Academic journal article Military Review

Soviet Special Forces (Spetsnaz): Experience in Afghanistan

Academic journal article Military Review

Soviet Special Forces (Spetsnaz): Experience in Afghanistan

Article excerpt

When I read in the newspapers that U.S. Special Forces units had deployed to Afghanistan in the full-- scale antiterrorist operation after the Attack on America on 11 September 2001, I could not help but experience deja vu; I had "been there, done that."

"They are ready to go," I said to myself. "Maybe at this exact moment they are jumping into a chopper to take them on their mission. Or possibly, they are already on the ground in Afghanistan."

I had lived through the dark nights in the mountains of Afghanistan. I had heard the angry roar of helicopter engines in thin air. And, I had experienced the deafening bursts of automatic gunfire and the blasts of hand grenades as they exploded in narrow canyons or among packed mud walls of Afghan villages. I lived again the exhausting dash back toward the pick-up area. I saw the faces of my comrades, dead and alive.

Soviet Spetsnaz

The involvement of the Soviet special forces-the Spetsnaz-in Afghanistan began in 1980. The Soviet command soon realized that mechanized infantry units were not effective against Mujahideen guerrilla tactics. The Spetsnaz were called in as the only forces capable of fighting the enemy on his own terms. Even these crack units initially lacked mountain-warfare training. Their mission in the event of a full-- scale European theater of war was to hunt and destroy headquarters, command and communications centers, and mobile missile launchers. In Afghanistan they had to learn a lot fast to meet new and unique challenges.

In the paragraphs below, I list some of the challenges and solutions Soviet Spetsnaz teams faced and what they learned.

Deployment Lessons Learned Helicopter assault tactics. When deploying a Spetsnaz team into enemy territory, helicopters should make several landings, leaving the team at one location only and under cover of darkness. Doing so complicates the enemy's search and pursuit because they will have to conduct searches in several places, thus dispersing their forces.

The helicopter drop should be from two to three miles behind the target, so that instead of going deeper into enemy territory for the attack, the group would be moving back toward its own base. If the enemy launches a search operation, chances are fewer that they will be searching in the back direction.

Helicopters should use different routes for returning to base after dropping the team. To conceal the team's deployment, there should be other air force activity in the area, including limited air strikes near but not too close to the team's objective.

Destroying enemy supply convoys. During the Soviet-Afghan war, the Mujahideen developed sophisticated and effective tactics of bringing weapons and ammunitions supply convoys into Afghanistan. The tactics the Spetsnaz most often used to destroy such convoys were helicopter assaults and ambushes en route.

The general rule for intercepting and destroying weapons and ammunition convoys is that the closer to the enemy's base or main camp the convoy is intercepted, the higher the chances the convoy will be in one piece and its security will not be on full alert. After a large convoy arrives at a distribution base or area, representatives of different field commanders and tribes meet it and divide it into smaller groups, which are much harder to detect.

When a long line of camels loaded with weapons and ammunition is attacked, the most depressing thing is the maddening shriek of wounded animals. The wounded from the convoy security detachment scream too, but they are the enemy; the animals are victims. The most unpleasant thing is when a camel loaded with mines or TNT explodes into bloody pieces, killing everyone nearby.

Local conditions. Even if soldiers speak the local language and dress like the locals, they should not count too much on their ability to pass as locals. The way they walk is different, and there are many tribal dialects. …

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