Bangladesh Navy’s special war unit to fight terror

Thursday, May 10, 2012 Sharier Khan The Daily Star

Bangladesh Navy has commissioned a Special Warfare Diving and Salvage (Swads) unit to strengthen anti-terrorism and anti-piracy drive in the Bay of Bengal during peace time and to go for drastic measures during crisis.

With its organogram approved by the finance ministry in late March, the unit commissioned on December 27 last year is presently looking at a drive to clear the Bay of pirates and smugglers involved in arms trade and drug trafficking. The unit will have around 900-strong manpower.

“During peace time, this will be a complementary force with the coast guards in drives against smugglers, armed groups and terrorists in the Sundarbans area,” said navy chief Vice Admiral Zahir Uddin Ahmed.

The US government is assisting Bangladesh Navy to train and develop the force by giving it as grant dozens of rigid inflatable hull boats, defender class vessels and arms and ammunition. The navy is also procuring equipment using government funds from other countries.

From late 2008, the navy has been hammering on setting up this unit and began giving special warfare training to some navy personnel from the following year. It aims at completing training of all the personnel by 2015.

“We have been pursuing naval commando for a long time. We had naval commando in the erstwhile Pakistan Navy. It just took us some time to give it a shape. I have been fortunate to be in my current position to see it commissioned.” the navy chief said recently.

“The force is almost fit to launch operation now.”

He pointed out that from the seventies, navy staffs had received training in the USA. Now the USA has brought trainers to Bangladesh to provide the training locally.

A major training includes deep diving for commandos so that they can dive in and plant explosives in enemy ships or installations. The divers are also trained to conduct underwater search, rescue or salvage of people and objects.

The Swads personnel are also trained to dispose of explosives and bombs.

Their training and ability to move quickly to remote areas would also help the navy to better handle natural disasters and post-disaster situation.

With the recent resolution of maritime boundary dispute with Myanmar, the navy now shoulders specific responsibility of protecting the country’s offshore oil and gas blocks. And it has to deal with India in the same manner.

The unit will also help trouble-free fishing and secure mining at the country’s harbour mouth and key shipping routes.

Another task for the Swads is intelligence gathering and combat surveillance during crisis period, said a navy source.

As war time preparation, the force is being trained to send saboteur teams to destroy enemy vital ships, installations and other major fighting capabilities.

“The addition is a major shift in our defence strategy,” said a navy high official.“ This will give future foreign investors in oil-gas or port sectors greater confidence to come to Bangladesh.”

The navy is currently strengthening itself further by purchasing two corvettes and two frigates soon. Two maritime patrol aircraft have been procured from Germany recently.

“Bangladesh has been affected directly or indirectly by piracy, armed robbery, arms-drug trafficking and other forms of smuggling, and poaching in its maritime front. Particularly, high piracy rates in the anchorage of Chittagong Port, the main maritime port of Bangladesh, have created a wrong image of the country as the second highest piracy-prone area in Asia,” said the official.

“The situation is further complicated by the recent development of maritime terrorism,” he said. In this trend, local criminals as well as trans-national criminal gangs, mafias and insurgents are posing threats to Bangladesh’s maritime area. The new unit will deal with their threats, added the official.