Chechnya: Calamity in the Caucasus.Talking about what sort of wars the U.S. is likely to face in the coming decades, Gen. Charles Krulak, the commandant of the Marine Corps The Commandant of the United States Marine Corps is the highest ranking officer of the United States Marine Corps and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, reporting to the Secretary of the Navy but not to the Chief of Naval Operations. , likes to ask, "Are we going to have Son of Desert Storm or the Stepchild step·child
1. A child of one's spouse by a previous union.
2. Something that does not receive appropriate care, respect, or attention: "Demography has a reputation for being the stepchild of . . . of Chechnya?" His answer. "I feel it will be Stepchild of Chechnya."
That grim prediction is one reason this journalistic history of the recent Chechen war There have been two Chechen Wars:
As Carlotta Gall Carlotta Gall is a British journalist who covers Afghanistan and Pakistan for The New York Times. Personal
Gall is a daughter of the British journalist Sandy Gall and Eleanor Gall. Bibliography
Then Moscow began supplying the pro-Russian opposition with arms. Escalating its involvement as it grew more exasperated with the breakaway republic, Russia in the fall of 1994 sent 40,000 troops to the Chechen border -- a move that provoked the interesting charge from Jokhar Dudayev, the Soviet general turned president of Chechnya Chechnya is a mainly mountainous region in the Caucasus, administered as the Chechen Republic, a constituent part of the Russian Federation, and claimed by a separatist movement, styling itself the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria (as of 2005, unrecognised by any country). , that Moscow did indeed head "the evil empire."
President Yeltsin is the villain of this book. Seeking a quick resolution through intimidation, he sent a tank brigade and attack jets into the Chechen capital of Grozny in an ill-considered show of force that actually permitted the Chechens to display their own guerrilla-like military prowess. By day the tank column was swarmed by civilian protesters; that night it was smashed by the rocket-propelled grenades of Chechen fighters. It was spirit, not numbers, that counted: The authors estimate that at first the Chechens were able to counter the 40,000-strong Russian invasion force with only about 1,000 fighters. Purposely permitted by the Chechens to penetrate to the center of the city, the Russian Maikop Brigade was first surrounded and then destroyed.
Russia responded ferociously. The authors claim that at one point, Grozny was hit with the heaviest artillery bombardment since World War II, which seems an overstatement o·ver·state
tr.v. o·ver·stat·ed, o·ver·stat·ing, o·ver·states
To state in exaggerated terms. See Synonyms at exaggerate.
o in light of the firepower used in the Iran-Iraq War Iran-Iraq War, 1980–88, protracted military conflict between Iran and Iraq. It officially began on Sept. 22, 1980, with an Iraqi land and air invasion of western Iran, although Iraqi spokespersons maintained that Iran had been engaging in artillery attacks on . Three months later, the Russians took Grozny. According to the authors, 27,000 civilians were killed in the process, many of them ethnic Russians who, unlike the Chechens, had no relatives in outlying villages to whom they could flee.
Moving the war southward into the mountains of the Chechen countryside, Russian forces committed a variety of atrocities, from burning villages to terrorizing prisoners by throwing them from hovering helicopters. The Chechens sometimes were equally vicious. Even so, to the Russians the war seemed all but won.
Backs to the wall, the Chechens responded in mid-1995 with what is generally called terrorism, but what contemporary military theorists analyze as an "asymmetrical response": They drove north into a Russian town and took hostage some 1,200 people in a hospital, spectacularly humiliating hu·mil·i·ate
tr.v. hu·mil·i·at·ed, hu·mil·i·at·ing, hu·mil·i·ates
To lower the pride, dignity, or self-respect of. See Synonyms at degrade. a Russian government that thought it had resolved the Chechen problem. Months later Chechen fighters roared back out of their mountain retreats. In August 1996 they recaptured the remains of Grozny from 12,000 undertrained and demoralized de·mor·al·ize
tr.v. de·mor·al·ized, de·mor·al·iz·ing, de·mor·al·iz·es
1. To undermine the confidence or morale of; dishearten: an inconsistent policy that demoralized the staff. Russian troops. A Russian sergeant told the authors, "The (Chechen) fighters aren't scared to move around and we are, that is the difference. They are the bosses here." By the end of the month, Moscow had agreed to recognize Chechen independence, and Russian troops again withdrew.
This book should be read as a companion to the recent Philadelphia Inquirer series on the U.S. Army's disastrous firefight fire·fight
An exchange of gunfire, as between infantry units. in Somalia in October 1993. Both works should be required as cautionary reading for policymakers and pundits prone to under-estimating the difficulty of intervening in the cities of the Third World, whether Baghdad, Mogadishu, or Grozny. The two studies also should prove instructive to anyone who thinks future wars will be high-tech, low-sweat affairs.
Thomas E. Ricks For the Mormon churchman and pioneer, see .
Thomas E. Ricks (born 1955) is a Washington Post Pentagon and military correspondent and Pulitzer Prize-winner. Ricks lectures widely to the military and is a member of Harvard University's Senior Advisory Council on the , The Wall Street Journal's Pentagon correspondent, is the author of Making the Corps.