Ah, I might have overlooked the fact that Special forces in general were usually Army grunts who did well, oops :/
Humping a Ruck Across Sunny Afghanistan , summer of 1986:
Snipers Paradise Interviews A Soviet SPETsNAZ Vet Of The War In Afghanistan
By David M. Fortier 2003
SP: Give us a brief run down on your military background, length of time in Afghanistan , position, and rank.
Andrei: When I was drafted I asked to be sent to an Airborne unit, which was granted. I had 3 jumps prior to my military service and during basic training at Airborne school jumped 24 times, including two freefalls and one night jump. At this time I was an athlete for Sambo and due to this I was selected and transferred to a SPETsNAZ unit. I had volunteered to serve in the 40th Army in Afghanistan and served my first six months as a sniper. I then requested a transfer and served the remainder of my time as a rifleman in our assault group. I spent 23 months in the Soviet Army with 16 months in Afghanistan and held the rank of Private.
SP: Did you receive any special training prior to your deployment?
Andrei: Yes, mostly ambush, mining, and demining. Also sniper training for me personally, and mountain training as well. This lasted for three months.
SP: Can you outline your time in Afghanistan ?
Andrei: I arrived in Afghanistan on October 23 1985 . I served in the North East part of the country in the provinces of Takhar, Baglan, and Kunduz. I served mostly in Takhar which is now the general area of operations of the Northern Alliance . My unit was tasked with cutting off the Afghan's supplies by stopping their convoys and caravans. We would receive information a convoy or caravan would be coming through a certain area and set an ambush up for it and wait for it to arrive. This was our main task. A small percentage of our operations were address operations meaning that we would get information that an armed detachment of rebels would be doing R&R or something in some village and we would be called in. We would then work in conjunction with "Greens" (Afghan government troops) or a battalion of infantry or airborne troops to blockade the village and annihilate any of the resistance fighters. I was evacuated from Afghanistan , after being wounded in combat during a special operation conducted by my unit, on February 17, 1987 .
SP: What was the size of the unit you normally operated with and your weapons?
Andrei: Typically 22 people or somewhere around there. There were five officers, 4 NCO's, and the rest sergeants and privates. We broke down into three basic groups. For fire support we had three PKM's, two SVD sniper rifles, and four RPK-74's. We had one AGS -17 that we would take or sometimes leave, depending on the operation due to its weight. If the convoy is small there was no need for that weapon. We carried two RPG-7's if the convoy had vehicles, with enough rockets. Each group would have about 3-4 RPG-18's we called "Fly". The standard rifle was the 5.45x39 AKS -74. Two of these per group had a GP-25 grenade launcher for a total of 6. Plus there were two 7.62x39 AKMS's per groups with PBS suppressors. At this time there was no sub-sonic 5.45x39 ammunition so we used the 7.62x39 AKMS's. Subsonic 7.62x39 ammunition was difficult to come across too though, and they used the regular rounds as well. Every man carried no less than 450 rounds and most people carried 600 rounds on them. Snipers carried around 150 rounds of 7.62x54R sniper ammunition. Spare magazines for the SVD were extremely hard to come by. Five were issued, I carried seven along with a Stetchkin machinepistol in its holster/stock stuck in the outer pocket of my pack. I carried three 20 round mags for the Stetchkin. When I carried an AKS -74 I carried nine 30 round mags. Only five were issued, the other four I traded for or captured.
SP: What did you have available for support?
Andrei: Ah, mortars and artillery, we would have a battalion that would be on standby with us on the radio. We would have a FO with us and if we needed to call in fire support within two minutes you'd hear the round whistling in overhead. They'd make corrections and all hell would break loose. We could call in air support and within 15-20 minutes they would arrive, depending upon terrain. We rarely went on a mission when we did not have support available.
SP: What type of specialized arms and equipment were utilized by your team, such as night vision?
Andrei: In our 22 man unit our CO had a pair of low magnification NV binoculars and his second in command had one set. Later one of our snipers had a night vision scope for his SVD, but I did not have one when I was a sniper.
SP: Laser or guided munitions? Or thermal imaging devices?
Andrei: (Laughing) No, we had nothing like that.
SP: Silenced weapons?
Andrei: Each of our three groups had 2 AKMS's with PBS suppressors.
SP: I'd like to talk a bit you about the small arms used in Afghanistan , so why don't we start with pistols. How was the 9x18 Makarov pistol regarded?
Andrei: Well, the officers and some of the sergeants were issued them. The best way to put it is the way one of our officers put it, he said, "It's the most excellent gun there is, it's reliable, functions well, light and compact and comfortable. It's the most excellent gun there is.......for suicide. You should only carry one round in it" That's what he said (laughing) but that could be said about all handguns. All the officers carried AK's into combat. But it was considered extremely cool by soldiers to have one. However most of the officers didn't even carry them into combat, they deemed them useless.
SP: Do you know any instance where a Makarov was actually used in combat?
Andrei: No, not that I can recall. I can remember taking them off dead muj. They were Chinese made, we came across several of them.
SP: Did you receive training with the Makarov?
Andrei: Yes I did, they issued you 3 rounds that you fired at 25 meters and they scored you and then they issued you 5 rounds and they scored you. Then series of 5 is what you shoot using one hand typical European stance facing sideways with one hand on your hip.
SP: Did you see any other handguns in use with Soviet troops?
