Monday, 26 April 2010

Spetsgruppa A : Russian Special Forces

The Alpha (Alfa) Group (also known as Spetsgruppa A) is an elite dedicated counter-terrorism unit that belongs to spetsnaz (special-purpose forces) of the FSB (former KGB), or more specifically the "A" Directorate of the FSB Special Operations Center (TsSN).

""Alfa Group" or Group A, a special forces (spetsnaz) and special operations unit attached to the KGB was created on 28 July 1974 within the First Chief Directorate of the KGB on the orders of Yuri Andropov, then Chairman of the KGB. It was intended for counter-terrorism operations to give the KGB the capacity to respond to such incidents as the 1972 Munich massacre on its own territory. However, from the beginning, its assigned missions far exceeded its formal scope. The Group was tasked with liberating hijacked airliners within the Soviet Union, such as Aeroflot Flight 6833 as well as making sensitive arrests such as that of CIA spy Adolf Tolkachev.

Their most notable mission during the Soviet period was the attack on the Amin's palace in Afghanistan on 27 December 1979, the special operation which began the Soviet-Afghan War. According to many Russian sources of information (including the memoirs of the Alfa and other special units' officers that took part in the seizure), the operation was called "Storm-333". The operation involved storming a high hill under extremely heavy fire and lots of intense close combat resulting in the death of the Afghan president, Hafizullah Amin, and his approximately 200 elite guards. In the operation Alfa group (called Thunder at the time) lost only two men while the other Soviet forces lost 19. Other governmental buildings such as the Ministry of Interior building, the Internal Security (KHAD) building and the Darul Aman Palace were also seized during the operation, which Alfa group's veterans called the most successful in the group's history. The unit served extensively in the following Soviet occupation of Afghanistan as well.

In October 1985, Alfa was dispatched to Beirut, Lebanon, when four Soviet diplomats had been taken hostage by a Sunni militant group. By the time Alfa was onsite, one of the hostages had already been killed. The perpetrators and their relatives were identified by supporting KGB operatives, and the latter were taken hostage. Following the standard policy of 'no negotiation', Alfa proceeded to sever some of their hostages' body parts and sent them to the perpetrators with a warning that more would follow if the Russian hostages were not released immediately. The tactic was a success and no other Russian national was taken hostage in the Middle East for the next 20 years, until the 2006 abduction of Russian diplomats in Iraq.

On March 11, 1990, the Supreme Council of the Lithuanian SSR announced its secession from the Soviet Union and intention to restore an independent Republic of Lithuania. As a result of these declarations, on January 9, 1991, the Soviet Union sent in a small team of Spetsnaz Grupp Alfa to quash the uprising. This culminated in the January 13 attack on the State Radio and Television Building and the Vilnius TV Tower, killing at least fourteen civilians and seriously injuring 700 more. One KGB operative was also killed. When the media questioned why a KGB officer was in Lithuania the Soviet Union denied all knowledge.These events are known as January Events.

During the Soviet coup attempt of 1991 the Alfa group (under the command of Major General Viktor Karpukhin) was assigned the task of entering the White House, Russia's parliament building, and killing Boris Yeltsin and the other Russian leaders following a planned assault on the entrance by paratroopers. This order was unanimously refused. Unit members mingled through the crowds and assessed the possibility of undertaking such an operation. According to their statements in the following months, it could have been carried out with success, and achieved its main objectives within 20 to 25 minutes, but would have resulted in hundreds if not thousands of civilian deaths." [wiki]

Russian special operations forces is the experience of a unit formerly more secret and less known to the public, which is now the most famous elite military unit--the "Alpha" antiterrorist detachment.In forming "Alfa," a thorough study was made of other countries' experience, most of all, of the American anti-terrorist teams, the British special SG-9 units, and similar formations in the Israeli Mossad.

Alpha brilliantly carried out both its antiterrorist mission as well as some other, completely opposite, functions, and quickly won authority as a special operations unit which was capable of much, which carried out the work entrusted to it in a professional way, and without losses to its own personnel. But this only lasted until the beginning of the 1990s, when in the storming of the television center in Vilnius [Lithuania], one member of Alpha was killed under mysterious circumstances. At that time, rumors circulated in the Soviet spetsnaz that he had refused to obey the order to attack and had been shot on the orders of the unit's commander, after which his corpse had been thrown into the television center captured by the Alpha men.

It is difficult to judge the truth of such rumors, but after the storming of the Vilnius television center, President Gorbachev, KGB Chairman Kryuchkov and other former Soviet leaders all denied having anything to do with Alpha's actions. So it turned out that Alpha had undertaken the storm of the television center without orders from anyone, that is, on their own authority, and losing one of their men to boot, who had died without any practical or political need for it.

According to the Russian press, Alpha has about 200 universally trained fighters who have made it through a rigorous selection process, physical, psychological, and special training, who are able to master any kind of weapon and any form of land transportation.(6) To these men are added specialists in narrower professions, including snipers and the best shots with various weapons, specially trained frogmen, alpinists, rock climbers, psychologists, and, in recent times, hostage-negotiation specialists. This unit has no contract system; everyone passes through real military service in the military ranks from lieutenant to colonel. Incidentally, similar units exist in Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and Belarus, where individual Alpha units existed in Soviet times, and Russian special operations troops maintain professional and friendly relations with them.

Alfa first won international renown after the storming of Afghan president Hafizullah Amin's palace, in which it participated together with the anti-terrorist unit Vympel. The Vympel group was created in 1979 as the special operations unit of the KGB's First Main Directorate, and its first mission was to carry out special missions, to carry out military actions and sabotage abroad. The Vympel group was manned only by officers who knew two or three foreign languages, and it was said that they knew the maps of about thirty world capitals by heart.

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