Special Services Group (SSG): The Black Storks of Pakistan

The Special Services Group (SSG) is a prestigious special operations unit within the Pakistan army established in 1955. The unit is known as the “Black Storks” and “Maroon Berets”. Further, their headquarters are in Tarbela in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. 

With a reputation for excellence, they’re often compared to elite units like the US Army’s Special Forces and the British Army’s SFSG. Despite their exact number of combat battalions being classified, they’re highly skilled in weaponry, including machine guns, sub-machine guns, and pistols.

Trained for speed and accuracy in firing, they excel in both armed and unarmed combat, particularly in guerrilla and anti-guerrilla operations.

Moreover, their expertise is most crucial in missions deep behind enemy lines, where their small size belies their ability to inflict significant damage. As a vital force multiplier for the Pakistan army, they’re strategically deployed to support conventional offensives, leveraging their impact on the enemy. [source]

General Asim Munir met SSG member in HQ SSG Terbela [source]

1. Motto, Symbols, Patches

      SSG motto [source]

Slogan: Faith, piety, jihad for the sake of God.

Pakistani Special Services Group members wear maroon berets with a silver metal tab on a light blue felt square. Initially, they wore khaki uniforms like the regular army, but in 1972, a new combat tunic was introduced army-wide, only to be abandoned in 1979. 

SSG unit wearing maroon berets [source]

Today, they wear US woodland pattern camouflage. Furthermore, various operational dresses are used based on terrain. Additionally, they wear a bullion SSG para-wing on the right chest, with variations for master parachutists and riggers. Moreover, the SSG badge, featuring a dagger framed with lightning bolts, is worn on the left shoulder, while qualification badges go on the right shoulder.

SSG member [source]

2. History and organization

2.1 SSG Formation and Early Years

The Pakistan army’s involvement in covert operations traces back to 1948 when tribesmen from Pakistan’s northern regions launched raids into the Kashmir valley, aiming to seize control from its Hindu ruler. While these raids fell short of their primary objective, they succeeded in spotlighting the Kashmir valley’s disputed status on the global stage.

Moreover, drawing from the lessons of special operations during World War II by both the Allies and Germans, along with insights from the Pathan tribesmen’s raids, the army recognized the strategic advantages of having a specialized force capable of operating clandestinely behind enemy lines to disrupt adversary war efforts. [source]

As Pakistan’s relationship with the United States solidified, the Pakistan Army swiftly sought assistance in establishing a specialized special forces unit. In 1953-54, within the existing Baloch Regiment (Regt), a battalion of special forces was raised, discreetly designated as the 10th Battalion.

By 1956, this unit was formally designated as the 19th Battalion of the Baloch Regiment and relocated to its current headquarters in Cherat, approximately 40 miles from Peshawar. Its inaugural commanding officer was Lieutenant Colonel Abu Bakr Osman Mitha, later promoted to Major General. Initially, the 19th Baloch comprised roughly six units. [source]

In March 1964, as part of the U.S. “Military Aid to Pakistan” program, members of the U.S. Army’s 10th Special Forces Group (Airborne) arrived in Pakistan to assist in establishing the country’s first airborne school in Peshawar. Four U.S. Special Forces riggers were deployed to train members of the Special Service Group (SSG) for airborne operations.

Furthermore, Pakistani SSG officers underwent advanced training at Fort Bragg and Fort Benning, including basic and jumpmaster courses, enabling the 19th Baloch to achieve full airborne qualification.

2.2 Expansion and Evolution

Just in time for the baptism under fire during the 1965 Indo-Pak War, Pakistani special forces acquired this capability. In 1965, the 19th Baloch was officially re-designated as the Special Service Group (SSG), initially comprising a single battalion with units specialized in various roles such as desert, mountain, ranger, marine warfare, demolition/sabotage, and intelligence gathering operations.

Moreover, the desert units underwent training with the US 10th Special Forces Group in 1964 and conducted desert survival training in the Sibbi area for participating US Special Forces. This collaborative training and operational relationship with US Special Forces persisted and strengthened throughout the Cold War and later during the Afghan War.