Andrei: Yes, Stetchkin, as a matter of fact I carried one which was extremely cool. I got one issued to me as a sniper, which wasn't the usual thing, I don't think any VDV units would have one. But I whined and I had a great relationship with the Major who was from my home town and he was in charge of armaments. When I saw a crate of them in the armory I complained and whined kinda and to shut me up he assigned me one as a personal weapon. But I had to surrender it as soon as I surrendered my SVD.
SP: What were you issued with the Stetchkin?
Andrei: I had three magazines with it, I had the leather mag pouch, I had the leather strap that goes over your shoulder to carry the holster/stock. Which I never used really, which I had in the other side of my RD pack, and the spare mags were in there with it. The mag pouch I didn't carry as I had enough stuff on my belt. Plus I had the cleaning rod.
SP: What was your opinion of the effectiveness of the Stetchkin?
Andrei: Well you know that I never had to use it in anger so to speak. But I can tell you with absolute certainty, because I've done it, that thing will knock down silhouette targets at 200-250 meters with the stock attached. On full auto it was absolutely controllable with not much kick and it was possible to even get single shots with some practice with it set on full auto. I deployed it a few times when we went into houses or to inspect some bombed out ruins. When I did I just pulled it out and carried it like a pistol without the stock attached.
SP: How did the Soviet troops regard the Stetchkin?
Andrei: Everybody and his mother wanted to have one! They were considered to be so friggin cool. Everybody wanted to shoot it, among enlisted men it was considered an exotic weapon. They would bug the **** out of me just so they could shoot it.
SP: How difficult was it getting 9x18 ammo?
Andrei: Not difficult, it was plentiful, plenty of that ****. There would be at least a couple of those cans with that stuff. Because nobody really used that caliber so there was plenty of it stashed away.
SP: You were a sniper, concerning your SVD was it brand new or used?
Andrei: It wasn't brand new, it was used and showed some wear but was in good shape.
SP: Were you issued the same rifle all the time?
Andrei: Yes, by serial number.
SP: What accessories were you issued with the SVD?
Andrei: I had the 4 pocket magazine pouch, I had the cleaning rod, cleaning tool, oil bottle, I don't remember if I was issued the cold weather battery compartment or the lens filter. I was issued 5 magazines. When you ambushed a convoy you'd go and pick up the booty. There were plenty of AK mags but rarely did you come across an SVD shooter that you could rip the magazines off. However you could buy or trade them from the guys working in the armory.
SP: Concerning your SVD, did you use a scope/action cover, wrap the rifle in any way to protect it, or cover the muzzle?
Andrei: I did not use anything to cover the muzzle. I did use the canvas scope/action cover that was issued. However when I would return the rifle to the armory or put it in the pyramid I would take that off, the rubber eyepiece off, and sometimes the whole scope off. Plus I would take the cheek piece of so that they didn't get stolen. When on the march I would have the scope cover on it until we got to a forward area and then I would remove it.
SP: So you never had a case that you put the complete sniper rifle in.
SP: How were the rifles sighted in?
Andrei: The AK-74's were never, never dialed in by the soldiers. They were dialed in by the armorer service and they were issued to you and you just knew which way they shot and where to aim. Say a little low or a little to the left. But you were not at liberty to dial your own rifle in. Now as far as the scope on the SVD was concerned the individual sniper dialed that in between 300 and 400 meters. You would just set a target at an approximate distance, it wasn't anything precise just counted off in steps, and you'd set a target up. The target could be anything from a clay pitcher, or rock, or a piece of tank track that would make noise when you hit it.
SP: What type of ammunition would you sight the SVD in with?
Andrei: Well it depends on what you had. You could sight it in with the designated sniper round or you could sight it in with ball. It depends on what you had. They might just issue you 20 rounds of sniper ammo or they could say go ###### yourself here's some regular ball ammo. But they weren't looking for precise hits at 400 meters into the left eye. They were looking for hits anywhere in the chest at 400 meters.
SP: How was the sniper ammo issued?
Andrei: Just before a mission when the individual weapons were issued with their 'combat complex', which translate into English as your 'kit' with all your magazines and stuff. And they would say 'squad number such and such go receive your ammo' so you go over there and there would be a warrant officer issuing ammo to you. He would have a little sheet telling how ammo needs to be issued to you such as how many rounds of 7.62x39, 5.45x39, how many grenades, how many 7.62x54R on the belts or loose, and how many 7.62x54R sniper loads. When he comes out he'll have the soldiers bring the stuff out and say 'here take this crate, this crate, and this' and your unit comes in and brings all this stuff out to the loading tables. These are wooden tables onto which you would load your magazines. And the sniper rounds would be brought out in the separate tins.
SP: Did you ever use the SVD's PSO -1's illuminated reticle in combat?
Andrei: Absolutely, yes.
SP: How hard were the batteries to get?
Andrei: It depended on what guy was issuing the batteries. He could be some kind of hardnosed ************, a warrant officer that nobody liked. You could say "I need some batteries," and he could say "Go ###### yourself and your ###### batteries" and that would be it. Other times they'd go and get a couple. Then the first thing is that you never put them in your scope, you keep them on you in your pocket (laughing). And then when you do need it you put it in. We were a little different though because we were always quartered at somebody else's unit and they kinda respected what we had to do and they never really argued with us. If I did have a problem I would just go and tell my unit commander that this ******* wouldn't give me any batteries and he'd go get them.
SP: Did you ever have a problem with the bulbs breaking?
