Mountainous task force

Agency WPS
August 30, 2004, Monday


SOURCE: Rossiya, No. 32, August 26 – September 1, 2004, p. 11

by Leonid Malakhovsky

August has been an uneasy month at the Russian Defense Ministry:
it only has a month to draw up and submit the plans of setting up
and training two new Special Forces brigades, designed for actions
in mountainous landscapes. The president hinted at a recent Cabinet
meeting that he had given this order to the defense minister long
ago and time has come to see the results. Sergei Ivanov managed to
put off the report for the only month, within which the documents to
be submitted to the president are to be given their definitive form.

Ivanov’s forgetfulness is unlikely to be the reason why he proved to
be unprepared to report to Putin. Military analysts say that this
issue involves many problems and couldn’t be settled on impulse,
due to the specific existence, training and actions of the future
Special Forces brigade.

As a matter of fact, the present-day army structures have nothing
of what had been earlier called the professional mountainous unit.
Mountainous Special Forces of the 128th Regiment of the 7th Army
stationed in Armenia were among the last to cease its existence after
disintegration of the USSR. The units, which shielded mountain ranges
across the former Soviet border, were disbanded too. Russia’s modern
map has the Caucasian Mountains alone, which make the hottest spot
for a decade already.

>>From the very beginning the Chechen campaign made the security
structures to face a problem: how to act against gangsters in the
mountains? (…) Until now, the gangster groupings feel safe in
the mountains, which enables them to make blazing raids into calm
regions. When they faced the local landscape, Russian militants
said they’d be using bomb and artillery strikes to get rid of the
guerrillas. To all appearances, this phase has passed and it has been
decided to use the Special Forces units to capture the separatists.

This is where the notions were substituted. Common Special Forces
units were taken into the mountains. However, it is very hard for
them to act under specific conditions.

Finding the manpower for the mountainous Special Forces units is
the major problem which the Defense Ministry has encountered when
it started working out the concept of mountainous Special Forces
brigades. It was proposed to use the experience of those who had been
to Afghan mountains. This experience matters indeed, but since that
time those servicemen who are still in the army have grown to ranking
positions. Where could one get a platoon or a company commander? No
educational institutions are training mountainous officers. Skills
of mountainous operations were formerly taught in Vladikavkaz, but
this institution doesn’t exist for a long while.


By the way, the problem, which the Defense Ministry is trying to
settle now, had emerged in the Border Service much earlier. At
the initiative of Konstantin Totsky, former commander of the Border
Service, the border guards started formation of a special border unit
(as far as is known, in the vicinity of Mineralnye Vody). The border
guards, trained how to act in the mountains, equipped according to
the climate conditions and armed with most up-to-date weapons were
sent to the most vulnerable sectors of the Russian-Georgian border.
This was when the Border Service started forming an assault unit.
This group was to appear in 2003. When our reporter inquired about the
situation in the unit now, the regional border service headquarters
in the North Caucasus avoided any details and said that all border
guards assigned to this region are initially mountain shooters. It
could be that existence of new border units in the south of Russia
is indeed a military secret.

Very likely Yevgeniy Podkolzin, former Airborne Troops commander,
has unveiled this secret. In his words, in its due time the General
Staff refused to form a mountainous unit which could be used in
Chechnya. Besides, the general criticized the idea of using the
common Special Forces, even GRU Special Forces units. It is not
about weak professional skills of the Special Forces. Broad theaters
of operations, especially the mountains which require professional
skills, become extremely vulnerable.

It happened so: where mountains rise, the military and other security
structures form mountainous units. The Russian Defense Ministry wants
to keep pace with time. However, in Kyrgyzstan the National Guards
are fulfilling this mission (analog of the Russian internal troops).
The Pantera Special Forces unit, the first to be formed there,
excelled itself in the elimination of bandit groupings in Batken in
1999-2000. One more mountainous unit has been formed now. All officers
are being prepared in Turkey, which has educational institutions for
training mountainous Special Forces soldiers.

Ukraine is also involved in the innovations: its internal troops have
two units of mountainous shooters, which are stationed in Balaklava
and Simferopol. Given experience of our neighbors it is possible to
calculate the cost of a mountainous Special Forces unit.

Given the habitual allowance of a soldier from the plains, special
equipment is added in the mountains. Each soldier of a mountainous
Special Forces unit has above 40 pieces of individual ammunition, not
including the team equipment (tents, fuel, avalanche tents, etc.) –
20 pieces more. In addition, such units require most state-of-the-art
firearms, ammo and food. According to the most modest calculations
a mountain shooter is by tens of times more expensive than a plains

However, the huge spending is unlikely to become the stumbling
block for creation of new military units in Russia – mountainous
Special Forces brigades. As promised by Ivanov, jointly with the
border guards such soldiers will cover the mountain passes of the
Big Caucasus neighboring Georgia, which is a strategic task. Military
experts tend to think that instability in this region, generated by
irreconcilable Chechen recluses has spurred up the Defense Ministry
to accelerate this step. The hastiness with which the mountainous
Special Forces are being born gives the only cause for concern. Any
trifle to be forgotten in the offices may cause adversity.

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress