Alpha / Alfa / Group “A” / Directorate A
Russia's premier counterterrorist group, Alpha is now assigned to the FSB, after changes in subordination and status following Alpha's ambiguous role in the failed August 1991 Soviet coup. Alpha comprises a main group of 250 personnel as well as smaller detachments in Yekaterinburg, Krasnodar and Khabarovsk. Before the fighting started in Chechnya Russian armed forces did not intend to resort to a full scale intervention.
An operation led by the Federal Counterintelligence Agency (FSK), and secretly supported by Russian Army military contingents enlisted from divisions near Moscow, supported opposition forces operating in Chechnya. These forces, led by opposition Provisional Council leader Umar Avturkhanov, fought Dudayev's forces with the intent to either defeat or at least soften up Dudayev and take Grozny. But the opposition attack on Grozny on 26 and 27 November 1994 was a catastrophe, and by 01 December it was clear that the opposition would be unable to oust Dudayev. Subsequently Alpha's mid-June 1995 attempt to storm the Budennovsk hospital and free hundreds of hostages seized by Chechen guerrillas ended unsuccessfully.
The FSB Special Purpose Center (Tsentr Specialnogo Naznachenia: TsSN) was established on October 8, 1998 at the Department to Protect the Constitutional System and Combat Terrorism (now the Service to Protect the Constitutional System and Combat Terrorism). The anti-terror units "Alpha" and "Vympel" are part of the Special Purpose Center of the Federal Security Service. Alpha and Vympel Teams are among the best trained special operators in the world. They enjoy a world renowned reputation for their extraordinary skill, courage and precision, accomplished through a ceaseless routine of training, preparation and planning.
The most famous elite military unit - the Alpha / Alfa anti-terrorist detachment, was created in 1974, when, in response to the wave of terrorist acts which had swept across most of the world and had hit Western Europe especially hard, a decision was made in the KGB to create special units to fight terrorism. The anti-terror subdivision Group “A” was founded on July 29, 1974 on the initiative of Yury Andropov, the Chairman of the KGB (the Committee of the State Security) of the USSR, and Aleksey Beschastny, the Chief of the KGB Seventh Department of the USSR. Before 1985 the top secret subdivision was personally subordinated to the management of the KGB of the USSR.
Before 1991 its full name was Group “A” of the Service ODP of the KGB Seventh Department of the USSR. Initially the staff did not exceed forty. It was mainly staffed by the KGB members with a special training and able on the state of health to perform the military service in the VDV (the Air- Landing Forces).
The storm of the Palace Thadge-Bek in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, in 1979 was the test that showed that the unique weapon had been available in the USSR. The storm, which was realized at the shortest time under a huge numerical superiority of the enemy and minimal losses, showed an extraordinary potential of the new subdivision. The event marked the birth of Group “A” as a unique military subdivision. At the moment of the USSR’ collapse the subdivision was staffed by 200 officers. After the Soviet Union disintegration Group “A” was included in the Central Department of Protection (CDP) of the RF.
On the night of January 13, 1991, a convoy of Soviet vehicles moved into the center of the Lithuanian capital Vilnius. Clashes for possession of the TV tower left 14 people dead, including a Soviet Alfa force officer. At least 600 were injured. The clashes were the culmination of protests in Lithuania that began earlier in the month, prompting Moscow to deploy special forces and airborne troops to hold key facilities in the republic. Lithuania’s Supreme Soviet (parliament) had declared the republic’s independence on March 11, 1990, a move the Soviet authorities denounced as unconstitutional. Soviet special forces commanders said the January 13 clashes were a provocation, and all the victims, including the Alfa officer, were gunned down by snipers.
When Alpha received a verbal order in August 1991 from the so-called "National State of Emergency Committee" (GKChP) to storm the Russian White House, it demanded to have that order in writing. Not a single member of the GKChP wished to soil his hands by signing such an order, and Alpha's subsequent refusal to storm the building virtually saved Boris Yeltsin and his supporters and permitted Mikhail Gorbachev to return to the Kremlin, albeit briefly.
After the coup of 1991, when Alpha did not follow orders to kill the people defending the building of Russian Parliament from the coup plotters, the Russian President issued the decree on making Alpha officers guard the President. The Soviet Union was supposedly headed by Gorbachev, Russia was supposedly headed by Yeltsin. Alpha started guarding them, and created units and guarded the “supposed presidents”.
Before 1993 along with other tasks Group “A” provided protection of the President of the RF. In October 1993, Alpha refused to storm the Russian White House with the Russian legislators barricaded inside. Alpha was "called on the carpet" by the president and faced with the choice: to come out either for or against the president, with "all the consequences which flow from that." Alpha decided to support the president in his "settling accounts" [razborka] with the parliament, and, using all sorts of weapons, took the Russian White House in several hours. Although Alpha took the parliament building, it lost the trust of the president, because of its hesitation to attack.
Russia encountered a new form of terrorism in 1995 after 200 militants seized about 2,000 hostages in a hospital in Budyonnovsk. The situation was completely different from anything covered by the approved policy and rules governing hostage release operations. The Budyonnovsk hostage crisis in 1995 was the first of its kind. No one in power was prepared to assume responsibility for the possible deaths of innocent civilians. It was a watershed moment that marked a new stage in and a new approach to the fight against terrorism. It forced a review of approaches, equipment, tactics, recruitment and training rules, and psychology.
If in the 1970s units were only employees of the Committee of Public Safety, now Alpha has been given the power to select officers from all departments. Those wishing to join the special operations forces are many, but we select only the best. The technical component of the issue also has changed; there has been a large-scale re-division. Only the officers’ mood and their sense of duty to the country remained unchanged. The rest, of course, has changed dramatically.
On September 1, 2004, heavily armed insurgents seized Middle School Number One in Beslan, North Ossetia, in a disputed area of southern Russia, not far from Chechnya. pproximately three dozen terrorists arrived at the school in multiple vehicles armed with automatic weapons, grenades, sniper rifles, night vision equipment, gas masks, improvised explosive devices and silencers. Government troops began to arrive and despite President Putin’s pledge not to storm the school, Russia’s elite Alpha and Vympel, Counter Terrorism and Special Forces units, began to arrive and assemble.
Throughout the crisis, the greatest single obstacle to the tactical deployment of the Alpha and Vympel teams were the huge crowds of onlookers outside the school, many of whom were armed and many of them who were drunk.183 The crowds provoked the terrorists at every opportunity. Alpha and Vympel assault teams vainly attempted to assemble and then enter the school. Many of the members of the Alpha and Vympel Teams were killed when they were shot in the back by bystanders as they entered the kill zone. Three hundred and thirty civilians were killed including 172 children. Eleven soldiers from Alpha and Vympel were also killed. Thirty-one of approximately 49 terrorists were killed.
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