72nd SPECIAL OPERATIONS BRIGADETweet
HISTORY AND PURPOSE
History of the Serbian people is filled with numerous wars and sufferings. Serbian soldiers have been laying down their lives in defense and liberation of their country and people through the liberation wars against the Ottoman Empire and both world wars. At the beginning of the nineties armed conflicts emerged on the territory of former Yugoslavia, and already at the end of the nineties and at the beginning of the new millennium, the then Army of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia had been defending the southern autonomous province — Kosovo and Metohija. Nevertheless, the hard times have given rise to heroic names and deeds, being carved into the Serbian oral tradition, written history, therefore today represent inspiration for young generations of Serbian soldiers and citizens.
With the escalation of the armed conflicts in former Yugoslavia, the state officials of the Republic of Serbia had decided to form special purpose units, within armed forces, which special training and equipment would have been used to carry out the most complex combat operations and tasks. During 1992, the 72nd Airborne Assault Brigade was established, and its operators recognized by their maroon-colour berets, being a symbol of prestige amongst Serbian soldiers even nowadays. Soon after its foundation, the brigade had changed its name and continued to operate as the 72nd Special Brigade, with operating elements of the unit consisting of the former Military Police Counter Terrorist Battalion, the First Reconnaissance-Commando Battalion (created from the previous commando detachments of the YPA, firstly named “the Lions”, with a later recognizable insignia adopted in a form of a skull with a marron beret and a compass), Raid Actions Battalion (Srb. Bataljon za prepadna dejstva), Support Battalion, and following units, such as a logistic group, comms group and the like.
When others can’t and don’t dare, there is only one ... the 72nd, which always can and dares!
In the upcoming times, the organization of the brigade had been adapting to the ongoing requirements, so the Support Battalion had decreased to a company rank, while the Raid Actions Battalion changed its name to the Second Reconnaissance-Commando Battalion, that will, along with the First Reconnaissance-Commando Battalion form the 72nd Reconnaissance-Commando Battalion of the Special Brigade. The then Serbian Armed Forces Special Brigade was formed after the organizational reforms in 2006, on September 29, merging the personnel from the 72nd Special Brigade, 63rd Parachute Brigade, a part of the then Counter Terrorist Detachment “Cobras” personnel, as well as the versatile specialists of the 82nd Marine Center, all of whom moved to Serbia after Serbia and Montenegro state union had ceased to exist. In that way, the new unit gathered the majority of the best trained military special forces in the country under the same brigade banner, and it is important to point out that the former 72nd Special Brigade and the 63rd Parachute Brigade have been decorated, the first one with the Order of the War Banner since June 2000, and the second one with the Order of the People's Hero since October 1999 , medals for exceptional efforts during the armed conflicts in Kosmet, at the end of the nineties. Decorations, exceptional combat experience and endeavours have built an exceptional tradition and reputation of the elite unit, and are, therefore, of exceptional importance for moral and sense of elitism amongst the operators, as well as trust of the policymakers and citizens of the Republic of Serbia. The Serbian Armed Forces Special Brigade had been organized in battalions and companies and settled in the Rastko Nemanjić Barracks in Pančevo, as well as at the airport in the city of Niš, with experienced Brigadier General Ilija Todorov appointed as the first commander of the unit. During 2013, commanding duties were ceded to Brigadier General Jelesije Radivojević, and at the beginning of 2015, Colonel Zoran Veličković was appointed, who was promoted to the Brigadier General rank, by the decree of the President of the Republic of Serbia, on April 23 of the same year. In October 2018, commander Veličković was succeeded by Brigadier General Miroslav Talijan, who is also the first and the ongoing commander of the present 72nd Special Operations Brigade.
The elite brigade had been organized under the Land Army at first, and could conduct reconnaissance, reconnaissance-commando, counter terrorist raids and diversion tasks, intelligence and counter intelligence actions, hostage rescue, disarmament of criminal groups and terrorists, in all conditions and operations of the Land Army and Serbian Armed Forces (SAF). The SAF Special Brigade could have been engaged to block areas and facilities, air insertions and air supply drops, as well as to provide assistance in personnel and technics to the civilians in case of natural disasters, while in coaction with other SAF units, or Ministry of Internal Affairs`, could have conducted other combat and/or security-intelligence tasks, being meticulously defined with the Defence Strategy and the Doctrine of the Serbian Armed Forces.
