Thursday, November 18, 2004


It was in Grozny that Islamic fighters first learned that they could defeat a multidivisional superpower force equipped with armor, artillery and aviation. The Russian Army's fight for Grozny lasted from December 1994 until 8 February 1995. The campaign is covered in detail here. The Russians advanced on the city from four directions. At their disposal were 34 battalions totalling 24,000 men, equipped with 80 tanks, 208 BMP armored personnel carriers, and 182 artillery pieces and mortars.

Defense Minister Grachev's forces believed that the Chechen command had created three defensive rings to defend Grozny. There were an inner circle with a radius of 1-1.5 km around the Presidential Palace, a middle circle to a distance of up to 1 km from the inner borderline in the northwestern part of the city and up to 5 km in its southwestern and southeastern parts, and an outer circle that passed mainly through the city outskirts.

Grachev estimated that the Chechens would hold these concentric defensive rings with a force of 10,000 men. But when the Russian columns reached Grozny, they found the streets deserted and drove straight into the center of the city. The concentric defensive rings did not exist. 

there were no concentric rings or forces available for such resistance. The Chechens, in fact, noted that no such plan existed. ...a statement supported by the fact that no barricades or fighters met the Russian force moving into the city that day.

In place of defensive rings, the Chechens had created platoon plus sized urban battlegroups, each a miniature combined arms unit. Unlike the Russian units, these battlegroups had nearly complete autonomy and intimate familiarity with the terrain. These could be combined to create ambush groups, which were especially effective against Russian armor operating without infantry support. These groups would use their knowledge of the byways, as well as underground sewage and water tunnels both to flank and to get into the rear of military units. Parameters noted: "The Chechens were proficient at booby-trapping doorways, breakthrough areas, entrances to metros and sewers, discarded equipment, and the bodies of dead soldiers. Some command-detonated mines were also used, but this weapon found greater use in other cities the Chechens defended."

The Chechens lacked enough numerical strength to organize even one echelon of defense around the city. However, the company or group commanders had a great deal of autonomy. ... The ambush was based on the 25-man group, composed of three mobile squads of two heavy machine gunners, two RPG gunners, one sniper, and three riflemen. Three of these 25-man groups (supported by an 82mm-mortar crew with two tubes) would conduct an ambush as a 75-man unit. Three of the eight-man squads would serve as a “killer team” and set up in three positions along the ambush route. They would occupy the lower level of buildings in the ambush zone to prevent being wounded by incoming artillery. The remaining fifty men would occupy blocking positions to ensure the entrapped Russians could not escape and to prevent reinforcements from entering the ambush area.

... Organizationally, the Chechen force had seven-man subgroups that contained three riflemen/automatic riflemen/ammunition bearers, two RPG gunners, one sniper, and one medic/corpsman. Three of these subgroups made up the majority of a 25-man group or platoon, and three of these platoons formed 75-man groups. The Chechen force exploited Russian disorientation by moving behind and parallel to the Russian force once it entered the city. Snipers set up in hide positions that supported their respective platoons.

The Motorola hand-held radio was the primary communications device. There was one radio for every six combatants but it would have been preferable to have one per combatant. Little encryption was used, only the Chechen language. At the national equivalent of headquarters, access was available to INMARSAT.

In December 1994, the Russian 131st Maikovskiy (sometimes called Mikop) brigade advanced through the eerily deserted Grozny streets straight into the train station in the center of town. There was no apparent opposition but unknown to them, the Chechen battlegroups were gathering in the surrounding buildings.

Since the situation appeared so calm, they had gone into the train station, hardly securing their vehicles or even bothering to post guards. In the meantime, Chechen mobile units had fallen back on the city center and had surrounded them at the train station.

One of the first signs of trouble was when the communications officer of the Maikovskiy brigade reported that he had heard the phrase "welcome to hell" through his head set. He reported it to the Brigade Commander, Colonel Savin, who thought it was a joke. Then the firing began. Colonel Savin would not survive the next 12 hours. As described in an earlier post:

Sixty hours later, the unit had been wiped out. "By 3 January 1995, the brigade had lost nearly 800 men, 20 of 26 tanks, and 102 of 120 armored vehicles." It had been surrounded and despite urgent pleas for relief, been utterly destroyed. "Its commander, Colonel Ivan Savin and almost 1000 officers and men died and 74 were taken prisoners. As for the two Spetsnaz groups south of the city, they surrendered to the Chechens after having tried to survive without food for several days," one historian observed.

The Battle of Grozny had begun. It was a fate reserved for the US Marines and soldiers heading into Fallujah. The events in Grozny reverberated not only throughout the Muslim world, but in the West. Ralph Peters wrote a landmark article entitled "Our Soldiers, Their Cities" where he predicted that the urbanization of the Third World made it likely that America would encounter, not just one but many Groznys. By the late 1990s, steps had been taken to address some of the issues that were might be encountered. Although Baghdad was expected to be the first test of urban warfare, its rapid fall made intensive fighting for it unnecessary.

The jihadis had regarded the earlier Marine assault on Fallujah as a victory and confidently faced the next assault. Even some British civilians agreed.

"My son told me the British troops in southern Iraq have all been pulled back to Basra. They reckon there's going to be one big push to Falluja. It's us going to pull the Yanks out of the fire once again. They're so stupid and gung-ho, they go round shooting everyone. And now they need our boys to sort out their mess. This is just a political game to help George Bush win the election, and it all just stinks." Rob Scott, 61, of Methil, Fife, whose grandson, Private Charles Scott, 18, is with the Black Watch in Basra, was also convinced the troops were being sent north. The former Black Watch warrant officer said: "It's bloody disgusting the lies this government is telling our boys and morale is just going through the floor. We're having to go north to clear up the muck the Americans have left behind because they're so pathetic."

Even after Fallujah had been largely cleared, the argument that America had accomplished nothing soldiered on. This is how the Guardian reported it.

US commanders said yesterday hundreds of insurgents had been killed in the four-day assault on Falluja but acknowledged taking heavy casualties themselves. ... Planeloads of injured soldiers have been flown to the US military hospital in Landstuhl, Germany, and doctors were bracing for a further influx as the Falluja battle culminates. ...

Two US Marine Corps Super Cobra helicopters were hit yesterday near Falluja and forced down. No crew were hurt.

Many believe the weeks of warnings preceding the Falluja attack allowed insurgents to slip away from the city.

Gen Myers warned: "If anybody thinks that Falluja is going to be the end of the insurgency in Iraq, that was never the objective, never our intention, and even never our hope." Iraqi aid officials said they were increasingly concerned about the families still in Falluja and the thousands camped in villages nearby.

Residents said the stench of decomposing bodies hung over the city, power and water supplies were cut and food was running out for thousands of trapped civilians. The Iraqi Red Crescent sent a convoy of four trucks to the city yesterday, carrying first aid kits, food, blankets and tents. "It is a disaster inside Falluja," said Firdoos al-Abadi, head of the Red Crescent's emergency committee.