Andrei: No, not once did I replace a bulb.
SP: How did you estimate the range of targets when using the SVD?
Andrei: I would use the choke rangefinder in the PSO -1 scope on a human figure or I would use a binocular with rangefinder marks and a formula. If it was a vehicle or a human figure you could use the 8x30 binocular reticle and formula to calculate the distance.
SP: What was the average ranges you engaged at with the SVD?
Andrei: 400-800 meters with the furthest I ever engaged being 1000 meters.
SP: What where the average ranges that you engaged at with the AKS -74?
Andrei: Anywhere from 200-400 meters depending upon the locale. The ideal position would be between 200 and 250 meters.
SP: How many rounds of 5.45x39 or 7.62x54R did you carry?
Andrei: Up to 650 rounds of 5.45 and up to 200 rounds of 7.62x54R.
SP: How did you carry your spare ammunition for 5.45x39 and 7.62x54R that wasn't in magazines?
Andrei: I carried it all in the side pouches on my pack in the paper packets they came in.
SP: Did you ever carry spare 5.45x39 ammo in stripper clips?
Andrei: No, never. You could pack those little packets everywhere, in your side pockets, in your pants, everywhere. But with the stripper clips you have to first load those, then you have to load them into a magazine, so nobody ever bothered. I've seen them in the armory, but nobody ever used them.
SP: Did you fire just predominantly full auto with the AK-74?
Andrei: Yes, predominantly yes, although towards the end of the fire contact you would switch to single rounds, because depending upon how much return fire you were getting you would try and save rounds because you don't know what may come next. But in the initial fire contact you need to unleash everything you've got full automatic with long bursts to suppress their will to fight. That's the usually exercise.
SP: How long were your bursts at initial contact?
Andrei: You would put 5 or 6 rounds through, but as you know only 1 or 2 rounds will hit where your aiming and the rest will go elsewhere. They teach you that the best possible rate of fire is 2 to 3 rounds at the count of "twenty-two" and they teach you that at basic training. Depress the trigger when you say 'twenty' and release it when you say 'two'. "Twenty-two" and two rounds will go off, rarely three rounds will go off. So this ways you save your ammo and deliver effective fire. Plus they teach you to aim at the knees of the target at anything inside 300-400 meters. When you've got people attacking you in a staggered formation like a checkerboard they tell you to aim at their right knee and the first round will hit them in the chest and the second will hit them in their left shoulder and the third round will go over their left should possibly striking the enemy soldier behind.
SP: Were you ever issued tracer ammunition for your AK-74 or SVD?
Andrei: All the time. First off most of our operations were conducted at night or dawn or dusk and tracers were used to guide any kind of air support we had. We would load every 4th or 5th round in our magazines with a tracer just so it could be used to correct fire. I did not use tracers with the SVD because as soon as you fired one you'd give up your position.
SP: Did you think that there was any difference in effectiveness between the 7.62x39 AKM's and the 5.45x39 AK-74's?
Andrei: As a matter of fact the AK-74's was something new that they had just started to issue only a few years before. Everybody was under the impression that this things got a special bullet with a offset center of gravity that would leave a devastating blow and we were under the impression that this was a superior weapon because of the special bullet.
SP: So when you underwent training they made a point to indicate that the 5.45x39 ammunition had special characteristics.
Andrei: That's right, they indicated that it was an offset center of gravity round.
SP: Did its effect in combat bear that out? Did you feel it was more effective than the 7.62x39?
Andrei: That's hard to determine, you've got stuff from all over coming. You don't go over there and look at this hole and say, "look what this did and look what that did," I think that both of the guns did their job and did their job quite well. But the guy who carried the AKM was a special guy cause he had the PBS. But then again when you're talking about the load he still had to carry 600 rounds and that's 30% heavier than 5.45. The 5.45x39 did its job perfectly though, it shot in the direction it was pointing in, it hit what you needed to hit, and killed what you wanted to kill, and that was it.
SP: How was the reliability of your weapons in combat?
Andrei: Quite reliable, we had PKM jam on us once. We had occasional malfunction, although never on me, of the AK-74, but it would only take a second to clear it. But everything we had was very reliable.
SP: How effective where the PBS suppressors on your unit's AKM's?
Andrei: The operators were not issued subsonic ammunition so they were using standard 7.62x39 rounds. That suppressor worked, but not like with pistol ammunition or anything. I mean it was pretty noticeable and loud. But what it would do is it would blow the enemy off kinda, they would not know where the shot came from.
SP: How where your suppressed AKM's utilized?
Andrei: Usually to take guards off. Or in the case of a caravan you would have a point guard that you had to let through the kill zone to sucker the whole caravan into the kill zone, but you can't let the point guard escape. So they were usually used for taking the point guard out after they passed the kill zone.
SP: Did you ever have any problems with the suppressors?
Andrei: No there were no problems if you knew how to use it. You could probably put five rounds through it before you had to replace the diaphragm in it. And that was not hard at all and the kit came with like 4 or 5.
SP: How were your GP-25's deployed?
Andrei: We had three of four people in the group with them, they were deployed very nicely (laughing). I carried one for about a week. You carried a 10 round bandoleer with VOG-25 anti-personnel rounds with it. You could do well out to 300 meters with it but you had to practice and get a feel for it. It's basically like a little mortar. You could fire one relatively quickly because you're loading it from the muzzle. Soon as you put the round in and you heard it click you knew you were ready to fire, and you switched that hand and put it on the trigger and off it goes. They were extremely popular in the mountains as they provided a lot of firepower.
