Written by Colonel N. Turchin; Originally appeared at Foreign Military Review 2020 #11, translated by AlexD exclusively for SouthFront
The Special Forces (SF) are assigned a key role in the conduct of hostilities in accordance with the concept of the use of the Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) “Asymmetric Warfare”.
The SF of the Armed Forces of Iran are structures that control the hotbeds of military tension in neighbouring states, ensure surprise combat operations and the destruction of the most important enemy objects. They are able to exert a flexible force and psychological impact on the enemy, allow for a reduction in the combat effectiveness of its Air Force grouping within a set timeframe, damage the military, economic and moral capacities of the enemy.
The Special Forces are not a separate branch of the Armed Forces, but are part of the Army, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), the Law Enforcement Forces (LEF) and the Ministry of Information. Unlike the special forces units of other countries, the Iranian formations solve a wider range of tasks. This depends primarily on belonging to a particular component of the Armed Forces, the point of permanent deployment, the sector of operational purpose, and other factors. In the classic form, there are no SF units that perform only reconnaissance and special tasks.
The main tasks of the Special Forces of the Armed Forces of Iran are:
- information collection on the armed forces of neighbouring states, in areas of conflict and crises;
- reconnaissance and sabotage operations in the rear of the enemy;
- disruption of communications and communication lines of the enemy armed forces;
- conducting sabotage, subversive and psychological operations behind enemy lines;
- the fight against illicit trafficking of narcotic substances;
- countering terrorism;
- evacuation of Iranian citizens and missions from crisis areas;
- security and protection of the command of the Armed Forces, important state and political figures.
The command of the Iranian Armed Forces distinguishes five types of special operations, each of which involves the performance of certain typical tasks: intelligence and sabotage actions; subversive actions; special actions; actions to ensure the security of the state; securing actions.
Reconnaissance and sabotage actions include: obtaining information about the enemy, conducting sabotage, determining the coordinates of the stationary objects, correcting artillery fire and missile strikes, destroying the enemy’s state and military facilities.
Subversive actions are based on the use of guerrilla tactics and are carried out by groups (detachments) of SF in areas where important enemy targets are located.
Special actions are intended for seize samples of weapons and military equipment, important documents, as well as high-ranking military and political figures, the release of prisoners of war and hostages, the fight against the production and transportation of drugs, as well as for anti-terrorist activities
Iran’s security measures include the following: neutralisation of separatist and “anti-regime” groups, including the destruction of bases, warehouses, shelters, infiltration of militants, control and surveillance of the local population; the opening of intelligence networks and underground organisations; fighting and raiding operations in border provinces; and stopping the supply of weapons from abroad.
Supporting actions are the beginning of the preparation of special operations, but they can also be carried out in peacetime. They include conducting reconnaissance in the interests of formations and units of the SF, insertion of groups and detachments of the SF into the enemy’s rear, combat and logistics support, training combat formations, conducting psychological operations.
The formations of the SF of the Iranian Armed Forces (especially the “Quds”) are constantly engaged in combat in the Middle East: soldiers of the “Quds” are located in Syria, prepare representatives of the Shi’ite minorities in Afghanistan and Pakistan, on the Syrian territory, militia units have been created that participate in the fighting on the side of the Syrian troops.
In addition, it is believed that the Shi’ite Hezbollah movement in Lebanon was able to gain influence in the country’s government and security agencies thanks to the support of Iran. In Iraq, the SF forces are trying to establish friendly relations with local Shi’ites and Iraqi Kurds, in Yemen they actively support the Houthis who are fighting against the Saudi coalition, in Afghanistan they are in contact with the Islamic Movement of the Taliban, in the Palestinian Gaza Strip, with the Islamic Resistance Movement Hamas.
In addition, the reconnaissance and sabotage actions of the SF groups force the potential enemy to “disperse” their forces, divert them to the security and protection of rear facilities, areas and communications, which creates favourable conditions for solving the tasks facing the IRI Armed Forces.
Forces and equipment of the SF. In the Army ground forces, the basis of the SF formations is made up of airborne (Abn Div) and amphibious (Amph Div) assault formations: the Abn Div “Parandak” (about 8 thousand men); Amph Div “Zulfakar” (up to 12 thousand men); four separate amphibious assault brigades (each has 4,300 people); independent airborne brigade “Merab” (about 4,300 men), on the basis of which the Abn Div is deployed with the beginning of hostilities.
In addition, a separate brigade of the “Nabi Akram” SF is assigned to solve special tasks of covering the Iran-Afghanistan border and actions in the border zone.
The number of SF troops is more than 45 thousand men in peacetime and about 60 thousand in wartime. The listed special forces of the ground forces are part of the newly formed rapid deployment forces and are staffed in peacetime with 90-95% personnel, 100% of the Air Force.
