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The material reproduced in its entirety below is the work of the author(s) listed.  Its terms of use at publication or specific grant of permission allow for this reproduction.  SWJ is pleased to be able to present this relevant material in this forum, and reminds all readers that full credit for the work is due to its author(s).

View From the Wolves' Den

The Chechens and Urban Operations

David P. Dilegge

In 1998, the United States Marine Corps was presented with an opportunity to conduct interviews with Chechen commanders and key staff officers who participated in combat operations against Russian forces in the 1994-1996 conflict.  The Corps was particularly interested in obtaining the Chechen view as it was then conducting a series of experiments (Urban Warrior) designed to improve its capability to conduct urban operations. Having studied the horrendous losses the Russians experienced during its first incursion into Grozny, and faced with the dilemma of finding solutions to the high casualty rate inherent to the city fight, the Marines thought it prudent to gain the perspective of those who had planned and conducted an urban insurgency against a modern conventional force.

Approximately 20 interviews were conducted during June and July of 1999 in Chechnya by Dr. Marie Benningsen-Broxup, a Central Asia expert who had close ties with the Chechens.  Dr. Broxup spent time with the Marines to include the author in preparation for the interviews and after the fact for translation, transcription and clarification.  In February of 2000, the Marines also had the opportunity to conduct an eight-hour seminar Q&A with another commander, Tourpal Ali-Kaimov, who was visiting the US as part of a Chechen "government delegation".

While the interviews have seen wide distribution through unofficial channels, these first hand accounts have not been officially published or presented in any professional journal.  Excerpts from selected interviews are presented here and are intended to provide insights on urban operations that pit conventional against irregular forces.  Though other environments and situations are included, the primary focus of this article is on urban operations.  These are the recollections of some of the key Chechen personnel and as with all first hand accounts of combat operations; the natural bias and limited perspective of the participant, the overall military and political situation at the time of occurrence and the possible agendas these participants might harbor must be taken into consideration before drawing definitive conclusions.  Nevertheless, these are the words of those who participated in operations that stunned not only the Russian military establishment, but also many of the experts attempting to find solutions to conducting operations in the complex and dangerous urban environment.

The Chechen Commanders

Space constraints preclude including the interviews of each commander and staff officer.  The following text contains excerpts from the interviews of the Chechens (with their 1994-96 position) listed below.  Topics covered in this article include the first battle for Grozny, the recapture of Grozny by the Chechens, urban ambush tactics, logistics and intelligence.

Aslan Maskhadov - Chief of Staff of Chechen forces

Husein Iskhanov - Mashadov's aide-de-camp

Said Iskhanov - General Staff Officer and intelligence

Tourpal Ali-Kaimov - Chechen commander

Payzullah Nutsulkhanov - Head of logistics


On 11 December 1994, a force of approximately 40,000 Russians attacked into Chechnya against a force of no more than 5,000-7,000 Chechens.  After reaching the Chechen capital of Grozny, 6,000 Russian soldiers conducted a three-pronged mechanized attack into the city following a 10 day aerial and artillery bombardment of the city against a force of not more than 1,000 Chechens.  Instead of the anticipated light resistance, Russian forces encountered a determined enemy armed with "massive amounts" of antitank weapons.  The Russian attack was repulsed with shockingly high losses and it took another 2 months of heavy fighting and changing Russian tactics to capture Grozny.  The estimated Russian casualty count between January and May of 1995 totaled 2,805 killed, 10,319 wounded, 393 missing and another 133 captured.

The results of these catastrophic losses in the initial battle for Grozny have been set as a text book example on how a determined unconventional force can utilize the urban operational environment to defeat a technologically and numerically superior force.