SP: How often did you actually clean your guns.
Andrei: That's hard to say, if you leave it up to enlisted man, NEVER. It was up to the officers to make sure their personnel kept their weapons in working order. If one of the guns jammed or whatever then that particular individual is in trouble and that unit is in trouble. You tried to clean one when you were killing some time, you're on an operation sitting on an ambush killing daylight and if you knew you fired your weapon recently then you'd go and clean it just to keep it functioning well. Idon't remember the frequency that we'd clean it, like I said we would just sit and twiddle thumbs. You have to remember that in Afghanistan your rifle will be dirty every day that it is out of the armory, so friggen dirty with the sand and dust. It's almost impossible to keep the outside clean but you were kinda concerned with the inside to make sure it functions well. But sometimes you'd go on for weeks without cleaning it.
SP: In the field?
Andrei: In the field.
SP: That says alot for the reliability of the Kalashnikov rifle. Switching gears, Were your helicopter crews equipped with night vision goggles?
Andrei: I'm not sure if they used night vision goggles or not, but I do know that they had a very hard time flying at night. If they could not survey the area than they could not land, it was impossible in the mountains. They did come up with some anti-convoy operations at night called a "Free Hunt" where they would mount a big ass spotlight in the belly. If they saw some movement then they'd flick the switch and it was like God H Christ coming down on them. But I am not familiar with the inner workings of Mi-24's.
SP: What did you have for communications?
Andrei: We had R-105, R-125, and R-126 radios. The R-125 and R-126's were lighter units that were given to mobile groups like ourselves. They did need to have a relay station. It was a relatively small unit with a head and microphone set with a rubber band that the radio guy would carry on his head. Then we also had stationary units like a 105 that could dub as a Morse code thing or as a regular two way FM radio. That thing was heavy, a backpack. If the distance was too great to talk directly we relayed through a fire base which were on all the high points. But all communications went through the command post, always.
SP: Did SPETsNAZ operate independently or were they used in joint/combined operations with other units?
Andrei: Both, depending on the mission. They could use a large battalion sized detachment of Airborne or Motorized Infantry as a diversion, such as imitating they were doing a search and destroy mission. Meanwhile SPETsNAZ would complete their planned operation. They did use us once, it wasn't a large operation, to set up an ambush in the probable escape route of an armed formation of rebels being pushed by a larger Russian force. But rarely, it's mostly SPETsNAZ has a specific mission in mind.
SP: On your missions what was your means of insertion and exfiltration, parachute, helicopter, vehicle, foot?
Andrei: Although we trained a great deal jumping while in training, there were no instances that I am aware of where any Soviet units jumped in Afghanistan . We did insert and were picked up by helicopters, Mi-8's mostly. Sometimes we were inserted by helicopters and then were picked up by an armed convoy, like BMP's. Sometimes we would be given a ride to the general area and then we would make a sudden change in direction and then hike by foot somewhere.
SP: How did you exit the Mi-8's, did they land, or did you rappel or fast rope out?
Andrei: We never rappelled or fast roped out of helicopters. They would hover and we would jump out.
SP: When you were inserted by vehicles what were they?
Andrei: BMP's and BMD's, mostly BMP's. They would usually drop you off at a designated area, there might also be a diversionary tactic, we would go in the mountains away from the APC 's and then make a sudden direction change and go to where our actual area of operations were. Usually it was 10-15 kilometers, sometimes more, that we had to hike. After the operation we would rendezvous with the APC 's unless it got too hairy. Then we would call for air extraction.
SP: So after you were dropped off by helicopters or APC 's you normally moved 10-15 kilometers on foot.
Andrei: Yes, but only at night. We did not move during the day. There was no motion during the day except setting up the sentry posts and stationing the observers.
SP: How were your ambush operations against the caravans and convoys conducted?
Andrei: The area along the path would be observed and picked. Then the tactical moves would be worked out by the commander of the group in conjunction with the battalion command over the radio to get the confirmation. But the priority of the decision making was given to the people on the ground, meaning us. Of course the area was booby trapped. If there was any way that you could use natural landscape, such as rock overhangs, that you can create avalanche or rock landslide, you would. You would get the intelligence of how many vehicles or animals would be in the convoy, and your explosives would account for that. You usually mine the area with electrically or radio controlled mines and position your assault group and fire support group where they need to be. Your assault group could be divided into two parts if you wanted to cut the convoy in half and eliminate them that way, and so on and so on. They would usually have a point guard that you would let pass through. Only when the main convoy arrived did you activate the mines and all hell breaks loose. Then it's the fire support group's mission to eliminate the point guard.
SP: So you were basically engaged in stopping the flow of supplies to the Muj by ambushing their caravans and convoys. How did you get your information telling you there was a certain size convoy headed towards a particular location?
Andrei: I personally got my information on the caravans from my Group Leader and our C.O.. O.K., how did they get it? There was an elaborate network of agents and informants amongst Afghans and Khad, their security service. We also, meaning the Soviet 40th Army, conducted its own reconnaissance by means of aerial and on ground reconnaissance. Most of the informants and agents information had to be confirmed of course. That basically is the extent that I can explain it because I was not intimately involved in that information gathering, unless on the ground and unless watching that particular convoy. I was not involved in any of the strategic information gathering.
SP: While in Afghanistan what did you observe regarding the treatment of prisoners?
