Entering the capital city of Grozny, a sign read, ‘People keep the peace,’ beneath it someone painted, ‘Welcome to Hell.’ A warning to the invading army. Let’s face it, love them or hate them, the Chechens have repelled their fair share of invaders. Russia in particular, has invaded Chechnya multiple times and each time the Chechens dragged them into an unsustainable blood bath. What seemed like light work, was anything but. The Chechens used superior tactics, communication, and psychological warfare techniques to run a successful insurgency.
The Chechen units at their most basic level were made up of three to four-man, hunter-killer-teams. An anti-tank gunner, a sniper, and a machine gunner, all working cooperatively with other teams to form larger groups to conduct larger operations when needed.
Chechen fighters rotated into operations one week on and one week off. This allowed them to throw constant waves of fresh fighters at Russian troops. When fighters would rotate back to the relative safety of the mountains to rest and refit, their exploits were told like folk tales to their clans. Their stories helped to inform fighters heading to the front and also to inspire future generations of fighters.
Chechens society is structured around Tukkhums, or unions of clans. Attack one – and you attack them all. Invaders will find no safe-harbor among the civilian population. In one attack, rebels set off five car-bombs, simultaneously, at five different locations. More chilling is that Chechens frequently used women and children to conduct bombings, creating an environment where –to the invader– every person is viewed as a threat.
In a technique that sounds like something out of the Matrix, Chechens drew enemies into urban areas and used structure to their advantage. While occupying the third floor and basement of an apartment building, fighters would lure Russian troops in. Once the Russians made entry onto the first and second floors, Chechens would attack through the floors and ceilings. Many ambushes were conducted without either side ever laying eyes on their enemy.
Further eroding the fighting spirit of the invaders, Chechen snipers created a climate of constant fear with their chosen center mass. Lacking night vision glasses, Snipers would wait for Russians to light a cigarette and then shoot that soldier in the groin. When the wounded soldier’s comrades tried to provide aid, the sniper would pluck them off, one at a time like a turkey shoot.
Most of us early on learned the importance of reinforcing a fighting position, we used sandbags, but the Chechens took this to the next level. When fighting from buildings, they hung wounded and dead Russian Soldiers upside down in windows and fired from those positions. This forced Russian troops to hold fire or fire on their comrades and had a chilling effect on morale.
The Russians had fire superiority over the Chechens. To negate that, Chechens waited until they were close to attack. Using basements and tunnel systems allowed them to pass between the closely built buildings without being detected by the Russians. This advantage allowed the Chechens to get close enough that the invaders could not use artillery and also forced Russians into the many well-documented green on green incidents.
There aren’t a lot of ways to turn an honest buck in Chechnya and unemployment has always been high. One way to fill the void is kidnapping as a source of revenue. Tens of millions are spent every year to get back kidnapped journalists and aid-workers from Chechnya. It only made sense that this tactic would eventually be used on the occupiers. Videos released from Chechnya in the 90s showed Russian soldiers lined up, on their knees begging for mercy only to have their throats slit.
While many of the Chechen tactics seem barbaric and beyond the pale of acceptability, they were in response to an invading army’s laundry list of war crimes and human rights violations. The Chechen honed their modern war craft in fighting that extended from the mid 90s into the early 2000s. As seen in other conflicts, the invaders failed to understand the local human terrain – the Chechens made them pay for it in blood.