The First Battle for Grozny

Aslan Maskhadov: The Russians did not wage war properly, they were just prepared to take enormous losses and destroy everything that got in their way.  While they did not value their soldiers, we counted every man.  Our first problem was to avoid retreat and engage the Russians in combat.  The first "battle" was literally fought on the doorstep of the Presidential Palace in Grozny; my headquarters (HQ) was in the basement.  The 131st Motorized Brigade, the 31st Samara Tank Regiment and other units were able to enter Grozny without opposition.  We had no regular army to speak of to oppose the Russians, only some small units defending various points within the city.  The Russians were able to ride into Grozny on their armored personnel carriers (APCs) and tanks, without dismounted infantry support as if they were on parade.  After my HQ was surrounded by Russian tanks (they filled the city) I decided that we must engage in battle.  I gave the command to all our small units to immediately descend on the Palace.  They did not know that I was surrounded but knew that once they did arrive, they would be engaging the enemy.

As the Chechens arrived they saw the Russian positions and immediately began the fight.  The Russians did not know what hit them.  They were sitting ducks; again, all lined up as if on parade around the Palace and on the square opposite the railway station.  A majority of their tanks and APCs were burned down in less than four hours.  What was left was on the run, hunted across Grozny by our rocket propelled grenade (RPG) launcher teams, even by boys with Molotov cocktails.  This lasted for 3 days and in the end some 400 Russian tanks and APCS were destroyed.  The city was filled with Russian corpses.

A major factor in this success was the 26 November "rehearsal" against Chechen units under "contract" to the Russians.  As they advanced on the Presidential Palace we were able to destroy the first tank and after 3 hours we had destroyed or captured all of their vehicles to include another 10 tanks.  It was then that the Chechen resistance lost all fear of Russian tanks as we realized that they were "match-boxes".  This first success gave confidence to our men and on 31 December when they located a tank they considered it their duty to destroy it.  In some cases it became a competition - "leave this tank, it is mine."

After all the Russian vehicles were destroyed on the 31st I decided to stay and defend the Palace.  As volunteers arrived from every corner of Chechnya I registered them and relayed "here is a house, you have so many men, defend it and do not move from there".  Thus, little by little, the defense was organized around the Palace.

We defended the Palace for 18 days and only the shell of the building was left after constant mortar fire.  As additional Russian units, including a commando division, were deployed into Grozny the battles raged for every house in every quarter of the city.  Our units behaved well and repelled most of the attacks.  The Russians were reluctant to use infantry and I had the impression that they were scared; all they seemed to want to do is dig into defensive positions or hide in their vehicles.  This was impossible in these conditions, so the tanks and APCs burned and the Russian soldiers perished.  There was no attempt to protect or camouflage the vehicles or accompany them with dismounted infantry.  They would just advance en mass and as they did they were destroyed.  One battle raged around the Council of Ministers where we had 12 fighters.  Tanks firing relentlessly surrounded the buildings they occupied.  They called for help but I could not provide it and told them so.  One hour later, they destroyed one tank, then another.  Our fighters gained confidence and the Russian soldiers' nerve broke and they retreated.  That is how we fought. 

On 18 January Russian aviation dropped "depth" bombs on my HQ.  Three bombs hit the cellar, one landed in the adjacent corridor, another in the infirmary and the other in a back room.  We were left with just the sky over our heads and the decision was made to abandon the Palace and withdraw all our units across the Sunzha River which divides Grozny in two.  I planned the withdrawal at night, around 10 pm.  Those units on the outskirts or were surrounded in the city were the first to retreat.  Those covering the retreat and at the Palace were the last to leave at 11 pm.  Soon, all those who could manage to withdraw were across the Sunzha where we set up another HQ.  The Russians seemed unaware of this development and continued to bomb the presidential Palace for an additional 3 days, seemingly unwilling to advance their troops.

The next decision was to put all my available forces in a defensive position along the Sunzha. While the Russians were still bombing the Palace, we rapidly took up positions and built defenses on every bridge consisting of every man we could spare - 5-10 men per bridge.  I set up my HQ in Town Hospital #2.  As time passed we strengthened our positions with new arrivals and we managed to hold our ground there for another month with "attacks and retreats, attacks and retreats."  On the opposite side of the Sunzha the Russians razed every building but could not drive their tanks across the bridges because of our defenses.  However, the Russians did manage to break through from the direction of the tramway station, to attack us from the rear.  We were virtually surrounded. 

