Why do I seem to reference Chechnya so often?
The Chechen experience, much like the Spanish Civil War, was and is a preview of warfare to come. The article implanted in the link is 15 years old, and yet, could easily be written about Ukraine, Syria, Libya, Iraq, Nigeria, or anywhere else on the planet MAJ H. John Poole’s 4th Generation Warfare is being waged.
The problem is the fact that we don’t seem to learn from the past- the rabid beast is attempting to explain to us how he should be treated, and yet, we seem to be saving the bullet for ourselves.
The troubles in the Caucasus were very much a testing bed on many dimensions. First and foremost, it must be understood that two things were happening concurrent to each other- that a proxy war was continuing to be waged against the Russians by way of the Saudis(and others), and future Jihadis were learning that their war could not only be waged in a leading nation, but learning how to do it with brutal effect. The new generation, much more concerned with exporting global jihad than the Afghans a decade before, learned how to not just fight superior combined arms forces but set up cadre for replication abroad.
Everything that happened in Chechnya, will indeed happen again. Study Beslan then compare with Mumbai, then Paris, and all the subsequent attacks that will occur.
This is not the focus of the article, rather it serves to give a certain perspective. Removing the justified veil of bias towards anything jihadist, many lessons can be gleaned to benefit the forces of good. What they did, right and wrong, can serve as a great teacher to prevent the mistakes of the past and make our road to victory just a bit easier.
Why is this important?
Two important notes can be gathered from careful study:
- Use their hard lessons as a primer.
- Learn to use their patterns against them.
Chechnya in its genesis was a semi-autonomous Islamic region, repressed first by the Tsars then by the Marxists, with close to 100% of their military aged males conscripted into the Soviet armed forces. Post collapse, most defected with the anticipation of creating a breakaway state. They tried, at least. Although Islamic in name, much like their central European cousins, the religion was more a label of cultural identity than a rigidly followed dogma. This would cause a great rift later on.
To their asset, the early guerilla forces largely had previous military discipline, and many had recent combat experience in Afghanistan. (Does this sound familiar?) They understood Light Infantry Warfare; and were more effective than the poorly equipped and fragmented former Soviet forces. In the beginning at least, they had the right idea.
Soon, after the first few victories including the legendary defense of Grozny, a rift developed between the Nationalists and the rising numbers of Volunteer Jihadists coming from abroad. Muslims were coming from all over, infused with Wahabbi-based fatalistic desires that only Sunni Islam can infuse. Led by Ibn al-Khattab, the presence of outsiders alienated the majority of the natives. The Jihadis were overtaking the Nationalists and the war was hijacked to foment a larger Jihad. In doing so, it caused a rift between the Chechen locals and the Jihadis, pushing the Chechens towards cooperation with the Russian Federation and isolating the more radical of the hometown heroes. Aqil Collins graphically illustrates this in his book, My Jihad, and gives a glimpse of exactly where a lot of this mindset originated.
Thus, Beslan. Dubrovka. Snipers in Iraq and Afghanistan. Exported IED/VBIED makers. ISIS or DAESH, whichever you prefer. All products of the roots founded in Chechnya. This guy, a Georgian ethnic Chechen, Omar al-Sishani, is the military commander of ISIS:
Don’t forget we trained him in Georgia to “bolster” their Special Forces just prior to the Russian invasion of Georgia. If you don’t know, now you know. Does that have anything to do with his current role? Well, he seems to be putting his training to good use.
Their war is ongoing and will not stop; ISIS is it’s current manifestation, and a culmination of several missteps(whether on purpose or not is up to the reader to decide, and not for I to debate) and the war has indeed spilled into Europe as well as here at home. They may be someone’s proxy but make no mistake they are also very much their own animal. Might as well learn a thing or two before going toe to toe with something so many don’t understand. Ditto for asymmetric warfare against an occupying force.
Critical Lessons from the two conflicts in Chechnya
- Chechens knew their enemy, right down to their likely routes. The Russian Army set a pattern that did not change from Berlin onwards.
- Utilizing the Human Terrain advantage, the Chechens baited the superior Russians into brute force tactics and alienated the population they wished to subdue. During the Nationalist phase, this galvanized the population.
- Chechens reacted to change far greater than the Russian Army.
- Faster flow of information
- Superior understanding of communications methods
- Better understanding of Tactical Terrain Analysis
- Russians did not understand Chechen culture.
- Social Barriers and no attempt to contact local leaders were a serious detriment to Russia.
- There was little respect for the Chechens as a people.
- The Russians had no understanding of local dialect, which led to serious Communications Intelligence failures.
- Ill discipline among the Russian Army caused many well-publicized war crimes.
- Local media control by the Chechens was critical in influencing the populace.
- During the First Chechen War, Russian Army Units were badly fragmented and under supplied.
- Chechens had superior means of communication.
- As stated in 3-2 and 4-3, Chechens exploited large seams and gaps in Russian capability. Hence why several who know harp on communications.
- Chechens, through superior methods of COMINT and understanding of Russian Army methods, often confused forces through erroneous traffic.
- Chechens knew each others’ voices over the radio and used local slang and dialect. (Local, Local, Local…ring any bells?)
- Chechens equipped women and children with radios to be used as spotters.
- These reported to a central relay network that changed position regularly.
- The radios were commercial/off the shelf sets bought from outside the region. (Every movement has outside help from somewhere.)
- Had they had the ability, many have stated that they would’ve equipped everyone with a radio. (on our end, we can do that.)
All of these factors, at least initially, led to a series of great successes. Until it’s hijacking by outside influences, it served as a model of how an insurgency can work. It failed only after the radical elements alienated the native population and overstayed their welcome; fast forward 15 years, and they’ve moved on to bigger and better.
DAESH is here, in Europe and the US. Not much you as the individual can do about that. Hate to say it, but it’s more of a first responder’s problem. Common sense also states to what ends they’ll likely be used. Not much you can do now about that. On our end, it’s important to lose the Walter Mitty notions and start studying and training for what worked. It’s going to be quite different from what you may know, and it’s certainly no Hollywood affair for all the Benny Martin wanna-bes. The Russian Army burned, thermobaric bombed, gassed, and raped their way across the region. There were no “safe spaces” or regard for anyone or anything. The Chechens are also a very hard boiled people, born of the Caucasus Mountains not unlike many growing up in the poverty of the Appalachians and Foothills here. This is something youthful suburban dwellers have little understanding of.
Understand also the inherent brutality of the occupying forces attempting to “subdue” the native population; we’ll be faced with this same issue. This is not an exclusive “Russian cultural issue” as so many academics are quick to dismiss. Do not fall into the fallacy of thought that the Army of today will be the same Army tomorrow. They will not hesitate to wipe us out by the most heinous means possible. Your opposition already hates you and everything you are. Do not forget.