Consequently, Pakistani special forces adopted many training concepts and operational doctrines, mirroring their American counterparts because of this close interaction.[source]

Following less successful operations against the Indian Army in 1966, the SSG underwent a significant reorganization and expansion. Two new battalions were added, bringing the total to three, each comprising around 700 men and led by a lieutenant colonel. Cherat remained the headquarters, with Attock Fort as a secondary base.

Tragically, in 1989, the SSG lost its commanding officer, Brigadier Tariq Mahmood, in a parachute failure accident. However, today, the SSG continues to rotate its battalions between Cherat and Attock Fort. This rotation involves maintaining one for training, one for operational duties along borders or in peacekeeping missions, and one for securing strategic locations like nuclear plants.

With extensive experience from conflicts with India, operations on the Siachen Glacier, involvement in the Afghan War, and counterterrorism efforts, the SSG is widely recognized as one of the world’s finest special forces units.[source]

3. Organization of Special Services Group

The Special Service Group (SSG) is renowned for its elite status and specialized operations within the armed forces. Understanding its organizational structure is paramount to comprehending its effectiveness and strategic deployment. 

  • 1st Commando Yaldrum Battalion
    • Ayub unit
    • Liaqat unit
    • Kamal unit
    • Mitha unit
  • 2nd Commando Rahbar Battalion
    • Ghazi unit
    • Tipu unit
    • Quaid unit
    • Bilal unit
  • 3rd Commando Powindahs Battalion
    • Hamza unit
    • Ibrahim unit
    • Zakria unit
    • Easa unit
  • 4th Commando Yalghar Battalion
    • Shaeen unit
    • Jungju unit
    • Yaqub unit
    • Yusuf unit
  • 5th Commando Zilzaal Battalion
  • 6th Commando Al Samsaam Battalion
  • 7th Commando Babrum Battalion
  • 5th Division Troops
    • Zarrar unit
    • Iqbal unit
    • Musa unit
    • Special Operations School
    • Para Training School [source]

4. Special Services Group Training and missions

4.1 SSG Recruitment

The training of SSG cadres is rigorous, with special emphasis on molding soldiers into individual commandos capable of taking independent initiative. SSG operatives are all volunteers from other Pakistan army formations. Officers must have at least two years of military service, and if selected, are assigned to a three-year posting within the SSG. Enlisted men, including the NCOs, serve permanently in the SSG as long as they can keep up with the tough physical regimen and retain a medical category of “aye”.

The selection process begins with the GHQ “General Headquarter” screening through scores of applications and allowing approximately 100 or so to undergo the entrance tests. the entrance tests are spread over a few days. interested candidates are grilled with intelligence and aptitude tests continuously over these few days and nights. [source]

4.2 Basic Commando Training

4.2.1 Selection Process and Initial Training

The candidates also face strict timelines and mentally and physically exhausting tests. At the tail end of the selection process, the candidates undergo physical tests that include negotiating obstacle courses and individual and group tasks. Only a small fraction of the initial number undergoes induction for training.

All trainees undergo a nine-month course at Cherat for basic commando training. Attrition is usually very high during this part of the training due to the intense and demanding regimen. The basic SSG course emphasizes tough physical conditioning, including grueling forced 58km marches (post exercises) to complete in 12 hours, a practice first institutionalized by the 19th Baloch. SSG candidates must also run 8km in under 40 minutes with full gear.

SSG member during training
SSG member during training [source]

At the end of this nine-month course, all SSG candidates must take and pass the four-week para-training course at the airborne school in Peshawar. Subsequently, SSG members gain their wings and the coveted maroon berets after completing five day and two night-jumps (non-SSG members only have to complete 5-day jumps).

After completing the basic commando course, the newly inducted commandos undergo the advanced commando course, which lasts an additional 25 weeks. Only at the end of these two grueling phases do operators become integral members of the SSG.[source]

Many SSG operators are also HALO (high altitude low opening) and more recently HAHO (high altitude high opening) qualified. the halo course consists of five free fall jumps that earn the commando a ‘skydiver’ tab. additionally, many SSG operators also participate in the courses conducted at the army’s mountain warfare school in Abbotabad. 

4.2.2 Diverse Skill Set

SSG operators in the diver companies attend the SSGn course (described separately) in Karachi to earn the ‘combat diver’ badge. Currently, there are three classes of combat divers. The 1st class comprises those who complete an 28km swim, 2nd class combat divers must finish a 19km swim, while the 3rd class divers undertake the 10km swim.