It was then that we decided, against conventional military logic, to counter-attack.  We were in a dilemma, our fighters did not want to dig defensive trenches as they considered it humiliating and the buildings in this area were too small and fragile to withstand a tank attack.  So we made a line between the Sunzha and Minutka, dug trenches and with approximately 40-50 men we advanced meter-by-meter digging more trenches as we crawled forward.  We did this until we reached the first line of tanks and burned them.  We pressed until the tanks retreated then built additional trenches and advanced even further, 

Meanwhile, other developments were taking place at the Voykovo suspension bridge across the Sunzha.  Russian tanks along the river were providing covering fire to infantry troops who managed to cross the bridge.  They advanced within 200 meters of my HQ and though I threw all my available forces against them we could not manage to stop the offensive.  It was at this point that we decided to move our HQs and abandon our positions along the Sunzha.  The withdrawal was organized in the same manner as retreat from the Presidential Palace and each unit knew in which order and at what time to conduct this operation.  Soon, we had all retreated to our third line of defense along the mountain ridges that skirt Grozny.

When we held Grozny we had a feeling of exhilaration and we also felt that if we left the city we would be vulnerable.  It was easier to fight in the city, so we fought for every house.  That said, because of Russian scorched-earth urban tactics we did not fight as we did in Grozny later in Shali and Argun.  We gave them up, as our determined resistance would have condemned these towns to oblivion.      

Husein Iskhanov: I was with Commander Maskhadov in his cellar HQs at the Palace.  We knew that we did not have adequate forces to stop the Russian's initial advance.  According to the journal we kept there was an initial Chechen force of 350 fighters. This was the number who registered with HQ, I estimate that we had an additional 150 who did not register, men who came to shoot for a couple of hours and then return home.

For us the numbers did not matter as much as our knowledge of the Russians and the urban terrain.  Most of us had experience serving in the Soviet Armed forces and we knew their tactics, habits and language.   We also had the same communications system and radios.  Our head of communications at that time, Colonel Taimaskhanov, knew his job perfectly.  We had a special room in the Palace for our radio operators and whenever we had a moment we would go there and "talk" to the Russians.  We listened to their transmissions and determined who was in command and who subordinate commanders were.  We waited for the moment when they were giving their orders and then intervened, giving different orders in a confident manner, providing false positions and so on.  We used these tactics throughout 1995 and they were very beneficial, more often then not resulting in the Russians loosing troops to friendly fire or units loosing their sense of direction in urban areas.

One of the units we faced in that first battle for Grozny was the 131st Maiko Brigade.  Practically the whole brigade was annihilated in just one night on December 31st.  The Russian claim that 100 soldiers survived but I do not believe it because we captured the crew of the last remaining APC of the brigade.  The brigade commander was killed, and his second-in-command captured with that last APC.

Another unit we faced was the 81st Samarski Regiment.  They attacked from the direction of the airport and were allowed to penetrate to a point near the Palace.  Then we struck, destroying the first APC of the column, then the last one and then a couple in the middle.  The Russians were squeezed because it was difficult to maneuver tanks and APCs in the city, visibility was bad and the buttoned-up drivers could not see were they were going.  We then surrounded the remaining vehicles and destroyed almost the entire regiment.

Throughout January the Russians persisted with a determined attack against the Palace and little by little they got nearer our HQ.  That success cost them dearly.  Towards the middle of January, there was heavy fighting within 100-200 meters of the HQ with the Russians occupying a five-story building in front of the Palace and the National Archives across the road.

In the first 2 weeks of January we used mostly sniping as our main means of defense because we had an acute lack of ammunition for most of our weapons.  We also had another handicap in that our men were reluctant to use tracer rounds because they feared that their positions would be revealed to the Russians.  While true, especially in urban areas, we had to utilize every piece of ammunition we had.  I exhorted them to imagine the fear of the Russian soldier when he could actually "see" the bullet that would kill him.  Gradually our men got used to the idea, we had little else and it indeed became true that the tracers began to create more panic among the Russians than ordinary rounds.  To get back to the sniping tactic, we instructed our fighters to use single shots and no automatic fire and the Russians came to believe that we had snipers everywhere.  In actuality, we had a few sniper rifles captured from the Russians and few "trained" snipers.