By the decision of the President of the Republic (who, according to Article 112, par. 2 of the 2006 Constitution “[...] commands the Army”) from December 21 2019, changes were made in the organization of the then Special Brigade, and the 72nd Special Operations Brigade and the 63rd Parachute Brigade were established, subordinated directly to Chief of General Staff of the Serbian Armed Forces. This decision has restored the previous statuses to the elite brigades — in line with their traditions — and simultaneously optimized the activation mechanisms of both units and the chain of command.
Today, the elite 72nd Special Operations Brigade is a tactical unit, of a modular type, specially trained and equipped to carry out:
-diversions (against the enemy force, or high-value facilities), counter diversion, counter terrorist, counter insurgence actions in all conditions
-reconnaissance and intel collection, primarily in enemy lines in tactical and operational depth, in all conditions
-rescue and retrieval of high-value assets behind the enemy lines
In accordance with the defined missions and tasks of the Serbian Armed Forces, the 72nd Special Operations Brigade develops capacities to participate and participates in multinational operations, strengthening the international reputation of the Serbian Armed Forces and the Republic of Serbia.
The organization of the 72nd Special Operations Brigade is derived from the former Special Brigade organization ands has been modified to fit the ongoing operating tasks, jobs, specialties of the operating personnel, as well as requirements of the security system of the Republic of Serbia. Therefore, the commanding element of the new unit consists of the Command and the Commanding Battalion. The Protection Company watches over security of the unit`s base and its resources. The Communication Company works on operational-tactical communication. The Training Company, as a rule, consists of specialists, all of whom had previously completed specialist courses in various fields and plan and conduct the selection training, as well as the operators` training.
The operating personnel is organized in battalions, companies and teams in the new unit as well. Therefore, the former 72nd Reconnaissance-Commando Battalion is operational today as the Special Operations Battalion (SOb) “Griffins” and enlists several special operations companies in its formation, being organized according to the tasks and jobs given (for instance, a support company), or specialties (for example, a parachuting company). Besides the mentioned, the battalion enlists the famous 82nd River Saboteurs Company, within which the versatile specialists are organized in several teams of river saboteurs, including the Diving Equipment Maintenance Team. The former Counter Terrorist Battalion “Falcons” is operating today as the Special Operations Battalion “Falcons”, also consisting of several special operations companies.
The former insignia of the Special Brigade has been modified, in accordance with the organizational reforms and segregation of the 63rd Parachute Brigade. The insignia of the 72nd Special Operations Brigade is represented in form of a shield with a falcon outstretching its wings in it, along with the traditional number 72. Respecting the tradition of the elite units, the Falcons have kept the former insignia — with a falcon and three flashes — with number 72, while the Griffins have kept the symbol of a griffin with number 72.
The slava of the 72nd Special Operations Brigade is Saint Sava and is being honoured on every January 27, along with the Day of the unit. Rastko Nemanjić was the youngest son of Stefan Nemanja — Serbian nobleman from 12th century and founder of the Serbian Nemanjić dynasty — and is one of the most important figures in Serbian history and tradition.
The training system at the elite brigade consists of selection training, basic and advanced special forces training. The decision on a job opening for a vacancy at the 72nd Special Operations Brigade of the SAF is brought by the General Staff of the Serbian Armed Forces, and the same decision, commonly, includes info about a number and type of vacancies available at the unit, requirements and a method of application.
Officers, non-coms and professional soldiers of all branches and services of the Ministry of Defence and the Serbian Armed Forces, no older than 30 years of age, with a previous work experience of at least two years within the SAF and at least a very good annual official grade (required for officers and non-coms) can apply for a job opening, while interested civilians who completed the voluntary military service under arms can apply for duties of a professional soldier.
With the application deadline expired, before candidates are called up for testing, thorough background checks of every candidate applied are being conducted. Those who have been involved in criminal proceedings, or are defendants in criminal proceedings at the moment of background checks, will not be called up. The candidates with security clearances are called up for checks of their psycho-physical readiness, being carried out at the barracks in Pančevo. The strength and stamina checks include several disciplines in which the candidates have to meet certain standards. Additionally, all the candidates are expected to be solid swimmers. According to the achieved results, the ranking of the candidates is made. Within these checks, the candidates conduct an interview with officers from the unit, aimed to acquire a better impression about one`s psychological profile, especially their motivation to become a part of the elite unit.
