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Three Years After Nalchik, North Caucasus Resistance Remains Potent, Deadly Force

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  • Robert
    October 12, 2008 By Liz Fuller On October 13, 2005, some 150 to 200 highly motivated but poorly trained and prepared young local Muslims launched multiple
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 1, 2008
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      October 12, 2008
      By Liz Fuller

      On October 13, 2005, some 150 to 200 highly motivated but poorly
      trained and prepared young local Muslims launched multiple attacks on
      police and security facilities in Nalchik, capital of the
      Kabardino-Balkaria Republic. The raid, seven months after the death of
      Chechen President and resistance commander Aslan Maskhadov, was not a
      success. The attackers killed 35 police and security personnel and 14
      civilians, but lost 92 of their own. Many of the survivors were
      apprehended and are currently on trial.

      Yet despite that setback, and the deaths the following year of two key
      Chechen resistance figures, the Islamic resistance across the North
      Caucasus is today stronger, more organized, more ideologically
      cohesive, and more deadly than it was three years ago.

      The Nalchik raid was not the first the resistance launched outside

      In June 2004, a combined group of Chechen and Ingush fighters under
      the overall command of veteran Chechen field commander Shamil Basayev
      launched comparable, and far more successful, multiple attacks in
      Ingushetia, killing at least 88 police and security personnel while
      incurring minimal casualties.

      But it was the Nalchik attack that served to underscore two key
      developments: first, the extent to which the armed resistance against
      Russian police and security forces had already spread from Chechnya to
      other North Caucasus republics, primarily Ingushetia, Daghestan, and
      Kabardino-Balkaria; and second, the degree to which Islam had
      supplanted the Chechens' pro-independence aspirations as the
      motivating force.

      Nine 'Fronts'

      Those two trends have become even more pronounced over the past three
      years. The nine territorially based "fronts" that then-Chechen
      President and resistance commander Doku Umarov established in the late
      summer of 2006 included Volga and Urals fronts. Earlier that year, a
      hitherto unknown jamaat (unit of Muslim fighters) comprised primarily
      of ethnic Nogais clashed with security forces in Stavropol Krai, and
      an Ossetian jamaat warned of its intention to target "occupying
      Russian forces" in North Ossetia.

      The decimated Yarmuk jamaat in Kabardino-Balkaria retrenched following
      the Nalchik debacle, and in late 2007 was subsumed into a larger
      fighting unit that now operates both in Kabardino-Balkaria and
      neighboring Karachayevo-Cherkessia. In Daghestan, where militant
      attacks were for years concentrated in the north and central regions,
      a jamaat emerged in early 2008 in the southern town of Derbent. One
      fighter affiliated with the resistance in southern Daghestan, Ilgar
      Mollachiyev, is reported to have crossed into neighboring Azerbaijan
      with the imputed aim of extending resistance activities there.

      As a result of that geographical expansion of military activities,
      Chechens no longer constitute a majority among the resistance ranks.
      And Russian has become the lingua franca in which the members of the
      various jamaats communicate with Umarov and among themselves.

      The official rationale and ideology of the resistance was redefined in
      late 2007 when Umarov proclaimed an independent North Caucasus
      emirate, or Islamic state, of which he designated himself ruler, and
      vowed to expel the Russians from the region. That proclamation
      effectively constituted the defeat and eclipse of those predominantly
      Chechen moderate resistance figures, both in Chechnya and abroad, who
      advocated an independent Chechen state. The amirs (commanders) of the
      various fronts pledged loyalty to Umarov; several of them have also
      authored manifestos, posted on the website kavkazcenter.com, on the
      ideology of jihad.

      Religious Conviction

      Yet it remains debatable how many of the men who continue to join the
      resistance ranks do so purely out of religious conviction. This may
      hold true for law-abiding young Muslims in the Kabardino-Balkaria
      Republic (KBR) and Daghestan who have for years been subjected to
      persistent harassment and victimization by police. (In December 2007,
      kavkazcenter.com quoted unnamed KBR officials as estimating the number
      of young men who had joined the resistance over the past two years at
      over 500. The population of the KBR is a little over 901,000.)

      But other political and economic factors may also be in play across
      the region, including the conscious rejection of a corrupt political
      system and the lack of employment opportunities. In a prescient
      analysis, presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District Dmitry
      Kozak warned then-Russian President Vladimir Putin in the early summer
      of 2005 that high-level corruption, clan ties, cronyism, incompetence,
      economic stagnation, unemployment, and poverty in the North Caucasus
      could lead to a sharp rise in radicalism and extremism across the
      entire North Caucasus and parts of Stavropol Krai.

      Some of the young Ingush who participated in the June 2004 attacks
      said at the time that they joined the resistance after their male
      relatives disappeared without a trace after being arbitrarily detained
      by local security services. In Chechnya, dozens if not hundreds of
      men, and some women, still join the resistance forces every year.
      Threats by Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov to hold responsible
      the parents of young men who do so have failed to stem the outflow.
      "The New York Times" reported on September 29 that the Chechen
      authorities have launched savage reprisals, such as torching the homes
      of fighters' families. The paper also quoted Grozny Mayor Muslim
      Khuchiyev, a close associate of Kadyrov, as warning that the
      authorities will not permit families to bury slain insurgents.

      The abortive Nalchik attacks nonetheless marked a turning point in
      terms of military strategy. Since then, the resistance has eschewed
      spectacular large-scale operations in favor of a lower-level war of
      attrition targeting primarily local police and security personnel, but
      also increasingly local government officials and representatives of
      the pro-establishment clergy.

      There are several possible explanations for that decision. The first
      is that the heavy casualties suffered by the Nalchik attackers, and
      the large number (more than 100) of innocent civilians injured in the
      crossfire highlighted the risks of launching such attacks by largely
      untrained fighters in an urban environment.

      The second is the generational change within the upper echelons of the
      resistance command following the deaths of Maskhadov, in March 2005;
      of his successor, Abdul-Khalim Sadullayev, in June 2006; and of
      Basayev, in July 2006.

      Attacks On A Grand Scale

      Maskhadov had repeatedly impressed on his men the need to abide by the
      Geneva Conventions and to avoid civilian casualties. Basayev was the
      last senior field commander with tactical experience in planning and
      implementing attacks on a grand scale. It was Basayev who masterminded
      the Budyonnovsk hostage taking in June 1995; multiple attacks in June
      2004 on police and security facilities across Ingushetia; and the
      Beslan school hostage taking in September 2004. He also claimed
      responsibility for the October 2002 hostage taking at a theater in

      True, Umarov, now aged 44, who succeeded Sadullayev as Chechen
      president and resistance commander in June 2006, is a veteran of the
      1994-96 war, during which he fought under, and presumably learned much
      from, Basayev. But the remaining commanders of the various fronts and
      sectors are men in their 20s and early 30s. With the exception of the
      Ingush Amir Magas (Akhmed Yevloyev), who took part together with
      Basayev in the attacks in Ingushetia four years ago, their combat
      experience is limited to small-scale ambushes and hit-and-run
      operations. Only in Chechnya does the resistance still periodically
      mobilize up to several hundred fighters to take on local armed units
      loyal to Kadyrov.

      Finally, the resistance has demonstrated it is capable of inflicting
      comparable casualties at far less risk to its own men by
      systematically targeting either police patrols or small groups of
      police or Russian troops. The death toll among police, Russian
      Interior Ministry forces and other security personnel in Ingushetia
      since January this year has already exceeded 50.

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