The Russian Shield for Syria

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The U.S. thinks that it lost that country because their special forces were outdone by their Russian counterparts.

The Russian Shield for Syria

Originally appeared at Interpolit, translated by Comrade Korolyov exclusively for SouthFront

It seems, the Americans figured out why they could achieve hardly anything in Syria, in comparison to the Russian military, who look very much triumphant over there. Moscow’s advantage are her operatives of Russian Special Forces. This is all according to an influencial newspaper “Washington Post”.

Tomas Gibbons-Neff is called exactly that: “How Russian Special Forces direct the course of Syrian conflict”. The journalist tells the opinion of an American military expert, member of Office of Naval Research Michael Coffman. He thinks, that incredibly accurate airstrikes of the Russian Aerospace Forces is not only due to new weaponry and targeting systems. The main reason – is a job well done of aviation target spotters that were located at the frontline or even in the enemy’s rear. This is a risky job, which demands a specialist training. This is why in Syria the Russian spetsnaz is tasked with performing it.

Referencing Coffman, “Washington Post” writes: “Russian ground units – despite all the fuss surrounding the Russian aviation in Syria – is the joining link, that is helping the Syrian military to fight and demostrate such a high combat capacity. In reality, it is truly a tough job (without spetsnaz) to change the situation so drastically with only a small number of Russian aircraft in the country – even though they performed a large number of sorties”. (paraphrased from Russian translation – comrade Korolyov).

According to the newspaper, two main Russian special forces units were taking part in combat in Syria – “Zaslon” and Special Operations Forces of Russian military. They are the ones gathering intelligence and seeking out important infrastructural objects that support the operations conducted by the Russian Aerospace Forces and Syrian Army.

The U.S. doesn’t have anything of that sort stationed in Syria. And this is why it is losing in effectiveness to Russia. This was bluntly said about half a year ago, in October 2015 on a conference in Washington in Center for the National Interest.

It turned out, the American naively thought that the Russian Aerospace Forces airstrikes are directed not by the Russian spetsnaz, but the Syrians. Execute director of the center, Paul Sanders states “We don’t have any evidence that supports the claim that the Russian spetsnaz is in Syria. It seems, the Russian Air Force relies on the information supplied by the Syrians”.

Sanders, as it turned out, was highly mistaken. It turned out, that if the Pentagon has “no evidence”, it doesn’t mean that the Russian spetsnaz really isn’t there. It just demonstrates the quality of American intelligence gathering, which seems to constantly fail lately. Not only in the Middle East, but also in Crimea a couple of years back. And all the time – in Ukraine.

Members of the conference in Washington told us the main difficulties that they encounter in the Middle East while they are planing bomb and missile strikes without any ground forces in the area. The analysts are referencing the specialists from 480th intelligence wing of USAF. They were annoyed that in places such as Syria and Iraq it is difficult to distinguish between an ISIS fighter, a Kurdish “Peshmerg” fighter and an Iraqi or Syrian rebel. “We need more information”.

In other cases, the American military is assisted by their own embassies, that can provide the necessary clarifications. But American diplomatic presence in Syria is very limited. They have noone on the ground who could tell them more about what is happening.

In other words, American military intelligence in this war turned out to be very nearsighted. Including while planning airstrikes. And while searching for targets on the ground. And while searching for Russian spetsnaz. But how come the Americans completely missed their Russian collegues?

We think, it’s because they simply underestimated their enemy – as in the Russian military, who, despite all the diplomatic rhethoric between Washington and Moscow, are the main American enemy in the Middle East. Now, after Syria, the Pentagon is scrutinising the experience of Russian campaing. There can be no doubt.

Granted, it is very difficult – anything that relates to the Russian Special Forces is highly classified. The world, would probably remain ignorant about who really was directing Russian airstrikes on terrorist infrastructure in Syria if it wasn’t for the casualties of the spetsnaz. We only know about 2 KIA cases – Hero of Russia, senior lieutenant Alexander Prohorenko and captain Fyodor Zhuravlyov. Both were airstike directors.

27 year old Zhuravlyov, who served in the “Senezh” Center for Special Operations in Solnechnogorsk fell with honour in Syria on 19 November 2015. Meaning, exactly at the time, where Washington thought there was no Russian spetsnaz operatives in Syria. Officially, his death was revealed only on 17 March 2016. On official meeting of President Vladimir Putin with participants of Syrian operation and widows in the Kremlin.

With this total, although justified secrecy as a background, let’s gather all we know about the Russian spetsnaz forces.

Well, almost nothing – about special purpose unit “Zaslon”. It was created in March 1998 as part of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service for conducting military operations overseas, for protecting Russian embassies and for evacuating Russian citizens from warzones. It numbers about 300 men. From the media we know, that “Zaslon” was conducting operations in Iran and Iraq prior to Syria.

Also from the media, we know about at least 1 casualty of the unit. On 11 April, 2012, at the Khovanskoe cemetery in Moscow, Foreign Intelligence Service officer Oleg Fedoseev was burried. In 2006 he, together with 3 workers of the Russian Embassy was abducted in Iraq by terrorists. All hostages were brutally executed. According to journalists, Fedoseev served in “Zaslon” and was responsible for security of Russian diplomatic mission in Baghdad. Prior to that, he worked in Algeria, Albania and Lebanon

We know more about the Russia Special Operations Forces. There were a lot of talks about creating such a structure in the Russian Armed Forces for a while. But to seriously create something like this Russia decided only after analysing rather depressing results of combat action against the Georgian military in South Ossetia in August 2008 (even though the Russian Federation won that conflict in less than a week).

Officially, about the creation of Special Operations Forces Command in Russia was declared in March 2013 by the chief of staff of the Russian Armed Forces, general of the Army, Valeriy Gerasimov. He is the one directly in charge of it as well. The main organisational link – the mentioned Center for Special Operations “Senezh” in Solnechnogorsk. Something like that was also formed in the neighbouring Kubinka.

According to various news agencies, on 23 April 2013 in the mountains of Kabardino-Balkaria, the Russian CSO conducted its first tactical maneuvers. Their first combat operation was probably ensuring a bloodless proceeding to the referendum in Crimea.

We can speculate, that apart from airstrike directing teams “Senezh” also prepares sniper teams. In any case, foreign media mentioned at some point that one such team is successfully fighting (or fought?) terrorists in Syria.

It is at this point that any open sources about Russian Special Forces are not able to tell us anything else. Which, according to this incident with American intelligence during the war in the Middle East, is a good thing. It is much, much easier and less stressful to work if the Americans are sure that the Russian spetsnaz isn’t there. Then it is able to complete its jobs without any extra annoyances and interferences. And that is the main thing when fighting ISIS.

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  • wimroffel

    I cannot find any of the referenced WaPo articles.

  • 888mladen .

    Do you have any idea what’s going on currently on the battlefield in South Alepo and in the eastern Homes?