On July 21, the rebel Kavkaz-Center website posted a new decree of Dokka Umarov, the leader of the Chechen and North Caucasian rebels and the president of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria. According to the decree, Akhmed Yevloev, a.k.a. Magas, became the top military commander (the military amir) of the Caucasian insurgency. This appointment is especially interesting given that Shamil Basaev himself held this position in the past. Thus, Akhmed Yevloev became the successor of the most famous Chechen warlord.
The position of military commander first appeared in the hierarchy of the Chechen rebels in 2002. At that time, the rebels wanted to reunify themselves into a single force, but disagreements between two main leaders, Aslan Maskhadov and Shamil Basaev, needed to be overcome first. In July 2002, the Great Majlis, a meeting of rebel field commanders, was held in the Chechen woods. As a result of the meeting, Basaev and commanders loyal to him once again recognized Maskhadov as the Chechen president and the top political leader of the separatists, but, in exchange, Maskhadov appointed Basaev as the top military commander. Thus, the warlord concentrated all of the rebels’ military power in his hands.
As can be seen, the position of top rebel commander was established more for political rather than practical military reasons. This position was needed to avoid disputes inside the resistance.
Since the death of Aslan Maskhadov and then of Shamil Basaev, the position of military commander has lost its political significance. In fact, the new president Dokka Umarov is both the top political and military leader of the Caucasian insurgency. He makes all crucial decisions and travels around the North Caucasus, personally ensuring that the rebel squads in each of the republic are battle ready. This May, Dokka Umarov appointed Seif Islam, a commander of Arab origin, as the rebel Chief of Staff, and it seemed that the resistance had returned to the time of Dzhokhar Dudaev, the first Chechen president, who was the rebel forces’ supreme commander while Aslan Maskhadov was the Chief of Staff and coordinated the military activities of the field commanders. This system of governance proved its effectiveness during the first Chechen war.
The appointment of Yevloev as the top military commander raises the question of why the insurgents again require this post. It is also interesting that Yevloev is an Ingush and not a Chechen.
There is not much information about the origin of Akhmed Yevloev, better known as Amir Magas. The public first heard of Magas in June 2004, when hundreds of Chechen and Ingush rebels launched a large-scale raid on Ingushetia, killing dozens of police officers and soldiers. The day after the raid, Akhmed Zakaev, the rebel envoy to Europe, said at a press conference that the attack had been conducted by Ingush militants headed by a commander called Magomed. The same day, Russian law-enforcement agencies announced that this commander’s full name was Magomed Yevloev.
After some time, the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) published a file on Yevloev (utro.ru, September 24, 2004).
According to the FSB, the real name of Magas is not Magomed Yevloev or Akhmed Yevloev, as he was called in Umarov’s latest decree, but Ali Taziev. He is a former Ingush policeman who disappeared without a trace in 1998. In 2000, a court in Ingushetia officially declared him dead.
Taziev, however, was not dead: he had joined Shamil Basaev’s group and was fighting the Russian army in Chechnya. In April 2004, when the Chechen insurgency started to implement its new strategy of exporting the war from Chechnya to the other parts of the North Caucasus, Basaev, as the military commander, appointed Magas the commander of the Ingush sector. During the June 21, 2004 raid on the republic, Magas headed a group of 30 Ingush fighters who set up a checkpoint in the middle of Nazran, the largest Ingush city, searching for policemen. According to the FSB, Yevloev-Taziev personally killed Abubakar Kostoev, the then acting Interior Minister of the republic.
Last October, Umarov appointed Magas as the commander of the rebel Caucasian front. Magas became responsible for the rebel activity west of Chechnya in Ingushetia, North Ossetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, Karachaevo-Cherkessia, Krasnodar and Stavropol.
Magas’s appointment as the top rebel military commander means that he now controls Chechnya and Dagestan. Three senior Chechen commanders – Muhhanad, Tarkhan Gaziev, and Aslanbek Vaduev – were appointed by Umarov to be Magas’ deputies.
Why has Umarov chosen Magas to be Basaev’s successor? The recent increase in rebel attacks in Ingushetia – attacks on military garrisons and other facilities – has demonstrated how skillful a commander Magas really is. It is possible, however, that Magas became the top military commander for other reasons. His appointment could be a part of the information war that is being conducted the rebels. By appointing Magas as the military commander, Umarov may be trying to make the Russian military believe that the rebels’ main strike will be in the western part of the North Caucasus when in reality, preparations are underway for a massive attack in another area. Yevloev’s appointment could also mean that, if a major attack occurs, Magas will be the one who will lead the rebels in their offensive.