Andrei: In our case we came across many, many prisoners because not everyone is annihilated after the initial fire contact. There is some wounded and unscathed. They were simply interrogated at this point while they were still in shock, which usually led to a successful interrogation. If not we had people who could interrogate them better using special skills. On our part in my unit we had no abusive treatment of prisoners beyond what you would expect. There was no ears being cut off, no eyes being poked out or anything like that. If one guy tried to resist then he would be, well you know, dead man. No fancy stuff, no throat cutting stabbing anything like this, basically walk away from the spot. Those who would cooperate, depending upon what type of operation we were on, we would take everyone that was captured and offered no resistance and put them in the same helicopters with the wounded and evacuated first. They would be then turned over to "Greens" or Khad (Afghan security service), what they do to them then I don't know. I heard one story of one guy captured three times in a couple weeks, the Greens had just kept letting him go. So they might cut them loose or they might kill them, I don't know.
SP: Did you ever see prisoners executed?
Andrei: THERE WERE NO EXECUTIONS! In some cases there were simply no survivors.
SP: What was the Muj treatment of Russian POW's?
Andrei: Being captured by the Mujahideen was one thing you did not want to do. It was always in the back of your mind that the last grenade was yours. What they done there was skin people alive, they ah, I guess desecrated bodies, cut off heads, awful ****. It was some Medieval stuff. Some of the bodies that we came across.....had all kinds of traces of extreme torture. So one thing you didn't want to do was be captured that's for sure. There was several instances where troops called fire in upon themselves. It's a common thing in guerrilla warfare for the enemy to hug your position thinking that your artillery will not fire on them or if they do fire they will be ineffective, like within 100 meters or so. So in that case if your running out of ammo and are receiving fire from all sides you might want to draw them in a little closer and call fire in upon yourself. There were instances like that.
SP: What was the average duration of your operations?
Andrei: Usually 3-5 days, rarely a week. One time we were in operation for two weeks in Vardak east of Kabul guarding some bigwigs though.
SP: Did your unit conduct LRRP's?
Andrei: No, long range patrols are not possible in the region of Afghanistan that I conducted operations in due to the terrain. Any such patrol would be easily spotted from miles away. Most of the intelligence was gathered up by informants, villagers, local Army intelligence, and agents. There was of course a lot of air recon and confirmations. We also used our Border Guards advance posts because they were stationed deep in Afghan territory. So we used their reconnaissance as well because they would in their regular duty set up what they call a 'Secret' which is groups of 3-7 men to watch the territory. Their sole purpose being to relay information.
SP: Informants among the Afghan's seem to have played a large role in the gathering of intelligence. Can you give some insight into how the informants were developed and who was tasked with this responsibility?
Andrei: I have no first hand knowledge of how informants were developed so will not comment on it. Developing such informants would have been the responsibility of GRU, Soviet Military Intelligence, the KGB, and the MVD, Ministry of Internal Affairs and all the powers that be.
SP: So these Soviet Agencies were all basically trying to get the Afghans to rat on each other?
Andrei: Oh yeah, and there was plenty of that going on. One guy would even work as a scout, as a guide, so that he could keep the last car in the caravan. So they were all monetarily and materially incented, the informants. There was no, well I'm sure there was some for idea of World Socialism, but I think that those were isolated cases. Majority of that **** was all done for monetary rewards. All I know is that it was going on big time and that the intelligence apparatus of the Soviet Army was encouraging it. But I want to make the statement that I was not involved in it so that my information of any of this is secondary only
SP: What was the level of risk for a typical SPETsNAZ operation, how often did you sustain casualties?
Andrei: 95% of our operations were casualty free. If we did take a casualty it was usually such a light wound that they did not need to be evacuated. Except on my last operation where there were seven people killed and two seriously wounded.
SP: If someone was wounded, what was the chance of their being successfully evacuated?
Andrei: 100% All of our wounded were successfully evacuated. There was an order given at the very highest level that not one trooper would be left out there dead or wounded. Sometimes even full blown operations would be conducted to retrieve bodies. We never left anyone behind. The confidence that we would be pulled out was extremely high. Plus we knew some of the helicopter pilots that had flown with us, they are unsung heroes those guys, those guys were real. I would go with them on any operations because I knew that they would exhort every possible effort to come get you.
SP: How long did it take for a casualty to be evacuated by air?
Andrei: It depends, in the mountains it would be impossible to be evacuated at night so they'd have to wait until the day light. It depends, but it could be as fast as 15 minutes or it could be as long as 2 hours in the daytime when they could fly.
SP: What was the most dangerous type of operation?
Andrei: ****, every one of them was a dangerous one. I suppose going into a village after rebels was the worst. Because your flanks are protected but your rear is wide open. When you think you've cleared the area some old man with a flint lock rifle would fire at you. So you were always alert going through the dwellings.
SP: Can you give a military assessment of the Mujahideen?
Andrei: I'm not qualified for that, but I tell you what, we were superior to them in every way. We won every military battle we could plan and execute. They only did what they could. They could set up an ambush maybe, but lose more people than us. Basically they were opportunistic.
SP: What were their strengths, what were they good at?
Andrei: Evading, waiting, superior knowledge of locale so to speak. They knew every crevice, every hole, every cave, all the paths, stuff like that. They were good at evading. They'd fire at you and then before you know it a little old man with a donkey and a bunch of kindling wood would be walking by you. But little did you know that he probably was carrying Lee Enfield in the kindling wood.
