Then, in 1979-80, having left the inhabited towns in the European part of the USSR, the special forces battalions were forced to go through a difficult survival school in completely new conditions before they began to pursue an effective anti-partisan war. Special Forces bases were located at different distances from the Pakistani border - from 10 to 150 kilometers, and the area of responsibility in which the special forces conducted military operations, mainly extended to areas adjacent to Pakistan and Iran.
The proximity of the border, which the special forces had to block, intercepting the caravans of the Mujahideen, created for him many difficulties. After all, in case of danger, Islamic partisans could always retreat to Pakistani territory or pull up reserves from there if small groups of Soviet Rangers came too close to it. Spetsnaz was able to stand up for itself, therefore, sometimes Malisha * units from the Pakistani border guard came to the aid of the Mujahideen. Their form, including camouflage field jackets, gray national shirts to the knees, and black berets with a red and yellow cockade, often misled the special forces. At the sight of the Malisha, they believed that they were attacked by mercenaries from Western countries, and they fought with renewed vigor, trying to get a black take as a trophy.
* Malish - a fighter of the tribal formation in Pashtunistan, historical area located in Afghanistan and Pakistan
Sometimes clashes with Pakistanis arose due to differences in the application of the state border between Afghanistan and Pakistan on geographical maps used by Soviet and Pakistani military personnel. For example, on Soviet maps, the border of Kunar province runs along a mountain range located on the right bank of the river of the same name, and on the Pakistani map the line of the same border is drawn along the river, and the right bank is fully considered Pakistani territory. Because of this cartographic absurdity, there were cases when special forces groups went deeper into the fighting several kilometers into Pakistan, being sure that they were still on Afghan soil. After all, the border with its usual attributes to us - towers, rows of barbed wire, plowed strip - between the two countries does not exist.
Where special forces had to operate, the enemy had numerous base areas. A multi-tiered system of defensive positions, shelters capable of withstanding the direct hit of high-explosive bombs and rockets, inaccessible mountainous terrain, as if created for defensive operations, made the base areas very dangerous. For example, in order to defeat the base area of the Javara Mujahideen in Paktia province near the Pakistani border, it was necessary to conduct a large army operation involving a large number of bombing and assault aviation. (See details: “Assault on the Dushman base of Javar”)
The special forces were not faced with the task of smashing these "wasp nests." He simply would not have the strength and technical capabilities to conduct such an action. Nevertheless, from time to time groups of "Rangers" invaded the territory of the enemy's base areas, destroyed individual objects there and smashed caravans. Having done their work, they hurried to leave the area, while many times the superior forces of Islamic partisans did not take them into the ring. Being on the territory of the "spirits", the special forces had to take all precautions so as not to be detected ahead of time. The slightest mistake led to sad consequences.
One day at the end of October 1987, in the area of Duri-Mandekh, a group from the Shahdzhoy special forces battalion went deep into the territory of such an area. The soldiers inspected the caravan of nomads, and, fascinated by the test, they noticed too late that something was wrong. Mujahideen tried to surround them. We managed to get in touch with the base when the battle was already in full swing, so the helicopters were able to arrive very late. The remnants of the group were saved, but the eleven special forces guys no longer needed any help.
Not in favor of special forces worked and the climatic factor. The maddening heat of the summer, the marshy malarial shores of the Kabul River in the vicinity of Jalalabad, the desperate lack of Registan - one of the largest Afghan deserts, Farah’s sandy winds, which hurt the face, could hardly have come to taste. The harsh Asian nature and recklessness inherent in special forces sometimes led to tragic results.
The rapid, turbulent waters of the Afghan rivers cannot be called deep. Most of them can wade in the summer without wetting their knees, but there are exceptions. Anyone who has seen Farahrud, Helmand or Kabul during the spring flood period will never forget the mass of muddy, icy water with frantic whirlpools rushing at the speed of an express train. Special Forces have always sought to walk straight, often without scouting the roads.
So it was that March night 1985 of the year when crossing the river Kabul near the town of Muhmandara (Nangarhar province). In one minute, the rapid flow turned three armored personnel carriers with people. Drowned twelve special forces. For several days in a row, the battalion servicemen and their neighbors from the motorized rifle brigade were combing the coast in search of corpses. Some managed to find. The flow of the river carried them many miles from the site of the tragedy.
Shortly before this incident, under the same circumstances, the BMP from the Jalalabad battalion along with the landing force and a large number of trophy battered in the same river weaponstaken by special forces after a successful sortie in the town of Kama. Only a few people who had quick reaction and great physical strength were saved. They managed to throw off multikilogram equipment.
