Agishty: The Hottest Spot in Chechnya

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 8 Issue: 31

In covering the guerilla war in Chechnya, few journalists have tried to analyze the tactics of the rebels. Generally, the journalists who observe the situation in Chechnya simply indicate that the attacks are increasing or decreasing without saying anything about the possible military goals of the militants. It is widely believed that the insurgents in Chechnya carry out chaotic attacks simply to remind the world of their existence. This belief is especially popular in the Russian media community. Every time the rebels increase their attacks, the Russian security services tell correspondents that the guerillas are doing this simply to report to their international sponsors.

Yet despite having sustained several casualties, the insurgency in Chechnya still has a central command, and every year, this command works out a new strategy and new tactics. At the end of last year, rebel leaders started to discuss a new strategy, and last month, they announced the results of their plans. As a source in the rebel command told the Kavkaz-Center website, the main idea of the new tactics is to focus on mountain areas in order to take control of the Chechen mountains and woods. This would allow the rebels to recruit new fighters, since they would have space for new bases and camps. On July 23, the Kavkaz-Center reported that “as a result of an intensive military operation in June and early July, pro-Moscow Chechen and Russian troops have been pushed out of a part of the Nozhai-Yurt district of Chechnya.” The website also reported that the militants had established checkpoints between the Nozhai-Yurt and Kurchaloi districts. Moreover, they have set up a permanent checkpoint near the village of Regita, which controls movements toward the Nozhai-Yurt District from Chechnya’s lowlands.

The indirect confirmation of this information is the recent mass outflow of the Chechen youth to the mountains, which was officially admitted by the Russian authorities and some pro-Russian officials in Chechnya. The fact that the rebels set up checkpoints in the republic was also confirmed by independent sources (Chechnya Weekly, June 14).

Further proof that the rebels now are not simply conducting hit-and-run attacks but are trying to take control of specific areas is the current situation near the village of Agishty. This village could be called the hottest spot on the map of Chechnya. The name of the village came up in half of the official reports about clashes in the region during July. The first time that Russian official news agencies mentioned Agishty was on June 22, when it was reported that the militants had ambushed a column near the settlement. On June 29, another ambush was reported. On July 1, a roadside bomb was detonated and a motorcade was then ambushed on the road near Agishty. On July 29, the rebels attacked a Russian police special-task unit motorcade with gunfire and grenade launchers.

It should be noted that Russian official reports usually do not cover all clashes. Kavkaz-Center reported many more ambushes and shootouts near Agishty this summer.

The village is located between the Shali and Vedeno districts. A strategic road goes through the village linking Shali, a Chechen town, with three villages in the Vedeno district in the foothills, including Mesketi, Tovzeni, and Khattuni. During the first and second Chechen wars, the rebels often used this area to move to the valley from the mountains. After the beginning of the second campaign, the Russian military command paid close attention to these three settlements. Elite paratroop regiments were settled in the area. The only way to supply them is the road from Shali that runs through Agishty. Chechen guerillas have repeatedly tried to cut the road off, but the paratroopers responded to each ambush with harsh security sweeps of the nearby villages. The story of the military’s cruel treatment of the residents in the three villages made the late Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya internationally famous.

Last year the paratroop units were finally replaced by Interior Ministry forces that turned out to be less capable of fighting local rebel squads. A total rebel cutoff of the Shali-Agishty-three villages’ road could isolate the military garrison in this area and lead to the full control of the western part of the Vedeno district by the anti-Russian resistance. It looks like this is exactly what the rebels are trying to achieve by conducting non-stop ambushes near Agishti.