Jone Joraz, Zilina Guys
Jone Joraz, Zilina Guys
Forty members of the 5th Special Forces Regiment from Zilina have been operating in north-eastern Afghanistan along with the U.S. Special Operations Forces units since the beginning of summer and it is already the second rotation.
“Boys, if they shoot at us from hand weapons, we will hear only something like chinking on the armoured vehicle. When it happens, it’s okay. Stay calm and if shooting is necessary, in particular do not jeopardise children. We will rather step on the gas and I will choose the route to leave the dangerous area...“ a Slovak First Lieutenant continues to plan in detail a drive of a night convoy of the Slovak Special Operations Forces unit. Let’s call him Stefan.
“Our soldiers from the Special Operations Advisors Group (SOAG) provide consulting to members of the Afghan National Army Special Operations Command,“ the commander of the Slovak unit with the rank of major says; let’s call him Peter. He avows that it is a prestigious task. It is obvious as for the mentoring of the Command of this division with the numbers exceeding 10 thousand soldiers that is commanded by a major general, from among the other ISAF countries, Slovaks were those to receive confidence from the Americans.
Patent-leather shoes versus boots
The commander of one of 6-member autonomous Special Forces groups, First Lieutenant Samuel is also getting in one of the started armoured vehicles. Samuel has replaced his made-to-measure suits and patent-leather shoes by a bulletproof vest, weapon and hard training. He is a graduated lawyer coming from Bratislava but he chose a command career in the Special Operations Forces instead. “If you want to serve in Special Forces, you must have it, you cannot learn it mechanically. A study has been executed in America about how many people can be considered for work in such units, the result was one percent...“, Master Sergeant Miloš, who is a commanding NCO of the Slovak unit, says. He too, as many others, studied in the USA, and he appreciates that in addition to training, the Americans also helped soldiers from Zilina with armament and equipment. “I studied law only because I knew I could use it in the army,“ Samuel, a man with a boyish smile that was deployed to Afghanistan already two years ago, explains. At that time, from September 2011 to March 2013, the Zilina guys mentored an about 120-member provincial police emergency unit. But if somebody imaged that mentoring means only lectures in a classroom, they would be far from the truth. The Afghan unit, which can be compared to our police emergency units, performed a whole spectrum of field operations, from armed reconnaissance to “sharp“ actions focused on the suppression of the influence of Taliban and other rebel groups in the responsibility area. Our mentors accompanied them “shahna ba shahna”, which means shoulder-to-shoulder in Pashto.
Then with the police as well as today, during cooperation with members of the Afghan Army Special Operations division, a great confidence is involved, and experience, too, which cannot be obtained in other way than in sharp deployment. Let us mention a small detail. When we ask First Lieutenant Samuel about the strange clip on his pistol, he pulls a flashlight out of his trousers and by means of the “clip” he attaches it to the personal weapon. “Can you imagine holding the weapon in in one hand and the flashlight in the other when you quickly break into a small clay house without electricity and any light while searching for a terrorist?“ he smiles. Of course, he also has a headlamp but at risk of fight at the shortest distances, the system of direct connection of the flashlight and personal weapon has proved more convenient. He has bought the quick-clamping element connecting the flashlight and the pistol for his own money, just like most of his colleagues have bought various special accessories for hundreds of Euros. Nevertheless, the guys from Zilina do not complain. They know that in comparison with other units, they are armed and equipped excellently. But with their type of tasks, everybody improves their accoutrements with the “gadgets” of highest quality so that it fits well. Briefly – they live their profession. That is why they proved competent at the deployment during the mentoring of the special police unit two years ago. “Based on the professional work of our predecessors, too, which was appreciated by both the domestic Afghans and the US Special Forces, nowadays we can provide advisory services at the operational and strategic level,” Commander Major Peter evaluated. He compared that, as a matter of fact, it was advancement by two degrees. In the area of mentoring of Special Forces it is the highest level, which makes a good name of our Armed Forces in the ISAF.
Open your mouth!
First Lieutenant Stefan, the commander of the night convoy’s drive, orders to move ahead through the transmitter. While leaving the base, undoubtedly he recalls his friends Patrik Fraštia and Edmund Makovník, because Stefan was with them in an advanced group, when from November 2013 they prepared conditions for the arrival of Slovak SOAG members to Kabul. That is why Stefan knows very well that not only shots from hand weapons may chink on the armoured vehicle. Patrik, Edmund and their American colleague Captain David I. Lion were killed on 27 December 2013 by a suicide attacker driving an explosives-packed vehicle. The attacker approached their convoy of armoured vehicles and blew up the car bomb. Stefan respects the gesture of commander of the Special Operations Forces in Afghanistan Maj. Gen. Ed Reeder all the more. The highest-ranking Special Forces member in Afghanistan arrived in June to name, along with commander of the joint American and Slovak advisory unit Col. Fred Dummar, two buildings on the base of the Zilina soldiers and Americans after Edmund and Patrik during a mourning ceremony. These are the only buildings of the base with heroes’ names. Stefan knows that such a serious act is usually carried out a little bit later after the death of the killed soldiers. Therefore, the moral gesture is even more important.