In the summer, the worst was the heat. In order to be less under the influence of the burning rays of the sun, the Rangers sought to wage hostilities and move in the terrain at night, at dusk, or at dawn. For a long time they could not understand how the Mujahideen manage to transfer the inferno relatively calmly. In Asadabad (the center of Kunar province), meticulous Europeans solved the mystery of the endurance of local residents, who drank salted tea to prevent dehydration and the removal of salts from the body. Disgusting, tasteless, but necessary if you want to survive. The special forces did not want to repeat the mistakes of their motorcycle neighbors, who, in one hot day in June 1984, killed ten soldiers in the mountains from sunstroke and dehydration.
Being in the mountains under the rays of the scorching sun, the special forces resorted to one more method, which helped them to withstand the heat without losing their combat capability. In some groups, the iron rule was that water from flasks could only be drunk with the permission of the group commander. And God forbid, if someone tried to secretly attach to the neck of his flask. The guilty was punished. This cruel rule did not originate from scratch. Often, the soldiers in the first hours of their stay drank the entire contents of their flasks, and then suffered from thirst, since finding water in the Afghan mountains is an extremely complicated matter.
At the new site, special forces encountered another problem, which he did not suspect, operating in the northern regions of Afghanistan, populated mainly by Tajiks, Uzbeks and Turkmen. In the special forces battalions a certain number of soldiers always served - people from Soviet Central Asia. If necessary, they could always easily talk to their Afghan counterparts to find out the situation, or to interrogate the captive mojahed. Pashtuns mostly lived here, who, at best, only a little spoke of Dari *. And the soldiers instantly lost the power of speech, immediately feeling the insurmountable language barrier.
Employees of Khad ** helped out, whose services were sometimes very doubtful, because they often translated only what they considered necessary. The current situation changed for the better only when military translators from Moscow began to arrive in the battalions with knowledge of Pashto.
* Dari is one of the languages of Afghanistan, close to Tajik
** Khad - Afghan State Security Service
At first, the battalions that had been redeployed from the Union did not have enough experience in conducting military operations against such a skilled and cunning adversary as the armed Islamic opposition was. And the Afghan war itself was strikingly different from what the special forces were teaching.
A truly tragic story happened at the end of April 1985 in the Kunar province with the Asadabad Special Forces battalion arriving from Minsk. Probably because they were barely familiar with the new enemy, among the military personnel of the battalion there were reigning sentiment towards the Mujahideen. Both the commanders and their subordinates had clearly exaggerated ideas about their own forces and underestimated the combat capabilities of the enemy. At that time, strong, well-armed and trained numerous units of Islamic partisans functioned in Kunar. They reigned supreme throughout the province except for a few settlements. The small garrison of Soviet and Afghan troops in Assadabad was in fact under constant siege. The enemy acted boldly and skillfully, and the proximity of Pakistan gave him confidence that he would always be supported. Several times the Mujahideen managed to inflict tangible damage to the Soviet and Afghan government forces when they conducted operations in the mountains.
The warnings of motorized infantrymen who had long been active in the area were heard out by the battalion’s leadership with a certain degree of skepticism. The battalion was preparing for its first independent operation, and, apparently, the battalion commander considered that the special forces were not fit to be guided by the instructions of "some kind of infantry."
The beginning of the operation did not foresee a tragedy. A cool April night, a little dawn, a rapid rush of one of the battalion’s mouths into the depths of the Maravani gorge and several mojaheds, cowardly fleeing from the Soviet “Rangers” ... Both the company and the battalion commander in charge of the KP operation bought this tested reception and allowed themselves into the trap to the border with Pakistan, where an ambush was already waiting for them.
Launching special forces deeper into the gorge, Islamic partisans hit from several sides, showered the soldiers, who were excited by the prosecution, with bullets and grenades from RPGs. Then they cut off the group of people in 30 from the main forces, surrounded it, and forced the rest to retreat from the gorge. Instead of immediately calling in aircraft, artillery fire, inquiring about the help of motorized infantry units standing nearby, the battalion commander decided to do on his own and “not to take the rubbish out of the hut” for public viewing. After all, the first operation under his leadership.
Time has been lost. Surrounded resist to the last. Some of them rushed to the breakthrough, others took up defense in a dilapidated structure. They repulsed not for long. Mujahideen dragged recoilless guns and multi-rocket launchers. From the nearest opposition camps located in Pakistan, reinforcements arrived to them. A few hours passed, and the resistance was broken. Almost all of those who got into the ring were killed, and their corpses, stripped naked, were betrayed by mockery and mockery. Towards evening, the Afghans, having built up a chain, carefully combed the gorge, finishing off the wounded Special Forces troops.