Another high-altitude mountain warfare school has been established at Khappalu to train the SSG and other army units for operations on the Siachen Glacier. Other areas of the commando training include [source]:

  • Internal security
  • Assault and small unit tactics
  • Sniping
  • Demolition
  • Survival
  • Languages
  • Small-arms familiarisation
  • Fighting in built up areas (FIBUA)
  • Close quarters battle tactics (CQB)
  • Long range recce patrol (LRRP)
  • Martial arts
  • Espionage
  • Psychoanalytic training
  • Criminal psychology

4.2.3 Operational Capabilities

As a result of exposure to a wide range of training, the SSG is capable of carrying out a variety of missions. These include: 

  • Unconventional warfare
  • Long-range reconnaissance 
  • Intelligence gathering missions
  • Riverine operations
  • Counterterrorism
  • Tactical assaults against enemy positions

Another possible role would be to act as target designators for the Air Force and artillery observers. SSG personnel are also tasked with the protection of vital points (VP) such as nuclear installations and dams. SSG also provides a security detail for the COAS “Chief of Army Staff”.

In the past, SSG members have also served as air marshals aboard airlines; however, this practice has been stopped. The SSG has served as an instrument of influence and assistance to friendly countries on behalf of the Government of Pakistan.

SSG has been deployed in many countries for the training of the host nations’ armed forces and advisory roles. In the mid-80s, SSG helped train members of Sri Lankan special forces to counter the Tamil Elam fighters in that country. Similarly, in early 1994, the SSG took on the task of training the Special Services Regiment of the Malaysian Army in high-altitude warfare to prepare them for deployment and operations in Bosnia-Herzegovina as part of the United Nations peacekeepers. [source]

5. Special Services Group Equipment

5.1 Close quarter combat weapons

  • Heckler & Koch mp5 
  • POF-Eye corner shot weapon
  • FN/FNP 90 
  • Colt m4 commando
SSG member hold Colt m4
m4 hold by SSG member[source]
SSG member hold POF-Eye corner shot weapon
SSG member hold POF-Eye corner shot weapon [source]

5.2 Assault rifles

  • 5.56mm M16A1
  • MK16
  • Steyr AUG
  • 7.62mm Heckler & Koch G3A3
  • Type 56 Tactical (Chinese AK-47 variant)
  • AK-47
  • AK-74
  • Colt M4 
  • Locally produced version of Rheinmetall 7.62mm MG-3
SSG member hold Type 56 assault rifle
Type 56 assault rifle [source]
SSG member hold MK16
MK16 [source]
SSG member hold Steyr AUG
Steyr AUG [source]
SSG member hold  AK-74
SSG member hold  AK-74 [source]
SSG member hold Colt M4
SSG member hold Colt M4  [source]

5.3 Sniper rifles

  • G3s
  • Finnish Tikka bolt-action rifles
  • Heckler & Koch PSG1
  • Accuracy International Arctic Warfare 7.62mm bolt-action sniper rifle
  • Dragunov SVD semi-automatic marksman rifles
  • RPA Rangemaster .50 caliber long-range sniper rifles
  • Barrett M82
  • PSR-90s
  • Steyr SSG 69s
SSG member hold Accuracy International Arctic Warfare 7.62mm bolt-action sniper rifle
SSG member hold Accuracy International Arctic Warfare 7.62mm bolt-action sniper rifle [source]
SSG member hold G3S
G3S [source]
SSG member hold Barrett M82
SSG member hold Barrett M82 [source]
Displaying PSR-90s
Displaying PSR-90s [source]
SSG member hold Steyr SSG 69s [source]

5.4 Handguns

  • Austrian 9mm Glock 15
  • Austrian 9mm Glock 17
  • Austrian 9mm Glock 19
  • Beretta M9 (M92FS)
  • FN Five-Seven
  • HK USP-45
  • SIG Pro 226
  • SIG-250 [source]

