The Alfa Group (also known as Spetsgruppa A) is a dedicated counter-terrorism unit that belongs to OSNAZ of the FSB (former KGB), or more specifically the “A” Directorate of the FSB Special Operations Center (TsSN). It is currently believed to consist of 700 persons, 400 assigned to the Moscow Detachment and the remaining 300 located in other cities in Russia.
Alfa Group’s primary function is believed to be to carry out urban counter-terrorist missions under the direct sanction and control of the Russian political leadership. However, little is publicly known and other plausible missions would include a variety of paramilitary, policing and/or covert operations, similar to the missions of its secretive pendant, the “V” Group, or Vympel.
Training and Equipment
By Russian standards, Alfa squad is lavishly supported and funded and has access to state of the art small arms and equipment. They have employed chemical agents in hostage rescue operations and are capable of functioning in an NBC environment. Little further information is publicly available. It is assumed that Alfa is equipped with sniper and counter-sniper capability, tactical emergency medical services, demolitions, tactical intelligence and other functions typical of both police SWAT teams and the special operations community. It is unknown whether they have dedicated hostage negotiators.
“Alfa Group” or Group A, a special forces (spetsnaz) or special operations detachment OSNAZ unit attached to the KGB was created 29 July 1974 within the First Chief Directorate of the KGB on the orders of Yuri Andropov, then Chairman of the KGB. It was intended for secret foreign operations.
Their most notable mission during the Soviet period was the seizure of Amin’s palace in Afghanistan on 27 December 1979, the special operation which began the Afghan war. According to many Russian sources of information (including the memoirs of the Alpha and other compounds’ officers that took part in the seizure), the operation was called «Шторм-333» (English: “Storm-333”). Jointly with the Alfa group, called «GROM» (English:Thunder) in that time, which consisted of 24 troops, in the operation took part another special KGB group: «Зенит»(English:Zenith) — 30 troops. Also from the USSR Ministry of Defense in the operation participated so-called Muslim battalion — 520 troops (which consisted exclusively of the soldiers from the southern republics of the USSR) and one Air Landing company—100 troops. In the operation Alfa group lost 2 troops, Zenith group lost 3 troops, Muslim battalion — 5 troops and the Air Landing company — 9 troops; more than 50 were wounded. The Afghan president, Hafizullah Amin and his approximately 200 elite guards were killed. During the operation also other governmental buildings such as the Ministry of Interior building, the Internal Security (KHAD) building and the General Staff building (Darul Aman Palace) were seized. Alpha group’s veterans call this operation one of the most successful in the group’s history.
During October 1985, Alfa was dispatched to Beirut when four Russian diplomats had been taken hostage by militant Sunni Muslims. By the time Alfa was onsite, one of the hostages had already been killed. The perpetrators and their relatives were identified by supporting KGB operatives, and the latter were taken hostage. Following the standard policy of ‘no negotiation’, Alfa proceeded to sever some of their hostages’ body parts and sent them to the perpetrators with a warning that more would follow if the Russian hostages were not released immediately. The tactic was a success and no other Russian national was taken hostage in the Middle East for the next 20 years.
During the Soviet coup attempt of 1991 the Alfa group (under the command of Major General Viktor Karpukhin) was assigned the task of entering the White House, Russia’s parliament building, and killing Boris Yeltsin and the other Russian leaders following a planned assault on the entrance by paratroopers. This order was unanimously refused. Unit members mingled through the crowds and assessed the possibility of undertaking such an operation. According to their statements in the following months, it could have been carried out with success, and achieved its main objectives within 20 to 25 minutes, but would have resulted in hundreds if not thousands of civilian deaths.
Alfa Group served extensively in the Soviet war in Afghanistan. The unit continued to exist after the collapse of the Soviet Union and has been used in a variety of crisis situations such as the Moscow Theatre Siege of October 23, 2002, the Beslan school hostage crisis 2004, and the killing of Chechen rebel leader Movsar Barayev.