SP: Were they skilled as marksmen?
Andrei: Ah I've seen better and I've seen worse. You can't say that every Afghan can shoot the fly in the friggin left eye. Sometimes they would take powerful rifles, and I'm sure some were equipped with sniper scopes, and they would fire hoping they would hit something. And often they did.
SP: What were their weaknesses?
Andrei: Well of course their equipment lacked. And they were handicapped by us cutting off their supply lines. Ummm there also was no single organization. Often we would sit on the sidelines and watch them fight among themselves. For sphere of influence I guess. For example the Southern Pushtu's would not want to have anything to do with the Tadzhik's and Uzbek's of the North. You see it going on right now.
SP: Were you ever able to exploit this weakness?
Andrei: Sure! We would in some areas and provinces sign a non-aggression pact with local villagers and armed groups not to conduct any operations against them and they would not do the same against us. We would share intelligence with them and supply them with weapons (laughing) and they in return would tell us where one group is moving, when the caravans with arms where coming, or even give us scouts. It's a normal practice and has been going on forever.
SP: So there would actually be peace treaties and alliances made by different Afghan sects? Can you tell us how these non-aggression pacts were formed and by who?
Andrei: They would just tell us, "Village so and so should not be touched". Or some infantry would organize a convoy over there with some humanitarian help, with like flour, kerosene, and some guns to defend themselves so to speak. I was not involved in any of those negotiations, so I do not know what basis they were negotiated on. It could have been on division level, it could have been on Army level, it could have been on battalion level. Every battalion had an area of responsibility. Meaning that you had let's say from such and such village to such and such village in a province that was your responsibility. So you should be intimately familiar with rebel activities there. Once again I was not involved in any of this and any information I am disclosing to you right now is secondary. This is what simply was explained to us, 'these guys are friendlies and not to be touched'. There was not any details or particulars about any of the deals, they were not discussed with us. So therefore like a battalion C.O., if he's got hostilities going on in his territory its a bad reflection on him. He's got losses, he's got casualties. But then battalion commander says, I'm gonna go and try and make peace with this guy, don't touch me and I won't touch you. Then all of a sudden he has no losses, no casualties, no hostilities, then all of a sudden they say he's doing his job. Now I can't tell you if my group was involved in any of that, all I know is that there were some friendly villages.
SP: What impact did the introduction of Stingers have on Russian operations in general?
Andrei: Well, it changed right away how helicopters and planes were flying. They would for example have a predetermined approach to the airport. You have to understand that most of the direct hits were on the low flying cargo planes that were about to land or take off. And on Mi-8 and Mi-6's while they were taking off or landing or while they were maneuvering, while they were handicapped, not while they were fully flying. Rarely were there any Mi-24's shot down, but there were some Mi-24's shot down. Also 25% of all so called shot down helicopters were actually hit but were then restored and put back in service. Impact was great of course, so they changed how they took off and landed, and installed heat decoys on them.
SP: Some claim that the introduction of the Stinger in September of 1986 turned the War around for the Afghans and eventually enabled them to win. What are your thoughts on this?
Andrei: Who claims that? The Afghans lost that war from the beginning until the last Soviet soldier left that land. They did not win any friggin operations other than successful ambushes. There was no success what so ever on their part militarily to speak of. It's like this, lets say this big guy takes this little guy and starts beating the snot out of him after school. And he beats him and beats him and beats him, to a pulp. Then he finally realizes that he's not achieving anything, the satisfaction is not there, this guy is not going to submit to him or whatever. So he comes off the guy and goes home, leaves. That's is what happened in Afghanistan . They did not force us to leave. There was no military success on their part that would cause, "Oh my God, retreat, retreat, retreat." No, there was nothing. Stingers, that were barely making it through and not all of them mind you, did not defeat the 100,000 fully equipped Soviet Army. The Soviet withdrawal was planned and in strict accordance with the Geneva Peace Accord that was signed by all the parties involved and it was planned and executed as a precise military operation, our garrisons leaving the country. Every one of our units was organized and marched across the border. And, like I said, in direct accordance with plans laid out by the Geneva Conference. So although Stingers did have an effect, they did change the flying patterns, they did have to come up with countermeasures, but Stingers DID NOT sway the war to Afghans rebels by any means. I means it's as simple as that. If someone said that, they are not military, or they slept through the entire academy. There was no military success (on the rebels part). There were some (Russian) operations that did not materialize as they planned due to poor planning on our part, and they became a little success for the rebels. But they were isolated instances that were very few. And the Stingers sure as hell didn't cause that.
SP: So you think the effect of the Stinger on the outcome of the War was very minor?
Andrei: Yeah of course. How can you with a shoulder held missile go against lets say a Grad artillery battery? OK lets say that there is a wing of 6 helicopters and you shot one down. What happens to you and your detachment? Four of the helicopters are gonna come down on you and your detachment with everything they've got. Cannons, bombs, rockets, and the other one is gonna pick up the downed crew. Think about it, they shot at only single, low flying, slow moving helicopters that don't mean ****. Not very often did they shoot one full of troops. Most of the planes shot down were slow moving transport planes, not Mig's. Stingers did not do ****. You can not fight the war on the ground with a shoulder held Stinger. You gotta have tanks, APC 's, you gotta have functional weapons, your supplies routes, your logistics have to be in order, your rear echelon has to be there. Not like hide your Chinese AK under your bed, wait and whip it out at night and go shoot some Shuravi (Russians). It's not gonna work that way. The Stingers, although they had an effect, but very minor, and sure as hell did not sway the war towards the rebels. The rebels did not win that war. And talking about Russia loosing after 1986 due to the Stingers, all you have to do is go on our web site (www.afghanwar.ru) and see how many people were killed during those times. There was no increase in casualties. They were in-line with 1984 and 1985.