Most of our resupply of arms and ammunition came from the Russian vehicles we destroyed or captured.  We even transformed the guns from Russian tanks into individual hand-held weapons.  Our dire logistic situation also dictated many of the tactics we used in Grozny. There was no point in forming large units because HQs was not in a position to feed and supply them.  Our initial formations averaged 10-20 men and as a rule there would be one RPG allocated to each group of 10.  Once we armed a unit with 12 RPGs and by our standard that was a very powerful force.

Conditions were not easy at the Presidential Palace.  On 18 January our HQ suffered from a massive air and artillery attack.  By our estimation, a rocket was hitting the palace at a rate of one per second.  Our HQ was a very easy target as it stood well above the surrounding buildings.  One aviation "depth" bomb that hit the palace penetrated 11 floors and destroyed the ceiling of the camp hospital in the cellar.  It was a "precision bomb" as it hit within 20 meters of Maskhadov's HQ's area.  We had made mistakes and the information on the actual location of the HQ was well known.  Many people were permitted to come and go at the Palace; we let anybody in to include journalists, Duma deputies, Russian soldiers' mothers and prisoners of war.  This was stupid but people were still very naďve then.

We abandoned the Palace on the night of the 18th in small groups.  Journalists have since written that we escaped in tunnels.  Believe me as I had explored the entire building and there were no tunnels.  Our next line of defense was beyond the Sunzha River.  Though we attempted to blow all the bridges as we crossed we lacked the explosives to drop the one on the main road.  The frontline was set along the river with us controlling the right bank and the Russian the left.  This lasted for nearly a month, with no close combat and the Chechens conducting sniping operations.  The Sunzha afforded good protection, as the Russians were afraid to cross the river with their APCs.  Incidentally, the Russians remained concentrated around the Palace, celebrating their "victory".  They only dared to enter the building 3 or 4 days after we had left.  Though they were positioned within 100 meters they had not realized we had left. 

The Recapture of Grozny

Tourpal Ali-Kaimov: On 6 August 1996 our fighters recaptured Grozny from the Russians.  Beginning on 3 August, small, light foot-mobile Chechen groups began infiltrating the city in preparation for the assault.  By daylight on the 6th we had infiltrated 1,500 and proceeded to conduct a simultaneous offense at 0500 throughout the city.  We estimated that there were 15,000 Russian troops defending Grozny at the time.

The four main Chechen objectives were the Russian command and control assets at Khankala airfield, the northern airport, The FSB (KGB successor) HQ, and the GRU (military intelligence) HQ.  To prevent reinforcement and/or relief of Russian forces in Grozny, we conducted supporting attacks and manned blocking positions in four surrounding urban areas, along the three main avenues of approach into Grozny, and to the north of the city.  These operations were conducted simultaneously with the main attack in order to create maximum confusion amongst the Russian military leadership.  In this, we were very successful.

The main attack in Grozny was over in three hours with a total of 47 Chechen fighters killed in action.  During the attack and immediately after we had no problem with re-supply as the Russians were so completely caught off-guard that we seized massive amounts of weapons and ammunition as well as vehicles to transport the captured material.

Aslan Maskhadov: By June 1996 we were under attack on all fronts in a last desperate attempt by the Russians to gain the upper hand.  We were surrounded with our backs to the mountains and under constant fire by artillery and aviation.  On 9 June after a series of harrowing escapes by many in the Chechen command structure it was clear that there was no hope for a negotiated peace.  It was then that we decided to recapture Grozny.

I had been planning this operation for 6 months, as we always believed that the war would end with the recapture of Grozny.  I thought about it constantly, even to the point of conducting radio rehearsals to provoke a Russian reaction.   I had studied the maps, the Russian positions, the approaches, the routes of advance; I had everything ready.  We held meetings with our commanders who gave us their intelligence reports.  We had reconnoitered every inch, we knew the disposition of every Russian position, the numbers, the roadblocks, everything.