The minimal norms in certain disciplines are to be achieved for a given time period, whilst in others attention is given to the candidates` behavior while completing a discipline. Those who meet the criteria at these checks are sent for a rigorous specialist medical check, carried out at the Military Medical Academy, Belgrade, with a doctor`s positive evaluation being a necessary prerequisite for a candidate to be called up for the selection training that lasts for 10 weeks and consists of two phases — the elimination phase and the qualification phase.
Most of the candidates give up during the classical drill and the purpose of intensive psycho-physical checks and tasks is to separate the most capable individuals, who would have, through intensive training, become the most elite operators of the Serbian army. Medics are constantly present during this phase, monitoring health of every candidate and are empowered to, based on their expert evaluation, remove a candidate from the selection even against their will, if evaluated that their health is being endangered.
The selection training includes elements of tactical training as well, especially the basics of special operations tactics (reconnaissance, saboteur, commando, counter insurgence and counter terrorist actions), armament and firearm training according to the standards of the brigade, topography and the like. The candidates` fitness is increased through marches in rough terrain with full gear loadouts, 20-40 km long. With the drill being completed, a team of instructors brings a final decision on the status of the remaining candidates, according to their achieved results.
Those who satisfy the criteria are assigned to the units of the brigade, according the planned vacancies, and are dispatched for the basic training, commonly lasting for six months, and being carried out at the barracks of the 72nd Special Operations Brigade, as well as military ranges and other locations throughout Serbia. The advanced special forces training (specialist training), as a rule, lasts for six months and is being carried out through specialist courses in the country and abroad. The specialist courses are synced with purposes of the units of the brigade, therefore, the operators can be dispatched for a reconnaissance course, military police course, river saboteurs and light divers course, basic and advanced sniper course, medic course, comms operator training, driving course of combat and armored vehicles, foreign languages course etc. Certificates are attained by completing these courses, and depending on a course type, the ranks of instructors can be attained as well, for instance, by completing courses for instructors of survival training, or instructors for sniper training and the like.
Some of the brigade`s operators have completed the US Ranger Course and the Special Forces Qualification Course at the Fort Benning and Fort Bragg training centers, USA. Winter and mountain warfare courses have been completed in Norway, Austria, Italy and Switzerland.
A significant part of the basic training is being conducted at the Rastko Nemanjić Barracks in Pančevo, that has a situational closed shooting range and an open range for shootings up to 300 m distances, mines and explosives range, the “Urban Environment” range, allowing the practice of urban actions, the “Rural Environment” range, created for the practice of actions in rural area.
The barracks has a superb tactical range, with trenches, various covers and hideouts, and when needed, roads and crossroads can be emulated. The ranges of such type are very important for the practice of both, offensive and defensive actions. The Griffins practice planting of explosives to demolish materials, and structures of concrete, wood, steel etc., at the demolition range. Elements of urban climbing are being practiced at a climbing range, along with actions of specialist climbing. A range with infantry obstacles is present, along with the so-called commando obstacles range, sports courts and sports center.
The operators practice summer climbing on rocks in Košutnjak, Belgrade, at the Stolovi Mountain near the city of Bor, Ovčarsko-kablarska Gorge, whilst winter climbing is being practiced at the Kopaonik Mountain. Paratroopers amongst the Griffins and Falcons conduct parachuting training at the airport in the city of Niš. Winter training is conducted on Kopaonik, Jastrebac and other mountains, including a skii training or conditioning (Alpine and Nordic skiing), survival training, winter climbing, winter tracking and rescue training, as well as attack actions, including the tactics of attack, defense, ambush, raid, diversion, scouting and the like. Topography is practiced in the area of Fruška Gora Mountain, as well as Deliblato Sands, where a part of special operations training is being carried out as well. Special operations are practiced at the Peskovi range, as well as at the Special Anti-Terrorist Unit`s base, Batajnica. According to the training curriculum for the operators of the 72nd Special Operations Brigade, the basic training in precision shooting is being carried out at the range in Orešac, the one in Desić, and the Peskovi and Pasuljanske livade ranges.
