Russian AAR — Chechnya

Chechen War

The Russian Army learned many lessons from its experience in Grozny. These
include:

(1) You need to culturally orient your forces so that you don’t end up
being your own worst enemy simply out of cultural ignorance. Many times
Russian soldiers made serious cultural errors in dealing with the Chechen
civilians. Once insulted or mistreated, they became active fighters or
supported the active fighters. Russians admit they underestimated the
effect of religion on the conflict.

(2) You need some way of sorting out the combatants from the
non-combatants. The days of uniforms and organized units is over. The
Russians were forced to resort to searching the pockets of civilians for
military equipment and to sniffing them for the smell of gunpowder and gun
oil. Pretty crude. Trained sniffer dogs were used, but were not always
effective. Nevertheless, dogs are probably the best way to determine if a
person has been using explosives or firing a weapon recently.

(3) The psychological impact of high intensity urban combat is so intense
that you should maintain a large reserve that will allow you to rotate
units in and out of combat. If you do this, you can preserve a unit for a
fairly long time. If you don’t, once it gets used up, it can’t be rebuilt.

(4) Training and discipline are paramount. You can accomplish nothing
without them. You may need to do the training in the combat zone.
Discipline must be demanded. Once it begins to slip, the results are
disastrous.

(5) The Russians were surprised and embarrassed at the degree to which the
Chechens exploited the use of cell phones, Motorola radios, improvised TV
stations, light video cameras, and the Internet to win the information war.
The Russians admitted that they lost control of the information coming out
of Grozny early in the operation and never regained it.

(6) The proliferation of rocket propelled grenade launchers surprised
them, as well as the diversity of uses to which they were put. RPGs were
shot at everything that moved. They were fired at high angle over low
buildings and from around buildings with little or no attempt made to aim.
They were sometimes fired in very disciplined volleys and were the weapon
of choice for the Chechens, along with the sniper rifle. Not only were the
Russians faced with well-trained, well equipped Chechen military snipers,
there were also large numbers of designated marksmen who were very good
shots using standard military rifles. These were very hard to deal with and
usually required massive fire power to overcome.

(7) As expected, the Russians reiterated the need for large numbers of
trained Infantrymen. They said that some tasks, such as conducting logpack
operations, could only be conducted by Infantrymen, the logistical unit
soldiers being hopelessly inept and falling easy prey to the Chechens.

(8) They found that boundaries between units were still tactical weak
points, but that it wasn’t just horizontal boundaries they had to worry
about. In some cases, the Chechens held the third floor and above, while
the Russians held the first two floors and sometimes the roof. If a unit
holding the second floor evacuated parts of it without telling the unit on
the ground floor, the Chechens would move troops in and attack the ground
floor unit through the ceiling. Often this resulted in fratricide as the
ground floor unit responded with uncontrolled fire through all of the
ceilings, including the ones below that section of the building still
occupied by Russians. Entire battles were fought through floors, ceilings,
and walls without visual contact.

(9) Ambushes were common. Sometimes they actually had three tiers.
Chechens would be underground, on the ground floor, and on the roof. Each
group had a different task in the ambush.

(10) The most common response by the Chechens to the increasingly powerful
Russian indirect and aerial firepower was hugging the Russian unit. If the
hugging tactics caused the Russians to cease artillery and air fires, it
became a man-to-man fight and the Chechens were well equipped to win it. If
they didn’t cease the supporting fires, the Russian units suffered just as
much as the Chechen fighters did, sometimes even more, and the morale
effect was much worse on the Russians.

(11) Both the physical and the mental health of the Russian units began to
decline almost immediately upon initiation of high intensity combat. In
less than a month, almost 20% of the Russian soldiers were suffering from
viral hepatitis (very serious, very debilitating, slow recovery). Most had
chronic diarrhea and upper respiratory infections that turned to pneumonia
easily. This was blamed on the breakdown of logistical support that meant
units had to drink contaminated water. Unit sanitary discipline broke down
almost completely.

(12) According to a survey of over 1300 troops, about 72% had some sort of
psychological disorder. Almost 75% had an exaggerated startle response.
About 28% had what was described as neurotic reactions, and almost 10% had
acute emotional reactions. The Russians recommended 2
psycho-physiologists, 1 psycho-pharmacologist, 1 psychiatrist, and 1
medical psychologist at each (US) Corps-sized unit. Although their
experience in Afghanistan prepared them somewhat for the physical health
problems, they were not prepared for this level of mental health treatment.
Many permanent combat stress casualties resulted from the soldiers not
being provided proper immediate treatment.

(13) Chechens weren’t afraid of tanks and BMPs. They assigned groups of
RPG gunners to fire volleys at the lead and trail vehicles. Once they were
destroyed, the others were picked off one-by-one. The Russian forces lost
20 of 26 tanks, 102 of 120 BMPs, and 6 of 6 ZSU-23s in the first three
day’s fighting. Chechens chose firing positions high enough or low enough
to stay out of the fields of fire of tank and BMP weapons. Russian
conscript Infantry simply refused to dismount and often died in their BMP
without ever firing a shot. Russian elite Infantry did much better, but
didn’t coordinate well with armored vehicles initially.

(14) Chechens were brutish, especially with prisoners. (Some reports say
the Russians were no better but most say the Chechens were the worse of the
two sides.) Whoever was at fault, the battle degenerated quickly to one of
“No quarter asked, none given.” Russian wounded and dead were hung upside
down in windows of defended Chechen positions. Russians had to shoot at
the bodies to engage the Chechens. Russian prisoners were decapitated and
at night their heads were placed on stakes beside roads leading into the
city, over which Russian replacements and reinforcements had to travel.
Both Russian and Chechen dead were routinely booby-trapped.

(15) The Russians were not surprised by the ferocity and brutality of the
Chechens, they expected them to be “criminals and animal brutes” but they
were surprised by the sophistication of the Chechen use of booby traps and
mines. Chechens mined and boobytrapped everything, showing excellent
insight into the actions and reactions of the average Russian soldier. Mine
and boobytrap awareness was hard to maintain.

(16) The Russians were satisfied with the combat performance of most of
their Infantry weapons. The T-72 tank was dead meat. Too vulnerable, too
awkward, not agile, no visibility, poor weapons coverage at short ranges –
Russians removed them from the battle. Replaced by smaller numbers of
older tanks and more self propelled artillery, more ADA weapons, and more
BMPs. Precision guided weapons and UAVs very useful. Some need for
non-lethal weapons, but mostly riot gas and tranquilizer gas, not stuff
like sticky foam. The Russian equivalent of the M202 Flash flame projector
and the Mk 19 grenade launcher were very useful weapon. Ultimately, a
strong combined arms team and flexible command and control meant more than
the individual weapons used by each side.

*Official Russian After Action Review translated by an American