Two Abn Div and Amph Div will be used to form SF groups from the Army. In particular, the plans for the operational use of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran from the divisions provide for the allocation of about 200 SF groups (or 96 SF units) to solve combined-arms tasks.
In the IRGC, there are “Quds” SF whose main task in peacetime is to “export” the Islamic Revolution – solving tasks to strengthen Iran’s position in the Middle East, relying on the controlled Shi’ite groups, as well as conducting intelligence in the interests of the state. The implementation of this task involves: providing comprehensive assistance to movements loyal to Iran; conducting special operations to eliminate the leaders of anti-Iranian groups; creating an agent network; conducting strategic and operational intelligence; training pro-Iranian militants from foreign countries; organising the training of suicide bombers for actions behind enemy lines with the beginning of an armed conflict.
Organisationally, the forces of the “Quds” SF consist of a command, a headquarters, special purpose units, suicide squads, a network of foreign residencies and training centres.
The main function of the headquarters is to plan the activities of subordinate units in the interests of other objectives.
The combat composition of the SF formations includes: men’s suicide squads (each with up to 20 fighters), women’s of 10-15 people; separate special-purpose units for carrying out particularly “sensitive” operations abroad, mainly for the physical destruction of representatives of the Iranian opposition.
Currently, the IRGC’s “Quds” force consist of about 15 thousand people. These are well-trained military personnel, specially selected from the best officers of the corps and, as a rule, have experience of combat operations in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Afghanistan. In general, given the unprecedented fanaticism, readiness for self-sacrifice and good professional training the IRGC’s “Quds” detachments, both in peacetime and in wartime, are the main striking force of the country abroad in matters of intelligence agents and special operations.
The IRGC is composed of special-purpose units: SF infantry divisions “Shohada”, “Nasr”, “Pasdaran”, “Hazrat Amir-ol-Mumenin”, “Karbala”, SF motorised infantry division “Seyed-ol-Shodaha”; SF separate reconnaissance brigades “Malek Ashtar”, “Zafar”.
The number of forces of the IRGC is about 90 thousand people, including 15 thousand “Quds”. “Quds” forms about 75 units of the SF. SF divisions and brigades allocate up to 300 SF groups.
The formations and units of the IRGC SF are 100% equipped with personnel, weapons and military equipment.
In contrast to the formations and unit of the Army SF there the notion of a “special operation” has certain characteristics. In particular, the formations and parts of the corps are designed more for conducting “sweeps”, retaliatory operations, as well as ensuring security in designated areas.
The law enforcement forces do not have a separate SF command, but due to the large volume of tasks being performed in the north-west and south-east of the country, SF groups regularly perform reconnaissance and special tasks.
These groups are formed from the strike battalions deployed in the border area, which can form 11 SF groups, as the number of shock battalions increases so does the number of groups dedicated to the following tasks: combating drug trafficking; countering terrorism and separatism, hostage release. With the transfer to the direct chain of command of the IRI General Staff, special operations units perform other tasks during wartime, but only within the area of responsibility of their respective commands.
The SF units of the Navy are represented by several battalions of the SF of the Army, Navy and the IRGC. In addition to performing tasks to protect the coast, they are designed to disrupt sea communications, conduct sabotage to the enemy’s Navy and ports, destroy its ships (vessels), mine the Strait of Hormuz, if necessary, etc.
Special importance in the training of naval command units is given to defence, capture and destruction of oil rigs and production platforms. This is primarily due to the specifics of the oil-rich region and the unstable military and political situation.
The reconnaissance and sabotage teams can be transported to the operational sites by ultra-small submarines of the “Kadir” class, speedboats, helicopters and highly mobile vehicles, cross-country motorcycles or ATVs.
Of particular interest is the “Takavaran” unit, which is part of the Marine Corps of the Iranian Navy and has about 200 professional soldiers (marine commandos) who have been specially selected by the SF forces. This formation is characterised by its “versatility”. Unlike the majority of the foreign SF units, there is no strict specialisation. Combat groups comprise of up to 10 men and are formed depending on the tasks assigned to them.
The “Takavaran” subdivision is intended to perform the following functions: collecting information about the enemy’s ship groups and naval infrastructure; sabotage of enemy ships and vessels and external raids, and on transport and industrial infrastructure located near the sea coast; mining of passages and areas of anchorages; capture of representatives of the command of the enemy armed forces, release of prisoners of war and hostages; fight against maritime piracy and terrorism.
Thus, each component of the Iranian Armed Forces has its own special forces with the appropriate management bodies, forces and means. Their combined capabilities indicate the ability of the SF units and divisions to solve the tasks set within the established time frame, both in peacetime and in wartime.
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