The next morning, a warrant officer crawled out to the Soviet posts with a lot of bullet wounds, and then a soldier of the same company came out. They were the only ones who survived the Maravari massacre. In order to pull corpses from the battlefield and send them to the Union, the operation had to be carried out by two brigades.
After this defeat, the personnel were pretty demoralized, and it took a lot of time for the special forces to begin fighting again. Now they were preparing for them, thoroughly studying the terrain, the situation and tactics of the Mujahideen. Nobody counted on an easy victory. The battalion commander was removed, and the officers of the battalion were diluted by people from other parts of the special mission who had combat experience. Later, the Asadabad battalion fully paid off the Mujahideen for its defeat in the first operation.
In the process of adaptation to the new conditions, the special characteristics of the special forces were changing. For the first time in the years of the Afghan war, special forces were given helicopter units on a permanent basis. For example, the rare operation of the Lashkargah battalion did without interaction with the 205 th helicopter squadron. On helicopters, the special forces flew over large areas of the border area, inspecting the caravans, flew them to the landing areas. Helicopter fire support securely covered him in battle. The attack on the enemy in its classical sense during the war in Afghanistan was an unusual phenomenon. If the Soviet troops went to the frontal attacks on the machine guns of the enemy, as was the case during the Great Patriotic War, our losses in Afghanistan would not be fifteen thousand dead, but a much larger number. As a rule, no one went on the attack. The only exception was special forces.
Its interaction with helicopter pilots reached such an extent that it allowed even in open areas to attack the positions of the Mujahideen. It happened as follows: the helicopter went to the target and opened fire on it from all machine guns, cannons and cartridges with NURSs. The nerves of the Mujahideen, who had previously shot from a large-caliber machine gun and felt invincible, could not stand it. Mujahideen hurried to hide from death in shelters. At this point, the special forces made a rush, approaching the goal. Then they lay down when the helicopter, coming out of a dive, went to a U-turn to return to the enemy’s machine-gun position. Having made several perebezhek. Special Forces soldiers threw grenades into the calculation of the machine gun, if he did not have time to run away, throwing down a weapon, or was not destroyed by helicopter gunners.
Having received helicopters at their disposal, the special forces were now turning things that they couldn’t even think of before. In the summer and autumn of 1986, during overflights of Baluchistan *, “turntables” with special forces aboard, using relatively flat terrain and disguised behind low hills, flew 15 – 20 km to Pakistan and then went over caravan paths towards Afghanistan . Of course, the pilots risked, but the calculation was accurate - in those few minutes that they were above a foreign territory, the Pakistanis would not have time to shoot down their air defense forces. In the Pakistani land, the Mujahideen walked blithely - without masking, during the day. Hearing the noise of helicopter engines, they did not hide, taking Soviet helicopters for Pakistani. A second later, a barrage of fire fell on them.
Changed for the better and the pattern of completing parts of special forces. As a rule, almost all of the officers who arrived in Afghanistan were graduates of the Ryazan Airborne School, reconnaissance departments, and amphibious companies of combined arms, engineering, and political schools. Some senior officers were experienced in fighting in Ethiopia, Angola and the Middle East.
Before shipment, the soldiers and sergeants underwent a special training course at the training center in Chirchik in Uzbekistan, since the climatic conditions and terrain of this region were similar to those in Afghanistan. In the special forces unit, they tried to select those who were seriously involved in sports in the civilian world. Especially willingly took arresters in judo, boxing, wrestling.
The training in Chirchik even included such a specific element as practicing movements of karez ** and conducting combat operations in them. The lack of karezes in the training center was more than compensated for by the terribly neglected urban sewers. In its underground labyrinths, special forces for hours climbed in gas masks. After a three-month drill, the recruits were sent to Afghanistan and there in the first six months they completed their practical training directly in the battalions, became real hunters of the Mujahideen.
* Baluchistan - a region in southern Afghanistan
** Kyariz - underground water tunnel used for irrigation of fields. Kerizas can reach hundreds of meters underground.
In addition, short-term retraining courses for officers were opened at the Chirchik training center. For one month, before sending "beyond the river", special exercises were conducted with special forces officers. They included the driving of armored vehicles, the firing of guns and machine guns mounted on it, the mining of the terrain and objects. Lectures were given on the tactics of the Mujahideen actions and methods of the anti-partisan struggle, on the general military-political situation in Afghanistan. The courses had a rich collection of captured mines and mine bombs, which served as teaching aids in mine clearance classes.