SP: Was there any impact on SPETsNAZ operations from the introduction of Stingers?
Andrei: No, everyone wanted to find one! There was an order across the ranks that anyone who captured a Stinger missile would immediately be awarded a Gold Star of the Hero of the Soviet Union . And in fact, I think there was an ambush against a Russian column or convoy, and it was successfully defended against and beaten off. And as a result of chasing the Muj back on top of the mountains they did find a Stinger missile. However when they started talking about who deserved to win the Gold Star and started looking into the background of the officers who took part in this operation they dug up things like they were an alcoholic, or were cheating on their wife or something. None had a clean slate. And they didn't want to give it to the regular soldier who found it, it was a scout I think. So as a result some guy in the rear echelon got it, "for providing logistical support".
SP: How was the officer cadre in the Soviet Army at this time?
Andrei: Well, first of all where I served they were not just ordinary officers. They were professional military and true professionals in what they did. Now if you talk about a Motorized Infantry unit they would get a large percentage of what they call a "Jacket", someone right out of a civilian college. I guess from what I heard, I did not see, it was not a good relationship between the officers and enlisted men in these units. Even the old soldiers would call the officers "Jackals", that was the nickname of them. Of course for every bad one there was a good one and some excellent officers that would show the leadership that was required. Most of our officers were true professionals and we never had a situation with them unless of course we ****ed up.
SP: What about the NCO's:
Andrei: Most of those guys, like in our unit, they were all good, you could trust them with your 2 year old child. But once again you go to a Motorized Infantry or even some of the regular Airborne Units some of them were inseparable part of the incompletion of the mission so to speak. Some of them were real assets but alot of them who stayed back in the rear echelon especially had one thing in mind and that was how to get wealthy off the misery of so many.
SP: Did the Soviet Army place more emphasis on Special Operations in contrast to conventional operations in 1985/86?
Andrei: I can't speak for the whole Army because there were a lot of Spec. Ops. going on like I described in my previous comments. Basically there was cutting off supply routes, destroying their infrastructure of any kind, any communications that they had, annihilating large gatherings of rebels, and stuff like that. The ****ers would just be terrified. There were legends about the black SPETsNAZ trooper named Kurbashi. They were all freaking afraid of him because they knew what they (SPETsNAZ) were capable of and that they came down like Allah's Sword of Fury on them (Kurbashi, loosely 'black commando' was a 'ghost', a nightmare of the Afghans who materialized in the form of Soviet SPETsNAZ). If they knew that it was just Motorized Infantry or Airborne troops, although they were well regarded, it was one thing. But if you were talking about SPETsNAZ, they were simply terrified. And I'm sure that it didn't come to us (Soviet SPETsNAZ) as a give me, it had to be earned, practiced and by 1985-87 they already had 5-6 years behind their shoulders of successful operations.
SP: Do you think there were more Spec. Ops. missions in 1985/86 than in the early 1980's?
Andrei: I have no idea. Don't forget though, the whole war started with a Spec. Ops. mission capturing and killing the Prime Minister and capturing the Palace and all the Ministries and blockading all the military detachments of the Afghan Army at their base. Basically a Coupe de Eta.
SP: What was the effect of winter on Afghan operations?
Andrei: They basically came to a halt or slowed down dramatically. A) They were not receiving any resupply, other than from the south. B) It's cold as a ************. It doesn't matter if you live there or not, its cold. All their passages in the mountains were covered in snow with avalanches. Snow started in my area of operations in October/November time frame and ended late March/April. It would get down to -50 F with the wind chill.
SP: What was the effect of winter on SPETsNAZ?
Andrei: There would be no convoys so, after receiving information from informants, we would look where one particular rebel group would be R&R'ing and try to catch and annihilate them. It was very slow though. In the summer where maybe we would have 2, week long operations a month, in the winter we would have a week long operation every two months, rarely every month. Kinda like 50% down from your usual out put.
SP: Is there any equipment available now that would have been an asset to you on your missions?
Andrei: Well **** yeah, its like asking do you like ice cream! Yeah, GPS , Night vision, well....I wouldn't say we were lacking in Night Vision. First of all who ever said that every member of the groups needs night vision is a moron and never conducted operations at night. Because if you have a forward observer on the enemy side they would spot your group right away. Sometimes just one light from one single piece of that night vision equipment will give up the position of the entire group. Now as to regular equipment I would like to see a warm jacket instead of the cotton field jackets. I would like to see a down jacket. Instead of the cotton filled sleeping bag, which was the heaviest piece of equipment you carried, I'd like to see a down sleeping bag that would weigh less and roll up tighter. The boots that we used were regular paratrooper boots that did not work good in the mountains. Some of the officers that were trained Alpinists had their own mountain boots but for the mass of us in the summer time we would get ourselves regular sneakers or tennis shoes and use those. But in the winter time we had no choice but to use the standard issue boot. So some type of boot that is light and comfortable with the proper sole, that would definitely be an asset.
SP: What about LBE gear?