The training of the 82nd River Saboteurs Company specialists is being conducted at the General Jovan Mišković Barracks, in Belgrade, Ada Ciganlija Lake, Danube and Sava rivers, as well as at the Zaovine Lake on the Tara Mountain. Also, a part of the diving training is conducted at the Montenegrin seashore and abroad through joint exercises of various themes.
Status and level of training of the Serbian army special forces includes an exceptional knowledge about features and effective tactical-combat use of infantry armament and gear, manufactured by national producers and the most famous foreign ones. Also, a due attention is given to the study of gear and weaponry being used in the neighboring armies, which is confirmed by the presence of some systems in the armament of the elite unit of the Serbian Armed Forces. Procurements from foreign manufacturers are carried out according to the requirements of the unit, depending on the funds available, because, bearing in mind the economic situation in the Republic of Serbia, the procurements funds are being carefully allocated. An obvious trend of the Ministry of Defense officials, as well as the 72nd Special Operations Brigade, is to have products of the national arms industry and foreign models at disposal in every gear category. Investments in projects of the national arms industry in the recent years have allowed introductions of various gear and systems, therefore, operating capacities of the elite brigade have additionally been increased, whilst thanks to the procurements of the high-end gear from abroad, mostly through the “Project 1500”, the operators have at disposal some of the systems in use at the most respectable units of similar purpose in the world.
In the handgun category, the brigade holds the CZ 99 9 mm Parabellum semi-auto handguns, manufactured by Zastava Arms, from the city of Kragujevac, as well as the CZ 999 models, in the same caliber, from the same producer, developed for the needs of special forces. The handguns of the national producers are usually being used for the requirements of the selection of candidates applying for a vacancy at the brigade, but are also given trust by experienced operators, therefore can be spotted in their loadouts. Amongst the systems purchased from foreign producers, the brigade has at disposal a significant contingent of the superb Austrian semi-auto Glock 17s Gen 4, in 9 mm, with threaded barrels to screw on suppressors. The Glocks are a common choice of both, Griffins and Falcons, and together with the German HK USP SDs are the main handgun models in use at the brigade. A smaller contingent of the Israeli Jericho 941Fs 9 mm is in use as well. A secure handgun carry is achieved with various holsters. Lately, the special forces operators often incline to models made from kydex, produced by various manufacturers, with models from the Serbian Horned Viper manufacturer to be seen amongst them. Holsters, delivered by Yumco ad within the T18 sets of protective ballistic gear, are also in use. The Falcons have a contingent of the BLACKHAWK! SERPA Tactical Level 2 holsters in black. The German models in black colour, manufactured by Vega Holsters, are at disposal as well, along with the US-made high-end G-Code XST RTI, in black and OD Green colour.
For the requirements of CQB, the operators often choose compact submachine guns, chambered in the traditional handgun calibers. The main in use are the German HK MP5 9 mm models. Several versions are available, such as the HK MP5 A2 with a fixed polymer stock, the HK MP5 A3 with a telescopic one and these are mostly being used, as well as the suppressed HK MP5 SD3 versions and shortened HK MP5 Ks. The newer HK UMPs 9 mm are being used besides the legendary MP5 series. Tactical accessories are, commonly, mounted onto the rails of these models, increasing the effectiveness of use. Therefore, a practice almost without an exception is to mount the reliable Aimpoint CompM4 red dot sight, or the holographic EOTech XPS2-0 sight, tactical light — often from UTG — along with some of the grip accessories (for example, a triangle grip, or an assault handgrip), as well as a laser sight, when needed.
Non-magnifying sights can be, when needed, combined with the Aimpoint 3×MAG magnifiers, while reflections from the front CompM4 lens can be covered with the Aimpoint KillFlash ARD filters.
The mentioned submachine guns models are often to be seen as primaries of the Falcons. The brigade holds the Zastava M85 5.56×45 mm NATO and the Zastava M92 7.62×39 mm models, both manufactured by Zastava Arms, bearing in mind that the later one could have been deemed as a carbine, according to several criteria.
