In 2001, Mark Giaconia was a Green Beret patrolling the border areas between Kosovo and Serbia. His counterparts were Russian troops, many of which were airborne. Their mission was to disrupt the movements of Albanian UCPMB rebels in the area. For six months, he and his Russian allies worked side-by-side, in the forests and mountains around Kosovo.
Then one day, his coworkers put on what they called a “Spetsnaz Show” – and Giaconia realized who his tactical buddies really were.
To be clear, the “Spetsnaz” aren’t any single part of the Russian military apparatus. They are any special operations unit of the Russian military, including the Russian Navy, Airborne troops, and FSB (formerly the KGB). Most often, when westerners refer to the Spetsnaz, they’re referring to the special operations section of the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence service.
Giaconia’s experience with the Russians was his first – and it was the first time American Specials Forces and Russian special operators worked together. The height of their mission in Kosovo was rolling on a rebel base that had killed one of the Russians’ soldiers. The team captured a young rebel while on a patrol and extracted the location of the rebels’ base of operations.
American and Russian Special Forces troops in Kosovo alongside Swedish Jaegers, 2001.
Giaconia describes his time in Kosovo with his ODA in his book, One Green Beret: Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, and beyond: 15 Extraordinary years in the life – 1996-2011. He describes the joint US-Russian Special Forces outfit arriving in an area called Velja Glava, where the rebel camp was supposed to be. After dispatching the sentries, the joint team dismounted from their armored vehicles and moved through the forest to assault the camp. The Russians deftly traversed through the vegetation while Giaconia laid the forest bare with a Mk 19 grenade launcher.
The Russians captured the Albanian rebels that were still able to be captured, and the UCPMB camp was taken out of action permanently. When it came to the performance of the Spetsnaz in combat, Giaconia says they were keen on tactics and had great intuition and instinct. They could shoot well, took care of their weapons and equipment, and were in great shape, and were very well-disciplined.
In short, he says he had a lot of respect for these “badasses in spirit.”