Alpha Team: elite warriors saving lives
They have stormed palaces, faced off against terrorists and risked life and limb to defend Russia. The Alpha Team are the Russian security service's most elite warriors.
Formed in 1974, they have created and held a shroud of secrecy surrounding the group. However, now information about its past is slowly coming out.
“Our first op was seizing the Afghan leader’s palace in Kabul. I had no idea where we were going, but we knew it wasn’t a drill. By the time we got to Afghanistan, we figured it out. On the ground, we met some fellow commandos who told us they had brought the future Afghan government,” recalls Oleg Balashov of Alpha Group.
The officers now remember there was a chance of them being eliminated too as potential witnesses, in case the Soviet Union wanted to blame locals for the assassination.
However, while the Soviet Union fell apart, Alpha survived and grew.
According to the President of the Alpha Veterans Association Sergey Goncharov, future Alpha commanders have to take years of hard training.
“They go through it all – the physical and psychological training, breaking down fear barriers, learning to shoot anything that can shoot and drive anything that could be driven,” he said. “It is incredibly tough. Many break along the way and leave.”
However, those who stay become the ultimate killing machines, caring only about the task at hand, leaving any kind of emotions behind. Or do they?
“I remember the faces of the parents outside the school, they eyes,” recalls Alpha fighter Konstantin who took part in an operation to free Beslan school hostages. “We were preparing to go in, and we had to hold them back, because they were trying to push us aside and get there first. It is only a flash, a split second before we just focused on the task but I still remember it.”
The siege of Beslan's school number 1 is one of the worst terrorist acts of the 21st century. Terrorists took over a thousand people hostage, most of them children.
After three days, Russian special forces stormed the building risking their lives to save as many people as possible, taking bullet hits as they ran carrying out children.
333 people died in the school siege but hundreds of children were not the only victims of terror. 10 members of the Alpha force also died that day in an unprecedented loss for the group.
Families of the hostages come to the school almost every day. They remember the fighters who saved their children’s lives.
”I always bring flowers for the boys, thanks to them our children are alive,” said Zalina Badoeva, mother of a Beslan hostage. “They carried them out of the fire, they risked their lives forgetting about their own families – their mothers, wives and children. I pray for them every day and talk to their families – this nightmare has brought us together.”
For some, Alpha members are nothing but cold commandoes, for others, they are the heroes behind the scenes. But for the victims of attacks like Beslan they are simply family that has bonded through blood.