Russia: March 3, 2003


: Russian forces in Chechnya thwarted a rebel attempt to smuggle an Igla MANPAD (portable surface to air missile) into the vicinity of the Khankala military base and try to shoot down a military helicopter on March 23, the day of the Chechen constitutional referendum. The preferred target was a military helicopter carrying high-ranking Russian officials monitoring the referendum's preparations. The two men were detained, but not until after one (an Arab) was seriously wounded resisting arrest (he died despite medical aid). The Igla was wrapped in linoleum and a rocket launcher was also found in the vehicle. Both of the rebels were part of Abu el Walid's unit. Walid is an Arab and a predecessor of rebel leader Khattab, making him one of the few personalities still in the field fighting the Russians.

Vedeno district residents provided the tip needed to catch the rebels delivering the missile to Grozny in a rented van, which was stopped on the road to the city. Had it not been for this dumb luck, operations at the main military airfield would have been in grave danger. The rebels were willing to make a lethal attempt, even though all of the ruins around Khankala (previously used as firing points by the rebels) had been razed after a couple of successful attacks in 2002. Observers have pointed out that had the authorities known about the plot, it would have made far more sense to track the rebels to their journey's end and uncover their accomplices. 

The Russians swear that someone on the staff was supplying the rebels with information about scheduled departures and arrivals, because each missile launched hit a very good target. What's more likely is that the Russians' OPSEC (operational security) is sloppy: open communications on unsecure radio channels, talkative soldiers in the market and repetitive scheduling makes for easy targets. Since mujahadeen tend to share their 'lessons learned' the world over, it would behoove allied planners to take note of the Russians' mistakes. - Adam Geibel

Rebel action left seven pro-Russian Chechen policemen dead. 


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