The effectiveness of the special forces was largely due to the degree of freedom of the commanders of the units when planning combat operations. In the motorized rifle and airborne units, fighting was planned at headquarters, the decision was made by the unit commander and asserted at the army headquarters. Then it went down to the same part, and the units began to act according to its points. Therefore, very often, from the moment intelligence information was received until the units entered the operation, so much time passed that the situation changed completely.
In spetsnaz, almost all decisions were made by a company or battalion commander on the basis of intelligence. The battalion commander claimed the decision of the company commander for a combat operation, and the next night the groups went to hunt for caravans. There were cases when commanders took people to the operation and without preliminary data. The special forces officers themselves claimed that it was often possible to observe the next scene. In company office, languishing from heat and longing, company and his deputy at random with closed eyes throw sharpened feathers into the map of the region covered by their area of responsibility. Where the feather will stick, there will go a company there at night. Oddly enough, often in such a randomly chosen area, special forces gave a good result, returning to the base with trophies and prisoners.
There is a joke in such stories, but in general they are close to the truth. Experienced group commanders who fought in Afghanistan for the second year knew some areas of their area of responsibility in such detail that they calmly did without a map during the operation. Based on their experience, they, even without having operational information about the enemy, were well aware of which paths and time to expect to move caravans, where the Mujahideen should be wary. One of the special forces officers said jokingly: “I could well earn a million from the spirits. I would go to them as conductors, and all things. " Some groups were unofficially assigned certain areas of the territory to which they were constantly hunting. Sometimes even the soldiers knew the terrain, that is, its relief, trails, wells and villages, not worse than the indigenous people.
The actions of special forces not following a pattern have always put the Mujahideen in a dead end. Ranger units were characterized by independence in decisions, freedom in choosing a maneuver, and initiative. Believing in their success, the special forces nevertheless took into account the possibility of failure. In war, anything happens. Therefore, before going to the operation, the places of gathering were determined, the probable routes of movement of the groups in case all the radio stations available in the group break down at once.
Usually, planning of large-scale operations by the headquarters of the 40 Army was carried out in cooperation with the General Staff of the Afghan Army through the staff of advisers. Often secret information about the upcoming operation straight from the Afghan headquarters fell into the hands of the Mujahideen. For example, during a landing operation in the Black Mountains region near Jalalabad in September 1984, in one of the captured enemy fortifications, a letter was found among the trophy documents with exact information about the number of helicopters and airplanes involved in the operation, timing and location. The operation was being prepared jointly with the Afghan government forces, and the informers of the Mujahideen among the senior officers of these troops worked without interruption. The situation was similar in May 1982 during the operation in Panjshir. Already during the battles, when the first prisoners were questioned, it became clear that Islamic partisans had learned about the exact time and place of the helicopter landing in the week before the operation began.
The special forces practically never acted together with the Afghan government forces. Therefore, their incompetence in the activities of the "Rangers" in no small measure contributed to the success of the special forces in the anti-partisan struggle. The special forces did the exception for the Afghan State Security Service, with which he had quite close ties. The agents of the headquarters in the field — the so-called “gunners” —and the most trusted personnel of this service were involved in the operation. Sometimes small groups from the KhAD operational battalions went with special forces. But before the operation, they were kept for several days on the basis of special forces, making it impossible to contact the Mujahideen if they wanted to. Moreover, having information about the area of the forthcoming hostilities, the Afghans were completely unaware of the special forces ’route to the target, the number of participants in the operation, the means of support. Thus, the special forces insured against any accident, which could lead to failure.
In addition to the intelligence supplied by Khad, the special forces used information from the GRU residency, whose employees operated in each Afghan province. The most accurate information was given by the HAD. During the operations carried out by the special forces, it was confirmed on 60 - 70%.
The special forces themselves also had sufficiently broad capabilities for conducting reconnaissance. He collected a considerable amount of information himself by studying the captured documents, interrogating the captured Mujahideen, radio interception data and aerial photography. Without exception, the intelligence agencies of various agencies that sometimes compete with each other tried to transfer the collected information first of all to the special forces, which was the strike force of the “limited contingent”. If, thanks to the data received, he managed to defeat the Mujahideen, or, as it was said in Afghanistan, “give results”, then the staff of the department that provided the information could count on a reward.
The adaptation period, which took place for the special forces with blood and sweat, laid the foundation for successful combat operations in the future. Having passed it, the special forces went on the warpath to win.