Small Wars Journal

Russian Special Forces Seen as Key to Aleppo Victory

Fri, 12/16/2016 - 9:12am

Russian Special Forces Seen as Key to Aleppo Victory by Thomas Grove, Wall Street Journal

Russian special-operations forces have played a pivotal part in the Syrian ground offensive to retake Aleppo, a role shielded by secrecy about their operations there.

In the wake of Russia’s punishing aerial bombardment, Russian special forces have been operating in Aleppo for almost two months, helping the Syrian army with a focus on targeting rebel leaders in the eastern half of the city, according to two experts on Russia’s military. On Sunday, the weekly state news program Vesti Nedeli offered a rare glimpse of Russians in combat, airing footage of Russian special operators in Syria.

“Russian special forces have been in Aleppo for a number of weeks, where they’ve taken on a combat role,” said Ruslan Pukhov, the head of Moscow-based defense think tank CAST.

The elite troops are the same forces that carried out Moscow’s surprise annexation of Crimea in 2014. They are modeled on U.S. special-operations units—who also have a presence in Syria.

The presence of Russian special forces underscores the strategic importance for the Kremlin to make sure Aleppo is firmly in the hands of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad before the allies seek to restart any negotiations on Syria’s future. Any such talks are unlikely until after President-elect Donald Trump takes office in January, bringing what is expected to be a more friendly U.S. outlook toward Russia…

Read on.

Comments

Mark Pyruz

Sat, 12/17/2016 - 3:54am

Open-source imagery on social media has depicted what appear to be Spetsnaz with LH and IRGC-QF, among the Iran-led military ground force partner element of the Russian Federation intervention, during the Battle of Aleppo. In particular, these groups were photographed with Liwa al-Quds following that formation's successful attack coming from the north of the pocket. This was one of the initial successes following the resumption of the siege, that ultimately led the way to victory.

Rather than the quagmire initially hoped for, Russian military forces have gained considerable hands-on experience from the Syrian conflict. The same can be said for Lebanese Hezbollah and IRGC-QF. Moreover, the Russian (and Iranian) footprint has remained relatively small, especially when compared to previous conflicts waged by these belligerents.

I would suggest, with respect, that Russian special forces in Syria are operating less like the examples cited below, and more like USSOCOM during the initial phase of OEF-A. Back then, USSOCOM worked with Afghan Northern Alliance as a military ground force partner, whereas today Russian special forces are working with Iran-led forces as their military ground force partner in Syria.

Outlaw 09

Fri, 12/16/2016 - 4:05pm

In reply to by Dave Maxwell

This is an interesting comment...did in fact the Russian MoD "play" the US Army in 2012 as they were preparing for Crimea...eastern Ukraine and now Syria.....??

At the same time they were with SOCOM....we were approached suddenly in 2012 to conduct a "joint peacekeeping operation" with a Russian Brigade Staff and one BN Commander together with senior officers from their Military Academy and General Staff.....Russian heavy emphasis was placed on logistics...use of ISR and especially drones.....and especially the US Army's Decision Making Process....we were given exactly 60 days to put something together and we pulled it off.

The Russian 14th Peacekeeping Brigade was involved.....

The next exercise in 2013 was to explicitly focus on the MDMP and a merging of Russian decision making within the US MDMP and they wanted all of our reporting/orders jointly merged ...so at the end of the series of exercises they were well informed on our BCT level operations.......

The interesting point was ..yes we got a CI briefing but on the first exercise the Russian deliberately submitted an officer that was immediately picked up as being GRU and his name was deleted....which was deliberate as the young Army CI types had limited understanding of Russian intel ops especially by the GRU and missed the two others that arrived one which disappeared twice on us ....

Same exact drill happened again in 2013.....USAEUR was so enamored by their coming no one stopped to ask ..exactly what is it they are trying to learn from us......as the Russian request for the exercises came as a total surprise after the last one five years before and total silence on any attempts by USAEUR over the five years to reengage with them.

THEN 2014 we had Crimea and onto eastern Ukraine and 2016 Syria.......

So convince me the Russian MoD was not on an intel gathering operation??

Exercises were the Atlas Vision 2012 and 2013...2014 was cancelled.....

The 16th Spetsnaz Brigade videoed in Aleppo served in eastern Ukraine in 2014 and 2015 and was involved in Crimea......

Video is posted on the Syrian thread.....along with a series of comments from members of the Russian Wagner PMC who are also fighting along side the 16th......

There has been some rumors indicating elements of the 14th/15th Peacekeeping Brigades are in Syria and both had been on the border to Ukraine.....in 2014 and 2015.....

Bill M.

Fri, 12/16/2016 - 1:04pm

In reply to by Dave Maxwell

I remember their visit to SOCOM, and the naïve view that we should integrate them into our global SOF network. SOCOM over shared, because the leadership at the time couldn't look beyond the counterterrorism mission and assumed we all had shared interests. A recent study released on Russia SOF stated they mimicked U.S.'s Delta and UK's SAS when they recently modernized their SOF. Let's be honest though, Russia has always had a special operations capability, and some of their units were quite good at the unconventional aspect of warfare, though they were more aligned with their intelligence organizations than their military (perhaps another lesson we should relearn), and another advantage they have is they enjoy a much more liberal ROE than our guys.

Dave Maxwell

Fri, 12/16/2016 - 11:22am

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. I guess we are pretty good at advising and assisting any military force, to include the Russian military. They learned from us; perhaps we need to learn a few lessons from them.

QUOTE:
Russia has rarely publicized the presence of their elite troops, preferring to present its involvement in Syria as largely limited to air support. Special forces redeployed to Syria shortly after Russia launched its intervention in 2015. They came from Ukraine, where they were fighting on the side of pro-Russian rebels, according to officials familiar with the matter.

...“Russia is using [the Syrian conflict] as an opportunity to test and refine doctrine for these special-operation forces,” said Mr. Bukkvoll, adding that the deployment was likely approved at the highest levels.

“Special forces are specifically defined to be a tool in the hands of political leaders,” he said.

Russian special-operations forces typically serve high-intensity operational deployments of a few months, a rotation schedule that is modeled on the U.S. military’s elite special-operations teams. The Russians have closely studied the American experience as part of a multibillion-dollar military modernization project that began earlier in the decade.

In 2012, Gen. Nikolai Makarov, then chief of the Russian General Staff, traveled to U.S. Special Operations Command headquarters in Florida to meet with military officials, according to the State Department.

The trip was meant to download Americans’ experience with special forces to help Russia create a similar force, an official close to the U.S. military said.

“From the helmets to the kit, they look almost identical,” the official said.

Mr. Bukkvoll said the forces in Syria are likely comprised of three groups, including the special forces unit of Russia’s military intelligence; another special-operations unit along the lines of the U.S. Army’s Delta Force; and a unit called zaslon, or “screen,” which gives protection to civilian leaders and diplomatic installations. END QUOTE