The Ministry of Interior (MININT) has two military units — the Special Troops and the Border Guard Troops — as well as the paramilitary Department of State Security. The Special Troops (Tropas Especiales), an elite Ranger-type fighting force, are considered the elite of Cuba's security forces. Under the nominal authority of the first vice minister of the Ministry of Interior, they are thought to receive their orders directly from the President. Despite the economic crisis of the 1990s, the Special Troops are considered to remain capable of executing selected military and internal security missions. The Special Troops wear the same camouflage fatigues as MINFAR's paratroopers (Assault and Landing Troops) except that a black beret replaces the helmet.
Established in the mid-1960s, the Special Troops consist of two battalions made up of an estimated 1,200 highly trained and politically reliable personnel [as of 2001], up from 800-1,000 as of 1980. Headed by a MININT Colonel, the Special Troops are believed to be organized along the lines of an infantry battalion minus some service and combat support-related elements. Personnel in the Special Troops are highly motivated, well educated and thoroughly indoctrinated. They probably are selected from both MINFAR and other MININT units.
The Special Troops' mission is to serve as a highly mobile shock force that can provide protection for high-ranking officials, conduct special military operations, and help support other special security requirements that the leadership might have. During the 1980s, several foreign advisers, all of whom were from Vietnam, were brought in to aid with the Special Troops' training, especially in survival techniques; in turn the Special Troops are also known to have provided training to selected foreign forces. Roughly comparable to the United States Green Berets or the spetznaz of the former Soviet Union, the Special Troops are trained to operate as commando-style units.
Most members of the force are both parachute- and scuba-qualified and trained in the martial arts for hand-to-hand combat. All are well trained in hand-to-hand combat. The Special Troops are equipped with small arms such as rifles, pistols and machineguns, as well as 82-mm mortars and light artillery pieces.
In terms of their publicly known operations, members of the Special Troops were the surreptitious "advance" forces sent by Fidel Castro to Angola in 1975, whose arrival there prior to Angolan independence preceded the formal beginning of Cuba's military involvement in that African conflict. Few details are available with respect to the deployment of these forces throughout the island. Most personnel belonging to the Special Troops are believed to be stationed in or near Havana, although at least one unit was reportedly stationed near the United States Naval Base at Guantanamo.
By Western standards, by the early 1980s Cuba's capability to intervene in a hostile environment using its indigenous transport equipment was modest, but it was considerably more formidable in the Central American context. As in 1975, when a single battalion of Cuban airborne troops airlifted to Luanda, Angola, at a critical moment and played a role far out of proportion to its size, a battle—tested Cuban force interjected quickly into a combat situation in Central America could prove to be decisive. Moreover, since the Angolan experience, Havana increased the training of airborne forces, which by the early 1980s consisted of a special troops contingent and a landing and assault brigade, and had improved its air and sealift capacity. Introduction of sophisticated Soviet weapons geared toward mobility and offensive missions improved Cuban ability to conduct military operations off the island.
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