On 3 August I gave the order to move into the city.  At the time the Russians were everywhere so we moved between their positions from every direction.  Amazingly, on 5 August the Russian media announced that the Chechens would enter that very same day.  I was worried as there were certain areas where it would be easy to ambush our troops, but it was too late to stop the attack.

The attack began at 0500 on 6 August.  Over 820 men took part in the operations.  I gave an order that every commander should lead with his men, whether he had 20 or 200, they had to be in the forefront.  All our objectives were met and it was a huge success.  The Russian posts, bases, all of them were hit by surprise; then our forces moved on to cut the roads and not let anyone through, leaving behind a few snipers and machine gunners to cover the objectives.  When Russian columns tried to move into the city it was too late.  All the bases were captured or neutralized.  As we could not take the government building or the MVD we simply burned them.  

Developing Chechen Tactics 1994-1996

Tourpal Ali-Kaimov: The Chechens made no illusions about the Russians.  We knew we could not meet them in the conduct of conventional combat and win.  However, we knew that if we met them in the urban environment we might be able to “punish them.”  This was a lesson learned as we progressed through the Russian invasion from 1994 through 1996 – we now know that the city battlefield offers us distinct advantages.

In the conduct of armor and personnel ambushes, we configured our forces into 75-man groups.  These were further broken down into three 25-man groups (platoons). These platoons were further broken down into three equal-sized teams of six to seven fighters each (squads).  Each squad had two RPG gunners and two PK (machinegun) gunners.  The 75-man unit (company) had a mortar (82mm) crew in support with at least two tubes per crew.

Each 25-man group also included one corpsman/medic, three ammunition/supply personnel, three litter bearers and two snipers armed with SVD sniper rifles.  The snipers did not operate or co-locate with the platoons but rather, set up in “hide” positions that supported their respective platoons.

Again, our units did not move by flanking maneuvers against the Russians but instead incorporated chess-like maneuvers to hit them.  They used buildings and other structures as navigation and signal points for maneuvering or initiating ambushes/assaults against the Russians.

We segregated Grozny into quadrants for ambush purposes.  Each 75-man ambush group set up in buildings along one street block, and only on one side of the street – never on both sides of a street because of the crossing fires a two-sided ambush would create. The rationale for doing so was that we set up similar ambushes along parallel-running streets. Our units would leave opposite facing buildings vacant (no mines or booby traps either) – by doing so, they could use those buildings as escape routes, or to reinforce less successful armor ambushes on adjacent streets. This also was an incentive for the Russians to abandon their vehicles for the relative safety of the unoccupied buildings.

We only occupied the lower levels of multi-story buildings to avoid casualties from rockets and air delivered munitions coming through the upper levels. One 25-man platoon comprised the “killer team” and set up in three positions along the target avenue. They had the responsibility for destroying whatever column entered their site. The other two 25-man platoons set up in the buildings at the assumed entry-points to the ambush site. They had responsibility for sealing off the ambush entry from escape by or reinforcement of the ambushed forces.

The killer platoon established a command point (platoon HQ) with the center squad. As the intended target column entered the site, the squad occupying the building nearest the entry point would contact the other two squads occupying the center and far building positions. Primary means of communications was by Motorola radio. Each squad had one – lack of funding prevented us from providing every fighter with a radio. Once the lead vehicle into the site reached the far squad position, the far squad would contact the other two squads. The commander at the central squad (platoon HQ) would initiate or signal to initiate the ambush.    

We also employed minefields along the edges of the buildings leading into the ambush site to deter Russian infantry from forcing entry into the end buildings.  The task of the two 25-man platoons in those end buildings was three fold.  First, they were to cover the minefields and take out any reinforcing armor and infantry.  Second, they were to reinforce to relieve the killer platoon in the event the ambush got bogged down.  And third, they were to reinforce ambushes on adjacent streets if necessary. 

Each 7-man squad had 2 or more RPG-7s, 2 or more PKs, and the remainder with assault rifles. A support element with medic, litter bearers and ammunition bearers usually occupied building with the center squad (platoon HQ).

