A Russian Special Operations Forces service member tells about his experience in Syria and his interactions with the Syrian military.
The Russian Special Operations Forces have been in Syria since the start of the Russian presence in Syria. They not only act as spotters for the aviation force and cruise missiles, but even the ground forces have been fighting the terrorists. In August the Defense Minister of Russia Sergey Shoygu awarded medals to special operations soldiers. They’ve managed to stop the advance of ISIS forces and defeat hundreds of their militants. Not too long ago, they helped get Russian military police troops out of an enemy encircling.
One of the special operations soldier told Izvestiya about his experience of fighting in Syria.
“How would you gauge ISIS militants? Have their units changed recently? Did they get access to new weaponry, tactics, modern armaments?”
“We had several assignments, and militants were different each time. We would come, and the enemy would be different. The situation changes constantly. For example, militants got their hands on a lot of night vision devices recently. They’ve got NVD binoculars and night vision scopes. They’ve also got thermal scopes. They had none of these before. We’ve captured enemy units with Belarusian ‘Pulsar’ NVDs. They are fairly good and pretty cheap, made with Chinese parts. They’ve also had long-range ‘Pulsars’ scopes.”
“How efficiently do militants use the NVDs and thermal scopes?”
“They don’t seem to be well acquainted with the equipment. For example, when they use night vision scopes, they tend to ignore ballistics. A bullet is not a laser pointer. It travels on a trajectory. If you want to hit your target, over long distances especially, you have to correct your aim. They don’t do that, hence they miss often.
The sentries wouldn’t use NVDs all of the time. They’d use them for some time, and then take them off. They would just listen to the surroundings after. That’s why they would often be unable to figure out what’s going on close by.
But you still have to consider the fact that they have NVDs and thermal scopes. When you approach their positions at nighttime, you have to be very careful. Controlling your movements and paying close attention to the guards is a must.”
“ISIS units are known to use drones of various kinds. Have you encountered any?”
“Usually the drones are self-made. Militants buy engines, control systems and other parts on the internet. They also use quadcopters. The drones and quadcopters are very effective.
For example, we’ve seen a Phantom quadrocopter with a hook attached. They get an improvised explosive device (IED) on the hook. The IED has stands and a remote detonation device. The Phantom covertly gets the IED, with some foliage attached to cover it up, someplace near the road. Militants blow the IED up remotely when someone approaches by foot or by car. It’s powerful enough to blow a truck wheel up.
We’ve also seen quadcopters with self-made bombs. Little tubes, with the strikers made out of nails, and the stabilisers made out of plastic bags. They’ve got buckshot in them. Quadcopters are nearly silent. They approach and drop the bomb. Anyone in 5 meter radius gets seriously injured.
Militants understand the importance of drones. They focus on getting ours and Syrian ones down. One of our units lost a quadcopter, it was shot with an SVD, apparently.”
“Can you tell us about your combat process?”
“We tried to strike the weak points, the places where the enemy would least expect us, in order to maximize the damage. We moved past the frontline once, deep into the enemy territory, and attacked their positions during nighttime.
Fighting in that region was like fighting on Mars. There were cracks in the ground, with mountains and heaps of stones everywhere. The heaps were two or three meters high, from 500 meters to 1 km long. Because they twist and turn, orienting yourself at night can be difficult. Finding the enemy is even harder. Warm stones look like a human head or like an another part of a human.
There was a building deep inside enemy territory. Militants had blown it up, so it sinked. But getting on the roof — or on what’s left of it — would get you a pretty clear view of enemy’s position. In order to get to the building, you’d have to cross a road, but crossing the 1,5 meter roadbed would make you stick out like a sore thumb. And the militants got a heavy machine gun set up at the crossroads not so far from us. Quite a pickle. We waited, observing the enemy, waited for them to let their guard down. Then we saw our chance and quickly crossed the road. We took our positions, prepared ourselves and went to work.
The militants clearly did not expect that someone would attack them during nighttime with such strength. We’ve eliminated a couple of dozens of targets. At first the enemy was shaken up, they didn’t know where the fire was coming from. Then their reserves came to their help, they regrouped and started firing at the building we were at, obliterating our cover. It seemed like they figured that the building was the best position to attack them from. We also saw them use observation devices.
They even tried to surround us, flanking us with machine gun fire. A few were really audacious and tried to attack us head on, hiding behind the rocks. They’ve managed to get around 100 meters closer, before we killed them.
We started trying to make a retreat, but the machine gun on the flank stopped us from crossing the road. If we had waited, we’d have gotten hit by mortar fire. We did what we had to: retreated along the road. When the enemy had to reload, we crossed the accursed road. A safe retreat was guaranteed after that.
A few days later we decided to plan an operation just like this one in another region. We examined the area beforehand, went through the operation in detail, while being mindful of our past experience.
But this time we decided to bring more firepower: grenade launchers, assault rifles, machine guns, and sniper rifles..
The place was relatively far away. The approach took us a few hours, because we proceeded carefully. There were a lot of abandoned enemy positions on the way. The tents were still there, as well as futons. We had to stop and examine them, as they could have been booby-trapped. There was a lot of garbage in the foliage, a lot of tin cans and cartridge containers. Even brushing them with your foot would make a lot of noise.
We reached the designated area pretty late. The sun would rise soon. We had to act fast and bold. We laid down, observed the militants, evaluated their numbers and their equipment. And then we went to work.
The point of interest was a particular building, which, as we understood, was something like a guardhouse. The militants were resting, eating and preparing to guard duty inside. That was precisely what we needed. A lot of militants that thought they were safe and did not expect to be attacked. We waited, and then came the moment when a lot of militants went inside, probably for briefing.
We acted fast. We fired from the grenade launchers, the building went up, the militants panicked. Our shooters finished off the ones that had been sent flying by the explosions. Later we learned that we got four important commanders and a few dozens of militants that day.
Unfortunately, the grenade launchers also gave our position away almost immediately, and the militants swarmed us up, just like the last time. The machine gunners came through hidden passageways, and fired at us with a surprising level of precision. The bullets flew so close you could feel the heat of their tracers. They hit really close.
We started retreating, while still under fire, covering each other. One man provided covering fire, the second one moved, took up the position, covered the first one, the first one moved and so on. The militants were very audacious again, and they were familiar with the locale. We got a fair distance away from the action, when a militant sprung out of nowhere and opens fire. Almost spent the entire magazine trying to hit us, while I was moving. But my partner was sharp: as soon as he saw the militant, he shot twice. Two hits right in his chest.
If we’d taken just a little more time, that militant would have come from behind us.
The operation was a success. Quite a job we did there.”
“What can you tell us about your interactions with the Syrian Army forces?”
“You have to establish clear lines of communications with them, and try to involve them in the operations. If we are going on a mission, we get all the Syrian commanders from all along the front. They often meet for the first time during these gatherings. We help them cooperate. We explain where, how and from where we will work. We take their crew with us. We instruct them to let us get back from action, and avoid friendly fire. We usually leave one of ours with them to coordinate our actions.
The Syrian soldiers are various. Some of them are real fighters. Some of them ignore you under fire in a fear induced stupor when you tell them to run. Some start crying. And that’s understandable. We’re here on deployment. Once we’re done, we’re going home. They have been fighting without stop for six years.