Perhaps many of those, who have deep interest in the Soviet Army and in its Afghanistan campaign in particular have heard about so called "muslim batallions". However, it is uncommon to find a person who actually know what these units were. In this article, we will explore this phenomena and will try to understand how it effected the Soviet capabilities in the Afghan war.
The roots of the Muslim battalion
Despite the common myth of how the Soviet Army had to invade the Afghanistan solely on request of the Afghan government, the highest officials knew about the invasion well beforehand. While there have assigned little to no time to mobilize regular forces, there was some specialized preparation for this exact specific region.
The Soviet Union's leadership determined that action was necessary in Afghanistan in the spring of 1979. The original plan was to send discreet military units into the nation on a small scale.
On March 18, 1979, Alexei Kosygin, the USSR's Chairman of the Council of Ministers, received a phone call from Nur Mohammad Taraki, the secretary-general of the Marxist Party of Afghanistan. He requested the dispatch of troops from the USSR's Asian republics to free the city of Herat from 4,000 Iranian military garbed in civilian clothes. The primary selection criterion for the soldiers was how much they looked like the native people of Afghanistan.
At first, Kosygin wasn't sure about this suggestion. But, with the Directive No. 314/2/0061, special task force was created on April 26, 1979 by the General Staff of the USSR's Ministry of Defense. Later on, this unit was dubbed the "Muslim Battalion." However, "a separate detachment of special purpose" was its official name.
Following this, men from the southern Soviet republics were to be sent to a Special Forces unit, according to an order given by GRU Colonel Vasily Kolesnik. Of course, being of the correct nationality was not enough - Kolesnik has gathered top soldiers from throughout the Soviet Union to carry out the order. The "Muslim battalion" was made up of paratroopers, border guards, motorized rifle groups, and tankmen.
The training process and the initial tasks of the Muslim battalion
The first Muslim battalion got designation of 154th Special Purpose Detachment. It was led by Major Habib Tadzhibaevich Khalbaev. The training was overseen by Lieutenant-General Krivosheev, the Chief of Staff of the Turkestan Military District.
Soldiers from the 154th detachment practiced taking buildings and engaging in urban combat. A lot of soldiers and officers concentrated on hand-to-hand combat, close quarters fighting and practical usage of the grenade launchers.
The Muslim battalion's primary objective at first was to defend Afghan President Nurmukhamed Taraki, who was attempting to quickly establish a socialist framework for his nation. Due to the large number of political and military opponents in the country, this was essential. However, the objectives were drastically altered when his comrade-in-arms, Hafizullah Amin, staged a coup and took control.
The battalion's first deployment was rescheduled. Nevertheless, the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Communist Party has adopted a secret resolution following the toppling of Afghan President Nurmuhamed Taraki, which stated:
"We deem it appropriate to dispatch a dedicated unit of the GRU of the General Staff to Afghanistan for these objectives, comprising approximately 500 men in uniform who conceal their affiliation with the Soviet Armed Forces."
In order to execute the directive throughout the night on December 9–10, 1979, Muslim battalion men were transported to Afghanistan and arrived at Bagram Airfield.
The assault of the Taj-Bek palace
The 154th Soviet Spetsnaz had actively participated in the attack on the Taj-Bek Palace, where Amin was hiding, on December 27, 1979. At first, KGB soldiers were involved in the storming of the palace. But their numbers were insufficient to overcome the Afghans' resistance. There were roughly 150 presidential guards and the total number of the armed personnel protecting the Amin's palace was over 2,000.
Everything changed drastically when Muslim battalion reinforcements were called in by Soviet colonel Boyarinov. In memory of Shukhrat Mirzaev, a participant in the palace storming action:
"We proceeded, eliminating every live creature we encountered along the path. Anyone who objected was immediately put to death. We spared those who submitted from our touch. We cleared the ground floor. The second was ours. We force the Amin people into the attic rooms and into the third story like a piston. There were numerous Afghan military and civilian dead everywhere."
The aftermath is well known. The Soviet forces, totaling around 700 people managed to capture the Amin's Palace with only 14 casualties. About 350 Afghans were slain and about 700 were taken prisoner. However, this number is likely to be very overestimated. Some reports state that only roughly 40 Afghans were slain and that the rest were taken prisoner.
Following Amin's assassination, a jet took off from Moscow and headed toward Bagram. Barak Karmal, the recently appointed president of Afghanistan, was in it and was being watched by the KGB. This military action was recognized by many Western nations as proof that the Soviet Union had occupied Afghanistan. Karam and Najibullah, the leaders of Afghanistan after him, were rightfully viewed as soviet puppets.
The Muslim battalion was now on par with the regular Soviet special purpose unit after completing this mission.
Later history of the Spetsnaz unit 154th Soviet Spetsnaz
As this detachment was created as a temporary force, the men and equipment were withdrawn from the Afghanistan shortly after the Taj-Bek assault. The detachment was sent back to city of Chirchik on January 10, 1980. A decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR was signed in April 1980, bestowing orders and medals upon 370 military soldiers of the 15th Special Operations Brigade who took part in Operation Storm-333.
An attempt was made to expand the number of intelligence agencies toward the end of 1981. For operations in Afghanistan's northern areas, two distinct GRU special forces detachments are being sent there.154th Soviet Spetsnaz was one of these battalions. By then, the unit had its own Battle Banner unit's holiday - essential attributes of a regular formation.
On October 26, 1981, 154 special forces were scheduled to invade into the Afghanistan by order of Chief of the General Staff of the USSR Armed Forces, dated October 21, 1981.
Second deployment to Afghanistan
Following reorganization, the detachment led by Major I. Yu. Stoderevsky crossed the state border with Afghanistan in the Termez area on October 29–30, 1981. During the hostilities, 154 Special Forces were given an unhidden designation, becoming the 1st Separate Motorized Rifle Battalion.
Between October 30, 1981 and May 15, 1988, 154th Soviet Spetsnaz engaged in ceaseless combat with the armed forces of the rebels, attacking enemy fortified areas, headquarters, Islamic committees, training facilities, weapons and ammunition warehouses, taking part in caravan inspections, conducting aerial reconnaissance in the area of responsibility, and destroying Mujahideen manpower through raids and ambushes.
After Storm 333, the detachment's most well-known combat missions were the following:
Relieving the blockade of Sancharak (Jawzjan province, April 1982)
Capturing bases in Jar-Kuduk (December 1981) and Darzab (January 1982).
In October 1982, two gangs were destroyed in Kuli-Ishan (Samangan province)
In March 1983, dushman bases in the Marmol Gorge (Balkh province) were captured.
The final withdrawal of the unit started on May 15, 1988. The forced march from Jalalabad to Kabul to Puli, Khumri, and Hairaton was conducted in three days mounted on 228 military vehicles in one column. The USSR's state border was crossed in the Termez area on May 18.