In the automatic rifles category, more systems in 7.62 and 5.56 mm are to be seen. A significant part of training is being conducted using rifles from the national producer, modeled on the Kalashnikov system in Eastern 7.62×39 mm, therefore, operators have at disposal the Zastava M70 AB2 models, with a folding stock, as well as the M70 AB1s with a fixed one, often being modified by the operators to fit their preferences and field requirements. The Zastava M21 system is present in several models, chambered in 5.56 mm NATO, developed within the “Soldier 21” national military project. The Bulgarian Arsenal AR M1 in 7.62×39 mm, being an often choice of the divers of the unit due to its reliable action, also belongs to the category of rifles modeled on the Kalashnikov system. The mentioned models, when needed, can be fitted with 40 mm under-barrel grenade launchers, modeled on the Russian versions. The specific Russian APS rifles (Rus. автомат подводный специальный), intended for underwater fire, are at disposal as well. The Russian rifle is specific because it can fire specially-made steel arrows that are much more effective underwater, compared to a standard rifle bullet, and this system is being used by the divers of the 82nd River Saboteurs Company. Amongst the systems procured from the most famous Western manufacturers, the brigade holds the superb HK 416s, in the D14. 5RS model, chambered in 5.56 mm NATO, being used at the SOb “Griffins”, delivered with the HK AG 40 mm under-barrel grenade launchers, that are attached occasionally. The same producer has delivered the HK G36 systems, in the Commando version, in 5.56 mm with a shortened barrel. The G36 C models are the main 5.56 mm primary of the SOb “Falcons” operators, primarily because of their superb compact size, good weight balance and well-placed controls. A smaller contingent of the Austrian Steyr AUG A1 5.56 mm, purchased for the requirements of the former 72nd Reconnaissance-Commando Battalion of the Special Brigade, is in the arsenal of the Special Operations Battalion “Griffins” and is mostly used in training nowadays. Besides the broad modularity, these rifle systems are famous for their relatively low weight and good precision of fire. Significant contingents of the Belgian SCAR L systems in black and Flat Dark Earth colour, produced by FN Herstal, have been delivered through the “Project 1500”. The SCAR L series has been delivered in two versions — SCAR L CQC with a shortened barrel and SCAR L STD with a standard barrel, both in 5.56 mm. The Belgian systems can be additionally modified with the aforementioned tactical accessories, or by mounting the excellent Elcan Specter DR 1-4× devices. The suppressors at the unit`s disposal signs Brügger & Thomet, while the ones from Heckler & Koch are compatible with both, G36 and 416 series.
As for the combat shotguns, the Zastava LP12 PA are being used, manufactured by the national producer and as for the foreign ones, the Mossberg M590s and Benelli M4s are at use.
When it comes to fire-support, the FN Minimi light machine guns, delivered by FN Herstal in the Para and Mk3 models with a telescopic stock and in 5.56 mm, enlist the mentioned category. Besides acceptable weight, they feature a good precision of fire. A must-have weapon in this category is the Zastava M84 system, produced by Zastava Arms in 7.62×54 R. The Zastava M93 30 mm automatic grenade launchers have proved as reliable weapon and brigade also holds some M11 40 mm revolver grenade launchers, manufactured by PPT-Namenska. The same producer has delivered the Miloš N remotely controlled fighting unmanned ground platform, better known as The Little Miloš (Srb. Mali Miloš). The system is armed with a 7.62×54 R machine gun and a 40 mm revolver grenade launcher.
For the needs of precision shooting, the 72nd Special Operations Brigade operators use the semi-auto Zastava M76 rifles in 7.92×57 mm, as well as the Zastava M91s in 7.62×54 R, modeled on the Kalashnikov system by the national producer. A certain contingent of the German Heckler & Koch G3s in the semi-auto versions is at use. The Finish Sako TRG rifles, in the 21, 22 and 42 models, chambered in .308 Winchester (the 21 and 22 models) and .338 Lapua Magnum (the 42 models) are the pride of the unit. These bolt action rifles are fitted with the excellent Schmidt & Bender Police Marksman II optics for the needs of sniping. The superb SIG SG 3000 rifles are also chambered in .308 Winchester. The Zastava M93 Black Arrow bolt action 12.7×108 mm anti-materiel rifles are used to engage the long-range targets, targets behind covers, or the light-armored ones. The unit also has the semi-auto Barrett M82 A1 in 12.7×99 mm NATO (.50 BMG), with the Swarovski 10×42 optics, as well as the Barrett M95 bullpup models, in the same caliber, but with bolt action.