In addition to the value our fighters placed on the RPG we found the PK an excellent weapon for urban warfare.  The single shot mode allowed for the conserving of ammunition while the ability to go full automatic either slowed or quickly broke up Russian infantry assaults.


Payzullah Nutsulkhanov: I was Maskhadov's deputy for logistics and responsible for the whole of Chechnya.  I had four men working for me at HQ and we were very active and visited all the fronts during the war.  Our neighbors from the other Republics helped us and we had channels for humanitarian aid to include medicine.

I became logistics chief by chance as the original commander was killed in the early days of the war.  After his death our logistics effort collapsed.  In the beginning we had no need for logistics as each unit brought their own supplies or found them on the spot.  This was especially true when we were fighting in Grozny.  After the withdrawal from the city the situation changed and we had to organize our logistics starting from nothing.  Except for the regular fighters, we did not even know how many of our men required resupply.   So we made charts and required each commander to report how many men he had.  We worked out what each front needed down to the smallest detail.  After the retreat from Grozny, we had 3,000 men so I organized our logistics to support 6,000 to be on the safe side.  Our logistics became professional with each battalion having a man responsible for supplies who would inform us of their needs.

Tourpal Ali-Kaimov: While the drawdown of Soviet/Russian military units in Chechnya after the break-up of the Soviet Union allowed us to "inherit" certain amounts of military weapons and equipment it certainly was not enough to prosecute the war.

This initial supply was augmented (at times greatly) by the capture of Russian arms, ammunition and other military significant equipment and supplies during combat.  We could easily identify Russian supply vehicles because they were usually open-bed trucks that did not have any cover over the stacks of ammunition and provisions loaded in the back.  In the conduct of a convoy ambush our fighters would avoid hitting the supply trucks, instead keeping them intact as "war trophies."  This became the our primary means of re-supply.  Captured supplies were immediately reported to the General Staff and they decided how it would be distributed based on their knowledge of the overall logistic situation among subordinate units. 

We also had a constant supply of fuel for vehicles. Chechnya sits on extensive oil reserves ("a pool of oil").  The Chechens are very adept at refining this oil into diesel through the use of "homemade" refineries at private residences and small factories.

Food was normally procured from local farmers or brought up from Georgia. The Russians avoid moving through passes between Chechnya and Georgia. They prefer to use one main artery between the two countries enabling the Chechens to move easily and unmolested between Georgia and Chechnya.


Tourpal Ali-Kaimov:  Know the territory – day and night – that is what we did and we used this knowledge to our advantage.  Detailed reconnaissance is a must to be successful in the conduct of urban operations and our normal routine included a map reconnaissance, followed by a foot reconnaissance and then bringing the reconnaissance asset back to headquarters with his map.  Chechen scouts briefed commanders and planners personally.  Whenever possible, we ordered another reconnaissance mission to confirm the results of the first.

Chechen reconnaissance personnel were not told why they were performing a particular mission in case they were captured.  Traditional reconnaissance methods were augmented by human intelligence and reconnaissance performed by elders, women and children.  Virtually every Chechen was an intelligence collector.  Reconnaissance personnel to include mobile patrols as well as women and children were provided Motorola radios to enable timely reporting.

We learned that the scale of maps is very important – key urban terrain is at the micro level.  We never relied on streets, signs, and most buildings as reference points.  They can be altered in such a way during urban combat as to be deceiving.  We used cultural landmarks, prominent buildings, and monuments as reference points – they usually remain intact and are easily distinguishable.  If they were altered we annotated it on our maps.  We had a good supply of maps and “to scale” drawings and sketches of Grozny.  This greatly facilitated our command, control, and communications. The Russians did not possess the same quality or quantity of maps, nor did they conduct effective reconnaissance of the city to verify or validate the maps they did possess.  We did use captured Russian maps – but only after confirmation and updates performed by reconnaissance personnel.

