They strike as if out of nowhere and then melt into the darkness like ghosts. They are the “Phantom Warriors” of the SSG: (Special Services Group). The elite of the elite.
Widely recognized to be the best special services forces in the whole world, The commandos of the SSG (popularly known as ‘Black Storks’ because of their distinctive head gear) are reputed to be even more fearsome then the renowned US navy SEALS and the British SAS (Special Air Services) group.
As befitting their status the commandos of the Pak army take their training and combat preparation very very seriously indeed, because to be a part of the SSG is not just a matter of physical fitness and cutting edge gadgetry. But raw courage and iron determination.
Two traits that are absolutely necessary to get the aspiring trainees though what is arguably one of the toughest, (if not the toughest) most rigorous training regimen on the planet.
SSG officers must have at least two years of prior military experience and volunteer from other formations for two-year assignments with the SSG; non-commissioned officers and enlisted men volunteer from other formations to serve permanently in the SSG. All trainees must participate in a nine-month SSG course at their training facility at Cherat.
The SSG course emphasizes extreme physical conditioning, including a 36-mile march in 9 hours and a five-mile run in under 40 minutes in full gear. Following the SSG course, trainees must go through the airborne training to get their commando wings from the SSG Airborne School The course lasts four weeks, with wings awarded after five day-jumps and three night-jumps.
After the completion of the basic commando course, the newly inducted commandos are put through their paces in the advanced commando course which runs an additional 25 weeks. Only at the end of these two grueling phases are trainees considered good enough to become members of the SSG.
The SSG recruits are also trained in hand-to-hand combat and undergo grueling physical fitness tests including vicious beatings.
Keeping in mind that the recruits are all young professional soldiers, skilled, highly trained and in peak physical fitness. Yet it is estimated that less than 8% of recruits make it through to acquire their coveted maroon berets due to this toughest of all training courses. And recruits have been known to have died during training.
The SSG was created in 1956. And its first commanding officer was Lieutenant Colonel (later Major General) Aboobaker Osman Mitha who commanded it for six years till 1961. Their initial training, tactics and orientation was based on the US Special Forces.
While the actual number of SSG commandoes in the Pak army is classified information, their organizational structure is not. It has been conjectured that they are divided into the following units
- 2nd Commando Rahbar Battalion1st Commando Yaldrum Battalion·
- 3rd Commando Powindah Battalion
- 4th Commando Yalghar Battalion
- 5th Commando Zilzaal Battalion
- 6th Commando AL Samsaam Battalion
- 7th Commando Babrum 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 two independent commando companies:
- Musa Company – Specializes in Amphibious Operations
- Zarrar Company – Specializes in Counter-terrorism
While the different units are on continuous deployments. Their head quarters are at the Tarbela military installation.
The officers and enlisted men of the SSG have time and again proved their worth as force multipliers in both conventional wars as well as in the asymmetrical warfare of today’s counter insurgency operations.
During the 1965,1971 and the Kargil wars. SSG troops acted like ghosts to strike targets deep inside enemy territory and then melted back across their lines.
Operation Black Thunderstorm to retake Buner and adjoining areas and eventually purge Swat of the terrorists who had wrested the scenic valley from Pakistan, would never have been successful without the insertion of airborne SSG Units including the Yaldaram Battalion deep behind enemy lines who cut off their supplies and lines of retreat in the strategically important Daggar valley.
More ever, in the final assault on the terrorist stronghold city of Mingora. The spearhead of the army’s attack on the city was led by the SSG. As with all other operations before. The enemy was crushed and defeated.. leaving hundreds of their dead on the field and Swat was liberated from the clutches of terror.
During the Lal masjid operation (operation Silence), the SSG’s key anti terror unit, “Zarrar battalion” was again called in cauterize this malignant cancer in the heart of the federation’s capital. The SSG managed to rescue hundreds of men women and children from the clutches of the terrorists losing more than a dozen of their men including their commanding officer lt. Col. Haroon who was in charge of the operation.
This brave officer received his martyrdom when he was shot by a guard of the key terrorist Mullah Abdul Rashid Ghazi as he was setting up explosives on the outer walls of the complex so that, with the walls down, the hostages inside would be able to escape. His killer was quickly dispatched by retaliatory fire from the soldiers of his unit.
On 16 December 2014, militants attacked and stormed Army Public school Peshawar and mercilessly slaughtered 150 people most of them children in the worst terror attack in Pakistan’s history. However, within 15 minutes the SSG responded and managed to save almost a thousand precious lives while killing all the terrorists. At least two SSGF members were severely wounded in the operation.
Later, the SSG with help from military intelligence tracked, stalked and killed the handlers of the attack within days of the massacre.
As the army continues its relentless war against terrorism in not just in North Waziristan but all over the country, the ‘Phantom Warriors’ do their jobs.
Be it in infiltration roles, covert ops as spies in high risk areas or as airborne shock troops. The SSG’s commando elite, the very best in the world, is ever at the front, protecting the nation and her people with their unmatched velour, their blood, their very lives.