Commandos of Belarus.

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Belarusian Army Special Operations Forces (hereinafter SOF) have come a long way in the process of their formation. After the collapse of the Soviet Union on the territory of Belarus among other military units were left 38th and 103rd Airborne Divisions, as well as the 5th Independent Special Purpose Brigade GRU. These units were elite in the Soviet era, and, thanks to the efforts of the Ministry of Defense of Belarus and the soldiers themselves, remain elite today.

In the course of the reform of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Belarus in the mid 90’s, the Airborne Divisions were first reduced to the level of brigades, and then converted into mobile forces (brigades). For a long time the mobile brigades have been nominally performing the functions of motorized (or mechanized) infantry brigades, which did not correspond to their original purpose. In the early 2000’s the mobile brigades were reassigned to the General Staff (GS), and there was established an SOF department as part of the operations directorate of the General Staff, which increased the level of organized management of mobile units and special forces units.

In 2002 on the basis of one of the units of the 103rd  mobile brigade there was formed the 33rd  independent special forces unit which received an unofficial name SCS (special commando squad). This unit was staffed only with officers and warrant officers, like the special detachment of the 5th brigade GRU, which was the first special forces unit in the Soviet Army and the armies of the post-Soviet countries staffed entirely with officers. The level of training of the soldiers of the 5th brigade and the 33rd independent squad seriously distinguishes these units even against their colleagues from other special forces units.

In early 2004, the SOF department was reorganized to directorate. Parallel changes were implemented towards the organizational structure of mobile brigades. On the 1 August 2007 on the basis of the directorate the Special Operations Forces Command was established. Thus was created a new branch of the Belarusian Army – Special Operations Forces. They comprise: the 5th Independent Special Purpose Brigade (Maryina Gorka), the 38th (Brest) and 103rd (Vitebsk) Independent Mobile Brigades, the 33rd Independent Special Forces Squad (Vitebsk), the 527th Independent Special Forces Company (Borisov) and the 22th Independent Special Forces Company (Grodno). The first commander of SOF became Major General Lucian Surint, a paratrooper and an Afghan war veteran (his biography has an extremely unpleasant page: he participated in the suppression of mass protests in Tbilisi on the 09 April 1989).

The organization and establishment structure of mobile units is as follows:
1. Brigade directorate:
• Staff, services.
2. Combat military units:
• airmobile battalion;
• 2 independent mobile battalions (each has BTR-80, MAZ, 82mm mortars, 40mm automatic grenade launchers AGS-17);
• artillery battalion (122 mm howitzers D-30) ;
• anti-aircraft missile and artillery battalion (BTR-ZD “Skrezhet”, MANPADS “Igla”);
3. Combat support and communication units
4. Units of logistics and technical support

Before 2011, the 103rd Independent Mobile Brigade was armed with airborne combat vehicles BMD-1. In the course of rearmament due to the wear and tear they were replaced by BTR-80s, passed over together with their crews from the 38th Brigade. The 38th Brigade was equipped with motor vehicles MAZ. Also, both brigades received 122mm howitzers D-30 (which replaced self-propelled guns 2S9 “Nona-S”). In order to increase the effectiveness of SOF units there are attempts to introduce new sets of equipment (“soldier-spy, “soldier-paratrooper” and “soldier-sniper”). This is why Belarusian MIC enterprises release and deliver (mainly to the 5th Brigade) load bearing equipment, portable digital radios R-168-0.1, ZS-1 and P-27 helmets. In addition, SOF are equipped with the wide range of military optical systems of domestic production (“BelOMO”): collimator sights PK-AA and PC-AB, night collimator sights PKN-03M, night sights PNV-2K, night vision devices PNN-03, night vision goggles night ONV-2, laser rangefinders DL-1 and helmet-mounted display systems NSI-04.

It is worth noting that the SOF combine several units different in purpose – mobile and special forces. The tasks of these units are fundamentally different. The mobile brigades, in fact, function as assault infantry (despite earlier plans to convert them into a kind of light infantry units; the refusal to use the self-propelled guns 2S9 and the transition to towed artillery is an additional proof to that) and are designed for extended combat contact with the enemy, while the special forces units are designed to perform reconnaissance and sabotage activities and conduct deep reconnaissance to gather information. Mobile brigades, as opposed to special forces units, are not designed to perform tasks in the enemy rear. However, the elite status of mobile brigades and a certain bias when creating the SOF predetermined the current status quo.

Unfortunately, because of the extremely tight economic situation and the lack of decent social conditions in the SOF units (as well as in other military branches of the Belarusian Armed Forces) over the past two years there has been a significant outflow of officers. This situation, of course, affects the level of units’ fighting efficiency. One can hope that the leaders of the Ministry of Defence would give this difficult situation an appropriate attention, and take real steps to seriously improve the conditions of service. Perhaps the reform of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Belarus in accordance with real challenges and threats (both in the present and in the future) would solve a number of problems that have accumulated. But so far the reform means only downsizing and disbandment.

Victor Rogulya, Belarus Security Blog.

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