Spetsnaz (Russian: спецназ), an abbreviation for Войска специального назначения, tr. Voyska spetsialnogo naznacheniya (English: Special Purpose Forces or Special Purpose Military Units), is an umbrella term for special forces in Russian and is used in numerous post-Soviet states.
The Soviet Spetsnaz are similar to the American Green Berets. Spetsnaz operatives were featured briefly in Vietnam during the events of Rambo: First Blood Part II and more prominently as a tertiary antagonist in Afghanistan during the events of Rambo III, presenting a greater threat to former Green Berets John Rambo and Colonel Sam Trautman.
Historically, the term referred to special military units controlled by the military intelligence service GRU (Spetsnaz GRU). It also describes special purpose units, or task forces of other ministries (such as the Ministry of Emergency Situations' special rescue unit) in post-Soviet countries.
As Spetsnaz is a Russian term, it is typically associated with the special forces units of Russia; but other post-Soviet states often refer to their special forces by the term as well since they inherited their special purpose units from the now-defunct Soviet security agencies. The 5th Spetsnaz Brigade of Belarus or the Alpha Group of the Security Service of Ukraine are both such examples of non-Russian Spetsnaz forces.
Spetsnaz have the most grueling training in the world for special forces and are often considered the best special forces team in the world.
Soviet Spetsnaz forces took part in the Soviet–Afghan War of 1979-1989 in Afghanistan, usually fighting fast insertion/extraction type warfare with helicopters. Their most famous operation, Operation Storm-333 (27 December 1979), saw Soviet Special Forces storming the Tajbeg Palace in Afghanistan and killing Afghan President Hafizullah Amin and his 200 personal guards. The Soviets then installed Babrak Karmal as Amin's successor.
The operation involved approximately 660 Soviet operators dressed in Afghan uniforms, including ca. 50 KGB and GRU officers from the Alpha Group and Zenith Group. The Soviet forces occupied major governmental, military and media buildings in Kabul, including their primary target – the Tajbeg Presidential Palace.
Spetsnaz units conducted numerous air-assault missions throughout the war, including ambushes and raids. The Spetsnaz often conducted missions to ambush and destroy enemy supply-convoys. The Mujahideen had great respect for the Spetsnaz, seeing them as a much more difficult opponent than the typical Soviet conscript soldier. They said that the Spetsnaz-led air assault missions had changed the complexion of the war. They also credited the Spetsnaz with closing down all the supply routes along the Afghan-Pakistani border in 1986. In April 1986 the rebels lost one of their biggest bases, at Zhawar in Paktia Province, to a Soviet Spetsnaz air-assault. The Spetsnaz achieved victory by knocking out several rebel positions above the base, a mile-long series of fortified caves in a remote canyon. The Spetsnaz also succeeded in inserting air-assault forces into regions in Konar Valley near Barikot which were previously considered inaccessible to Soviet forces.