After passing the outer gate guarded by soldiers of the Afghan National Army, Stefan concentrates on the goings-on in front of him. Moreover, for several kilometres on the narrow road they are not able to overtake a lorry without a registration plate and tail lights. “During our deployment in Iraq, a civil car seeing a military convoy would immediately go to the road side. If not, it would do so after our warning shot. In Afghanistan such practices are not part of our transfers,“ Stefan explained. He also got relieved when the lorry had been left behind them on wider streets of the town. The driver and the front-seat passenger in the first vehicle keep reporting the situation ahead; the last personnel carrier monitors the space behind the back of the convoy. “Watch! From the left, Harley Club members arrive,“ it is heard through the loudspeakers in the cabins of all vehicles and guys laugh several moments later while passing by the “locals” on hurtling old motorcycles. Without tail lights, of course. However, any detail must be noticed so that terrorists will not “stick” to the convoy in order to attack. There have been many such cases recently. Therefore, as training, Stefan navigates the younger unit members through the escape routes so that they know the place better. Similarly, our belters teach that the members of the Afghan Special Forces. They are often very good fighters but as the history of Afghanistan shows, they can fight rather in small groups and individually. The Afghan Special Forces division, similarly to the whole Afghan Security Forces, however, must be able to coordinate their actions on as big area of the country as possible. That’s the point!
After the next tens of minutes of the night convoy’s drive, a short sharp swear is heard in the loudspeakers of all vehicles followed by the commander’s shout: “Everybody open your mouth! Guys, open your mouth...!“ A moment of maximum stress. An attack? What’s wrong? What does it mean? Well, the lorry, which had stood in the way for long minutes after the start of the Slovak convoy, and could not be overtook, rushed out of a subsidiary road after about an hour and appeared in front of the convoy. The commander interpreted it very quickly as either a coincidence, with a very low probability, or a possible attack. Well, if an attack and explosion occur, open mouth will help prevent the break of the Eustachian tube in the ears. Of course, it would help only to certain explosion intensity... “Uff, the idiot appeared here again really by chance. It’s okay, going ahead, close your mouth, f.ck“ fully naturally a swear was heard in the loudspeakers of the night convoy, along with a resonance of relaxing laugh.
“Good, my friends, good job, thank you,“ First Lieutenant Stefan tells his colleagues after returning from the night drive. Besides him, almost only non-commissioned officers are present in the brief assessment of the essentially common task. However, he as an officer need not “brandish” a command tone in his voice. It is different for the Special Forces. They are like a family although it is obvious that the Stefan’s friendly words are perceived with weight and respect. These stringy men are united by mutual reverence, respect and maximum confidence. Arrogance or vaunt – such ingredients can be hardly found in their emanation. And if yes – the carriers would be expelled. Self-confidence, of course, but it is something different. Yes, somebody may expect impulsiveness in their characters. Undoubtedly, they dispose of it but not in their relations. Their strength is in self-control, concentration, smartness, concern for the thing and in what they have drilled for years. That would not be enough though. They must know even what nobody exactly taught them. Without a potential to solve the most unpredictable situations using even the most unconventional ways they could not be members of the Special Operations Forces. And in Afghanistan, such situations are not rare. Therefore: jone joraz, guys, which in the Dari language means: good luck!
Slovak soldiers have been operating in ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) under the command of the NATO since 2004. Side by side with democratic forces endeavouring to suppress terrorism, they have been operating in Afghanistan in the coalition Operation Enduring Freedom on the Bagram base already since 2002. In the ISAF, they have operated mainly in Kabul and since 2007, in Kandahar. They also operated on the bases at Tarin Kowt, Deh Rawood and in other places. Slovak engineers, guard units or members of provincial reconstruction teams have been involved in ISAF activities helping recover the country destroyed by battles. Members of the teams liquidating the unexploded ammunition and improvised explosive means have also distinguished themselves. Medical and training teams, as well as military police members have been deployed. Tens of soldiers have been operating in the command structures. Till June, total 3,299 Slovak soldiers including 17 women served in this NATO operation, whose activity will end at the end of 2014. Three Slovak soldiers have died while fulfilling their duties in the ISAF.
Today, within the last 22nd rotation, almost 180 members of the guard unit operate at Kandahar Airfield. Almost twenty of them serve in the national support element. Almost thirty Slovak soldiers of the military advisory unit continue to train and provide consulting to the Mobile Strike Force of the Afghan National Army. The Special Operations Advisors Group consisting of approximately four tens of members of the 5th Special Forces Regiment from Zilina continues in another part of Afghanistan, along with the American partners, to advise to the Afghan National Army Special Operations Command. As many as seventeen Slovaks operate in the ISAF command structures. As at 4 August 2014, total 44,299 soldiers from 31 countries were deployed, as many as 30,700 of them were sent by the USA.
As Minister of Defence of the Slovak Republic Martin Glváč has confirmed, the Slovak Armed Forces in close cooperation with the NATO and ISAF command prepare for the termination of operation of Slovak soldiers in the ISAF at the end of December 2014. The Minister also mentioned that the Slovak Republic was a responsible NATO member, therefore, the soldiers of the Armed Forces of the Slovak Republic would remain in Afghanistan as long as necessary. From the beginning of the next year and after the termination of the ISAF operation, a new mission called Resolute Support will act to train the Afghan security forces in the country.
The previous 21st rotation, whose activity is described on the next pages, was commanded by Col. Svetozár Bohuš. Col. Zoltán Iboš as a commander of the last 22nd rotation has chosen a motto for his soldiers, which also is the motto of FC Liverpool fans and reads: “You’ll Never Walk Alone."
Text: Pavol Vitko, photo author and the 5th Special Forces Regiment