in Abbotsbsd; and a "Combat Diver" badge is awarded awarded for the course held by the Naval Special Services Group SSGN at Karachi. three classes of combat swimmers were recognized: 1st class to those completing an 18-mile swim; 2nd class to those finishing a 12-mile swim; and 3rd class for a 6-mile swim. SSG regularly sends students to the US for special warfare and airborne training. later on due to Siachen crisis, a Snow and High Altitude Warfare School was also established.


Components of the battalions are constantly rotated between Cherat, Attock, and any other hot spots (such as Pakistan-India border or when Pakistani forces are deployed overseas as part of the UN peace keeping operations) in order to provide experience to the operators. The SSG are used to provide security to various vital points such as the strategic nuclear facilities in Pakistan. It is thought that a number of SSG operators are stationed in Saudi Arabia for the protection of the Saudi royal family. Many SSG officers and other ranks are routinely seconded to the Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) for clandestine and reconnaissance missions. SSG has planted some of their operatives under command of ISI within various civilian government and private institutions for various security purposes. The details of the operatives are highly classified. Most of the operatives of this "covert" division are planted in educational institutes.

Naval and Air Force

    Naval SSG operating in the Gulf of Oman.The SSG also has a unit in the Pakistan Navy modelled on the US Navy SEALs and British SBS called the Special Service Group Navy (SSGN). The SSGN currently maintains headquarters in Karachi headed by a Pakistan Navy Commander. It has a strength of one company and is assigned to unconventional warfare operations in the coastal regions. During war it is assigned to midget submarines. Operatives are also trained in underwater demolition and clearance diving. All other training is similar to the Army SSG with specific marine oriented inputs provided at its headquarters. The strength of the navy commandos is put at 1,000
After the 1965 war with India, Air Commodore Mukhtar Ahmed Dogar, SJ (who had flown Royal Indian Air Force aircraft supporting the Chindits operating behind Japanese lines in Burma in World War II) was instrumental in creating a special forces unit for the Pakistan Air Force called 312 Special Service Wing (SSW). It was put in suspended animation in 1972 but revived in 1999. The unit was modeled on the US Air Force's 1st Special Operations Wing unit and the US Army's Rangers. This new component of the Special Forces of Pakistan has been recently created and fields a force of 1,000-1400 men. They can undertake Airborne Assault, Heli-borne Assault and HAHO Operations. They are trained to take action against the enemy's airforce related targets. They can also be assigned for sabotage opo.

Appearance and equipment


The commandos are distinguished by their insignia of maroon berets, a common color for airborne troops, with a silver metal tab on a light blue felt square with a dagger and lightning bolts, and a wing on the right side of the chest. The combat uniform of the SSG is similar to the US woodland pattern camouflage coat and pants. Other uniforms include camouflage and black dungarees (for the CT team).
SSGN (SSG Navy) is distinguished by a dark blue beret with three versions of the "fouled anchor" navy badge for officers, NCOs and enlisted men. A metal SSGN qualification badge featuring a vertical dagger superimposed over a midget submarine is worn over the left pocket on dress uniforms. Parachute wings are worn over the right pocket.
The SSW (Special Service Wing) is distinguished by maroon berets with PAF Officer, JCO or Airmen insignia on the beret, and a wing on the right side of the chest. The combat uniform of SSW is olive drab camouflage. They also wear their special service wing insignia on the left shoulder "Winged Dragons and lightning bolts" .


The SSG is equipped with an array of modern weaponry which includes, Steyr AUG, HK G3, and Chinese Type-81/56 rifles, Colt M4 Carbines, and FN P90 and HK-MP5 Sub-machine guns (many different variants). Light machine gun in use is Rheinmetall MG3 (locally produced along with HK G3s and MP5s). In sniper or Marksman role, the SSG CT (Counter-Terrorism) teams are equipped with Barrett M82, Finnish Tikka bolt-action rifles and HK PSG1 and Dragunov SVD Semi-automatic rifles. Pistols include various Heckler & Koch models.