6. Recent Special Services Group activities

6.1 Counter-terrorism Operations

  • On the night of March 20-21, security forces carried out an intelligence-based operation in Panjgur district, resulting in the killing of terrorist Chakar Liaquat. Additionally, security forces discovered weapons and ammunition in the possession of the slain terrorist, who had remained actively involved in many terrorist activities. [source]
  • On January 30, the Bahraini National Guard participated with a force of special forces in the Pakistani army in implementing the joint counter-terrorism exercise, in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad. Furthermore, conducting this exercise in its current version is an extension of the “Al-Badr” series of exercises, which previous versions took place in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan and the Kingdom of Bahrain.[source]

6.2 International Military Cooperation

  • During the period from February 26 to March 8, joint Egyptian-Pakistani training activities (Raad-1) took place. These activities involved elements of the Egyptian paratroopers, commandos, and Pakistani special forces, and they persisted throughout the period.
  • Furthermore, the final stage included implementing a practical statement to storm a border village and clear it of armed terrorist elements by carrying out free jumps and air strikes by special forces members from both sides. This demonstration showcased the extent of their field skills and high combat potential, enabling them to carry out tasks of an atypical nature in various circumstances.[source]
Egyptian-Pakistani training (Raad-1)
Egyptian-Pakistani training (Raad-1) [source]
  • On 24 February, for the third year in a row, the Royal Moroccan Armed Forces participated alongside the armies of a number of countries. Notably, these included Pakistan, the United States of America, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Jordan, which participate in an official capacity. Additionally, the armies of China, Germany, Japan, and Azerbaijan participated in an “observer” capacity.[source]
  • On 7 September, the Saudi Ground Forces wrapped up their involvement in the “Al-Batar 1” exercise at the Special Forces Training Center in the city of Shirat, Islamic Republic of Pakistan. Additionally, the “Al-Batar 1” exercise forms part of the joint field exercises the Royal Saudi Land Forces conduct with the SSG.[source]
  • On 29 May 2023, the Commander of the Pakistani Special Forces visits the headquarters of the Iraqi Special Forces Division. During the visit, they discussed the mechanism of joint work between the Iraqi and Pakistani sides, especially in the field of coordination and training. [source]
Visit of the Commander of the Pakistani Special Forces to the headquarters of the Iraqi Special Forces Division.
Visit of the Commander of the Pakistani Special Forces to the headquarters of the Iraqi Special Forces Division. [source]

7. Conclusion

The Special Services Group (SSG) of Pakistan stands as a testament to the nation’s commitment to excellence in special operations. Moreover, since its inception in 1956, the SSG has evolved into a highly skilled and versatile force, adept at executing a wide array of missions with precision and efficiency.

Additionally, trained rigorously in both conventional and unconventional warfare tactics, SSG operatives undergo intensive physical and mental conditioning, ensuring they remain at the pinnacle of readiness.

Moreover, with a rich history dating back to its involvement in covert operations during the Kashmir conflict, the SSG has continually adapted and expanded its capabilities. Drawing from experiences in conflicts such as the Indo-Pak Wars, operations on the Siachen Glacier, and counterterrorism efforts both domestically and internationally, the SSG has demonstrated its resilience and versatility.

Furthermore, recent joint exercises and training activities with allied nations underscore the SSG’s commitment to international cooperation and interoperability.

Whether participating in bilateral exercises with Turkey’s Special Forces or hosting joint counterterrorism drills with Bahrain, the SSG continues to strengthen military ties and enhance coordination with partner nations.

Table of Contents

Related Content

Camp Chapman: The CIA’s Frontline in Afghanistan

TYPE:_ Article
Location:_ Far East

GRU Spetsnaz: The Batmen of Russia

TYPE:_ Article
Location:_ Europe

North Korean Special Forces

TYPE:_ Article
Location:_ Far East

1er RPIMa: The French equivalent of the UK’s SAS

TYPE:_ Article
Location:_ Europe

Ancient Special Forces: The Old Tip of the Spear

TYPE:_ Article

UKSF: The United Kingdom Special Forces

TYPE:_ Article
Location:_ Europe

Stay in the loop

Get a free weekly email that makes reading intel articles and reports actually enjoyable.

Log in

Stay in the loop

Get a free weekly email that makes reading Intelligence Reports and Articles actually enjoyable.

Table of Contents

Contact

Contact

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.