Andrei: I'd take RD-54 backpack over ALICE pack right now. That thing, although it looked small, if you knew how to use every square inch of space you could put a lot of stuff in it. It always keeps its shape and nothing sticks you in the back. However in its regular form the way it was issued it was not suitable. You had to take a needle and thread and adjust it to you to make it fit. Ummm of course the chest pouches are very important. We were originally issued the side hip pouches, for magazines, which were immediately proven to be pieces of ****. If you crawl, it slides right to your balls, if you walk with it, it pulls your whole belt to your ass, and it only held 4 magazines. So the Chinese chest pouches became very popular, but they only held three mags. So we would soak them in water and stuff 6 mags in them and stretch them out, but you could not close the flap. So a good chest pouch would be beneficial.
A lightweight individual water filtration and purification system would have been a valuable asset. Our chlorine tablets did not cut it and made the water taste terrible. The Russian Army suffered a large number of non-combat casualties due to water purification problems. Hepatitis, dysentery, and Typhoid Fever were all problems. In the mountains men would melt snow for water and come down with dysentery. It was a real problem. Lighter rations would also have been nice. We carried bread in the loaf and carried a lot of cans. The cans by themselves weighed alot. So lighter rations would have helped. A better quality flack would be something to be desired as well. Ours stopped shrapnel but the sides were open. They would sometimes stand up to 7.62x39 but were no challenge to Lee Enfield or 5.45x39.
SP: For use in Afghanistan what would be the minimum cartridge you would want body armor to stop?
Andrei: Laughing, .303 British. If you can stop that you would be pretty much defended against anything but the .50 calibers.
SP: Was there any training that you did not receive that you think would have been beneficial?
Andrei: Yeah we could have used a little more Alpinist training. Not just the mountain but mountain scaling with the ropes and stuff like that would probably be most useful. But not really, anything new we caught onto real fast. We knew how to set up the booby traps and mines and shoot our weapons well. The biggest thing was to train your body to be deprived of oxygen, water, and the climate changes. It is important to be training in exactly the same environment, and not just for two weeks, but for three months so your body actually starts adapting.
SP: To what do you credit the success of Soviet missions in Afghanistan ?
Andrei: To supreme training and supreme weaponry.
SP: To what do you credit the failure of Soviet missions in Afghanistan ?
Andrei: Dumb commanders, and poor work with intelligence. Most of them were due to poor decisions made by officers.
SP: Why did Russia first go into Afghanistan ?
Andrei: That is the question that I am looking the answer for.
SP: What did they tell you?
Andrei: You have to realize that it was like the underbelly of Soviet Union saved from the aggression of Imperialism. So we had to go and help out the young Socialist Republic in their struggle for democracy and socialism. And the situation was like this, you know in reality now as you read all this ****. If it wasn't Russia it would have been someone else that would have been there, for sure. The whole thing was very explosive, there was fights going on, civil war going on.
SP: Basically you think the Soviet Union went in to stabilize that area of the region?
Andrei: Pretty much, because there were immediate threats. The Russians were reluctant to go in even after receiving numerous requests from the Afghan government. They sent aid and advisors but finally when the Prime Minister began negotiating with the Americans the Russians felt they had to go in there and secure the area. You have to remember the amount of border that the Soviet Union shared with Afghanistan . But once again, I was not involved in making that decision (laughing).
SP: What will be the greatest threat U.S. Special Forces will have to face in Afghanistan ?
Andrei: The same that we had, the same thing. First you have to realize where their allegiance lies, when you come over their with a smile and hand out chocolate bars to their children you do not necessarily buy their loyalty. You have to realize that their loyalty lies with Allah. You are not Muslim so you are infidel. Taliban is Muslim, so they are their brother. So that is what they have to realize. Their food droppings they are doing now is not going to buy them nothing. These people have to realize these people have been at war at for 20 years. They have seen everybody, the Brit's, the Russians, everybody. The biggest thing will be the treachery. They'll smile, take your candy bar, and say thank you very much good ol Americans. Then when you leave the village they'll tell the local Taliban leader where you went, how many people, how you're armed, and so on and so on. So they ambush you.
Then next one is the weather. Right now winter is approaching. From what I've seen of U.S. extreme cold weather equipment, none of it will hold up in the mountains. All that layering ********, with the winds that they have in the mountains, is not gonna work. So they're gonna havta rethink that.
And another one will be the treacherous terrain where equipment like the Blackhawk and Apache cannot operate. Altitude, contamination by dust, dirt, and grime which is everywhere you step. That will be another one. I'll say, the locals, the weather, the terrain, and the equipment. And I'm not saying it will or won't work, I'm just saying this is where they should be looking. I'm sure the training of the guys are adequate, they know their stuff, their weapons are functional, they just haven't been there.
SP: Based on your experiences, how would you rate the U.S. Special Forces?
Andrei: I have no experience with U.S. Special Forces. If you want me to tell you what I see on TV, they are the most capable people in the world. But I cannot make such an assessment and I have a problem with people who make assessments about things that they do not know.
SP: Andrei, thanks for sharing your experiences with us and our readers.
Andrei: I just hope that you learn from our mistakes and that all the boys over there make it home safely. I hope that the American people don't have to go through what our parents and relatives had to go through with the loss of loved ones. By God I hope they don't draw themselves into a long, bleeding conflict. If they're gona execute it I hope they're gona use stratagies over there like they say they're gonna, in and out quick. Because those people will not be ruled.