Counter-reconnaissance is also crucial.  The Russians performed reconnaissance during daylight hours and subsequently either attacked during the day or employed indirect fire or air that night.  Our forces performed daylight reconnaissance in support of a night attack.  This counter-reconnaissance enabled our forces to conduct a night movement closer to Russian positions or other pre-planned alternate sites in anticipation of a Russian indirect fire or air attack based on the results of the Russian daylight reconnaissance.  Being well versed in Russian reconnaissance doctrine, the we often let the Russians observe our daytime positions as part of a deception plan. 

Our commanders placed so much value on detailed knowledge of the urban terrain that upon receiving 40 Ukrainian volunteers with military backgrounds, they required them to perform extensive reconnaissance with attached Chechens before entering combat.  Only then, were the Ukrainians deemed combat ready and as a result performed their combat missions and tasks with great effectiveness.

The importance of detailed reconnaissance and accurate intelligence cannot be understated in the conduct of urban operations.

Said Iskhanov: After Budennovsk, I was sent to Grozny by Maskhadov to set up an intelligence network. I was answerable to the General Staff and was ordered to gather information on Russian positions in preparation for the March 1996 attack against Grozny, although I did not know what was planned at the time. I had to collect information on the Russians’ exact positions, their numbers, the routes in and out of Grozny, the possible ways of bringing weapons into the town, but I had few concrete instructions from HQ. My brief was broad – to gather information everywhere.

I began on my own. I had no team, so I started by using friends and relatives. I had no way of paying them so at first I tried to be casual and did not tell them the real purpose of my inquiries. Throughout the remainder of the war, my helpers were all volunteers. I had a map of Grozny and its surroundings. I began by traveling to the districts where the Russians had their bases and garrisons. I checked the people I knew in the area – usually 5-6 people, and recruited them.

The first task was to find the best route to reach the Russian bases. We had no training in intelligence work - to find out the number of Russian troops and equipment was pure improvisation at first. Each one tried his own manner. I often used young women. When I traveled to report to HQ with documents, I always took a young woman with me as it was a safeguard.

To gather information around the capital, we had to walk. We explored routes through woods and forests on foot - between Grozny and Urus Martan, the piedmont and the escape routes to the southern mountains. Sometimes we walked as far as the positions of our units in the pre-Alps. After we had explored a district and verified that passage for our units was possible, we selected some local people to watch and report any changes – for example a change in the position of a road block, any movement of troops and weaponry, any unusual movement or development. Once checked, these areas came under constant surveillance. We knew that we had to update our information all the time.

One of our best sources of information was the market. People in the market were in touch with traders who themselves were in contact with all the principal Russian garrisons. These garrisons usually had small markets nearby which provided them with goods, alcohol, narcotics and so on. The traders had their “favorite” clients among the Russian soldiers who had plenty of money stolen during clean-up operations. They chatted with the traders who, naturally, got information. When we were organizing a special operation it was essential that we knew when a Russian column would be on the move. That was when the traders were useful.

Of course between the time we gathered the information and the March 1996 operation, changes inevitably occurred. One commander grumbled afterwards that some of our numbers were not accurate. But we had no possibility to update information every day. Passing on information was not easy. Our radio communication was poor because priority was given to military operations. Our radio did not reach all the mountain regions. We had to get to the highest houses in Grozny to communicate and would waste 2 or 3 hours to raise HQ. When we finally established communications they would often be cut off. More often than not, we had to report in person, with all our notes.

Our asset was that we were able to melt among the civilian population. As a rule, we did not bother with small posts of 20-30 men. They became useless as soon as they were isolated among Chechens. But we always watched the larger garrisons, looking for Russian soldiers wandering out through the minefields surrounding them. Then we would capture and interrogate the solider often resulting in information on their bases, their numbers, weaponry, reserves of ammunitions, relations between officers and troops, and so on.


This has been but a sampling of the information contained in the original Chechen Commander's interviews.  The author fully intends on writing follow-on pieces that will include the impact of Chechen culture on conduct of the war, Chechen moral and leadership, command and control, communications, weapons, and psychological operations.  Moreover, I hope to also drill down further into the topics covered here and to add commentary on the implications this material may have on conventional forces operating in an urban environment and facing an unconventional foe. 

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