The 82nd River Saboteurs Company diving specialists have the reliable Mares gear at disposal, including neoprene diving suits and the X Vision diving masks procured from the famous manufacturer. The Dräger autonomous diving apparatus with an oxygen closed breathing circuit can be used for specific tasks.
As for clothing, the standard two-piece tactical uniforms and overalls of the Serbian Armed Forces in the M10 digital rural camo are in use, manufactured by Yumco ad from the city of Vranje, being the main uniforms in use at the unit as well, with operators having summer and winter sets at disposal. Lately, the Special Operations Battalion “Falcons” operators seldom wear their two-piece tactical uniforms in black. The protective and ballistic gear for the operators is mostly provided through the T18 sets, provided by the Yumco ad manufacturer in the mentioned M10 camo. The set consists of a plate carrier, body armor, FAST high cut helmet, delivered with canvas helmet covers, the Revision Locust goggles, knee and elbow pads, the Pentagon Storm tactical gloves, tactical belt, patrol backpack etc. The Ciras Plate Carrier plate carriers in black, as well as the Tasmanian Tiger Chest Rig MKII models, also in black, have been procured for the requirements of the former Counter Terrorist Battalion “Falcons” and are seldom used nowadays, commonly when the operators wear the black tactical uniforms. Eye protection is achieved with the Revision Sawfly tactical glasses, and when it comes to tactical gloves, besides the models from the T18 set, the Mechanix models are to be seen in a more extensive volume.
When conducting low-light/night actions, the Dedal DVS-8 third-generation NVGs are used. Additionally, the multi-purpose binoculars JIM UC, as well as the Moskito day-night laser rangefinders, both systems purchased from Safran Electronix & Defense, can be used for specific activities. Tactical comms is achieved with the French Thales devices in the high-frequency (HF) range and in the very high-frequency (VHF) range, along with the Israeli Tadiran ones.
The operators` loadouts are completed with reliable boots, such as Lowa Task Force, in the Zephyr GTX MID, as well as the Zephyr GTX HI models, in black and desert colour, delivered by the Horus Ltd. national manufacturer.
Off-road vehicles Land Rover Defenders, light-armored HMMWVs and others are used for personnel and gear transport. Mobility and operability of the unit have additionally been increased with a delivery of the M16 Miloš 4×4 vehicles contingent, produced by the Yugoimport SDPR national producer, delivered at the beginning of 2021.
With efforts from the Command and Ministry of Defense of the Republic of Serbia, a significant part of operators` training is being conducted in cooperation with units in the country and abroad. The cooperation includes experience exchange via security seminars, specialist courses and joint exercises. Professional cooperation relations between the former Special Brigade and elite foreign units are being continued after the foundation of the 72nd Special Operations Brigade.
Friendly relations and cooperation are being achieved with the elite police units in the Republic of Serbia, and besides the joint training, the cooperation reflects in organization and joint participation of various sports competitions. The specialists of the the 72nd Special Operations Brigade regularly participate in joint training, being organized at the SAU`s base, Batajnica, such as courses conducted with the SEAL teams operators. In the region, the 72nd Special Operations Brigade has a superb cooperation with the ETA and OYK units from Greece with which diving training and experience exchange in the area of urban environment actions have been organized on several occasions in Greece and Serbia. Also, the Greek colleagues are regular participants and guests at parachuting competitions, being organized in Serbia, and besides them, the invitations are regularly being accepted by the Russian paratroopers, elite soldiers from Bulgaria, Romania and Cyprus. During 2014, an extensive and tactically very complex “Srem 2014” joint tactical exercise was successfully organized, carried out by the Serbian elite soldiers and operators of the 106th Guards Airborne Division from Tula. A long-year cooperation is ongoing with the elite units of the Turkish Armed Forces.
Joint training in the area of urban special actions has been organized with the Italian paratroopers regiment Col Moschin on several occasions.
 In the Balkan Wars.
 In the First World War, Serbia lost 62% of men aged 18 to 55, 53% killed, and 9% remained permanently disabled.
 The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia represented the Federation of the Republic of Serbia and the Republic of Montenegro from April 27, 1992 to February 2003.
 An abbreviation for the Yugoslav People's Army.
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