Murphy's Law: September 11, 2001


THEIR OWN WORST ENEMY; Russian Forces Friendly-Fire Incidents In The Second Chechen War (1999-2001)- Islamic Mujahadeen crossed into Dagestan in August 1999 began fighting units of the Russian army. It didn't take long for the respected antiwar Russian Soldiers' Mothers' Committee to report several incidents of friendly fire. Poor communications and mistaken identities often led to Russian units being bombed by their own aircraft, as was the case on the night of 9 September, 1999. The attack that lasted several hours, leaving half of an 80-man Spetsnaz (commando) unit wounded or killed. Stanislav Vlasov's Spetsnaz unit had been ordered to seize a strategic height in Dagestan, an attack the Russians had been planned for days.

The situation didn't improve when the Russians went into Chechnya that September. Lack of encrypted digital communications systems allowed the mujahadeen to listen in on Russian Air Force communications and use information gleaned from conversations to provoke friendly fire and civilian casualties. 

The hellish Third Battle of Grozny (December 1999 to February 2000) was a particularly ripe place for fratricide. On the eve of the Russian's final assault on the capital, federal troops were painting marks on the backs of each other's jackets. Yet a Russian mortarmen admitted shelling his own men, his excuse that "they only fired on the coordinates given them". Another claimed that a TOS-1 "Buratino" [Pinocchio] MLRS (multiple rocket launcher) hit the second battalion in Grozny.

During the fighting, a mujihadeen Kamaz truck, two jeeps, and a Niva car broke out of downtown Grozny and were moving toward Staropromyslovskiy Rayon. OMON militiamen and motorized riflemen blocked the road, but the fighters simply vanished. A few hours later, an Mi-24 caught up with a Kamaz belonging to the Nadterechnyy Rayon Internal Affairs Department. The Hind failed to notice them firing a signal rocket and shot up the vehicle. Three militiamen in the back of the truck were wounded and the Kamaz wrecked beyond repair. 

The situation was just as bad when the war moved into the southern mountains. On the night of 23 February, the mujihadeen claimed that the Russians bombarded one their own Leningrad Military District Spetsnaz units in the battle for Shatoy and killed 33 of them.

On 17 March, during the siege of the mountain village of Komsomolskoye, a detachment of the Irkutsk SOBR seized a small hill. After radioing that the mujahadeen had backed off the height, a tank fired on their position. Three were killed (Majors Aleksey Rybak and Andrey Fedotov, as well as policeman Aleksey Koshkin) and five wounded. The remainder of the unit was quickly shipped home. Another Irkutsk OMON officer was killed on 27 April when a Siberian OMON militiaman opened fire on his car some 40 kilometers (25 miles) west of Grozny.

The Mujihadeen claimed that a Scud SSM impacted inside of a Federal Special Forces camp on 2 July, killing or wounding an unknown number of Russians.

At about 2220 on 14 July, a six-round salvo of 120mm mortar rounds struck the helicopter landing pad at an Interior Ministry outpost at the military airport in Khankala. A PT-76 amphibious tank was hit, but only two servicemen were wounded. The initial excuse was an incorrectly trained mortar sight. An investigation was launched and the next day presidential aide Sergey Yastrzhembskiy announced that no helicopters had been involved.

There was no mujahadeen group near Khankala, but false information was relayed to the artillery by reconnaissance units. The Fire Direction Control personnel failed to recognize the coordinates of the Khankala grouping's command center when the target was only 500 meters from the tubes.

The Chechens also became quite adept at creating cross-fires between Russian units and often only had to get out of the way fast enough to create a fratricide situation. The mujahadeen recounted several incidents within three months during the summer of 2000. They had engaged one Russian airborne unit near Kurcheloy in late June and Federal reinforcements were sent in, but supporting artillery misidentified them as Chechens. The mujahadeen claim this mistake cost the Russians 25 killed. Movladi Udugov (who runs a pro-Chechen webnews service) said that "the Russians are bombing themselves.. there are no Chechens left where the Russians are attacking."

A severe battle that broke out in the village of Mokh-Keti on 9 July was followed by a Mujahadeen attack on a Russian convoy in Gikala on 26 August. The Mujahadeen had retreated when a second Russian unit arrived and began indiscriminately firing in the direction of the battle. By the time the dust had settled, the Chechens claimed that five armored vehicles had been destroyed and a large number of Russians lied lifeless by "friendly fire".

In early September, Abu-Shamil's unit blew up a BTR in Gikala (near Grozny) and while retreating were surprised to hear a two-hour long battle break out within Russian lines. Later that month, a mujahadeen unit ambushed an Airborne battery near Yalkhi Mokh, destroying two vehicles and causing an unknown number of casualties. After withdrawing, the mujahadeen reported that an OMON unit started firing at the paratroopers. After the shooting stopped, the Russians started a verbal battle - each unit blaming the other. The Russians then closed off all the roads, but failed to surround the Mujahideen.

In mid-December 2000, a Mujahadeen unit ambushed an Interior Ministry convoy traveling between Argun and Mesker-Yurt. The attack was launched from a direction where another Russian unit was camped. Then the Mujahadeen pretended to be Russian intelligence and radioed with the ambushed unit, instructing them to fire in the direction of the camped Russian unit. A battle broke out between the two Army units, resulting in 15 Russian soldiers dead and two AFVs destroyed.

Fratricide cases caused Russians troops to fear and loath those outside of their immediate unit, which affected cohesion at higher levels while leaving subordinates feeling vulnerable and isolated on the battlefield. They weren't sure that they could count on anyone to keep them supplied and safe, and assumed that they would have to fend for themselves. One theme repeated by many was that in the war zone, each unit's commander was left more or less to set his own standards. - Adam Geibel




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