Why Are Ingushetia’s Rebels so Successful?

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 9 Issue: 8

Out of all the regions of the North Caucasus, Ingushetia is focused on most today. People inside and outside Russia have different versions for why the situation in this republic has become so unstable even compared with “hot” regions such as Chechnya or Dagestan. Many observers explain the instability by pointing to special problems within Ingush society, including the conflict between the Ingush and their neighbors in North Ossetia, or to power struggles between various Ingush clans. Other political scientists and journalists say that the main reason for the current chaos in Ingushetia lies in the republic’s economic problems, including unemployment and corruption. Many say that the roots of the conflict in Ingushetia can be found in Moscow. Some Russian officials point to Washington or al-Qaeda, while human rights activists insist that the numerous human rights violations in Ingushetia are the main destabilizing factor there.

The key question, however, is why one should look at Ingushetia as an isolated case while ignoring the general situation in the North Caucasus. It is indeed true that the instability in the republic is primarily the result of successful attacks by local insurgents, but the insurgency is operating not only in Ingushetia but also throughout the North Caucasus. The only difference between the rebels in Ingushetia and the rebels in Dagestan, for example, is that the Ingush militants are more successful in their actions and therefore closer to their goal of taking control of the republic. What we see now in Ingushetia is an example of what will happen in other Caucasian regions if the insurgency is more successful in those areas.

Facing strong pressure from the Russian security forces, the militants in Chechnya, Kabardino-Balkaria and Dagestan have to act more cautiously and hide their main forces in the local mountain areas. Many militants who operate in the cities of these republics were killed by police and FSB troops, who managed to obtain information about the rebels’ whereabouts. In Ingush settlements, local insurgents operate freely, hunting for policemen and FSB officers. In 2007, only one rebel was killed in the republic while the military, police and FSB lost dozens of servicemen dead or wounded. While security forces in Dagestan and the Chechen capital Grozny regularly surround small rebel groups in apartment blocks or private houses and destroy them, not a single operation of that kind was conducted in Ingushetia last year. This shows that the FSB in Ingushetia is experiencing serious intelligence problems. At the same time, the rebels easily identify secret FSB car patrols on the streets of Ingush settlements and attack them. On January 23, rebels attacked a minibus carrying eight FSB officers in the center of Nazran, Ingushetia’s largest city. It should be noted that this attack occurred just a day after a meeting of the local Anti-Terrorist Commission at which a resolution was adopted again to intensify the search for “members of illegal armed formations.”

So, why have the rebels in Ingushetia, the smallest Caucasian republic, managed to act so successfully against the authorities, unlike the rebels in other parts of the Caucasus?

The theory of counter-guerrilla warfare states that to destroy an insurgency in a region, military commanders need to find out where guerrillas have their bases, to know the routes along which they move and to be informed their plans and sources of intelligence and material support. The guerrillas need to be cut off from support by the local population and from outside, and demoralized from within. The authorities need to take specific political, economic, social and other measures to win over the civilian population and prevent the insurgents from recruiting new people. Rebel squads need to be eliminated and steps taken to prevent the guerrillas from penetrating settlements in order to conduct attacks on government, police and military facilities.

Conversely, the guerrillas need to expand the area under their control, to hide their bases and routes, to make efforts to increase support from the population, to destroy the intelligence network of the counter-insurgency forces in the villages and to prevent agents of the security services from penetrating their ranks.

It should be noted that the rebels in Ingushetia have done much to see their plans through and foil those of security officials. First, the rebels have managed to eliminate the local police force as an effective counter-insurgency tool. During the large-scale raid on the republic in June 2004, the rebels destroyed the core of the Ingush police. After that, they only needed to kill off individual officers who remained active in fighting the insurgency, such as Dzhabrail Kostoev, Ingushetia’s deputy interior minister, and Musa Nalgiev, commander of the Ingush police force’s special-task unit. The demoralization of the police resulted in the destruction of the security forces’ intelligence network throughout the republic. The lack of agents allowed the rebels to hide and set up bases in settlements. The rebels’ use of cars in ambushes against police, FSB and military forces makes the rebels so mobile that the security forces are unable to surround them, while the lack of intelligence prevents the counter-insurgency forces from locating rebels in the settlements. Large-scale security sweeps also do not work because, as the security forces’ intelligence network gets weaker, the intelligence network of the militancy is in fact growing stronger. When FSB Special Forces move into a village, they are ambushed or the rebels simply leave the settlement in advance. Those who are detained are usually unarmed civilians who perhaps know something about the rebels but are not involved in insurgent activities.

Unlike in Dagestan, where the local police is still strong enough to fight the insurgents, or in Chechnya, where there are military squads composed of former militants who help Russian troops search for guerrillas, the police in Ingushetia is weak and full of secret insurgent sympathizers. There is almost no basis on which to form paramilitary formations that could help fight the insurgency. All attempts by the FSB to find traitors inside the insurgency have failed completely. Alikhan Kalimatov, an FSB colonel whose mission was to find such traitors, was shot dead in September 2007.

The authorities have also failed to get control the roads and routes along which the Ingush rebels move. The fact that the rebels use cars for their operations indicates how easily they can move around Ingushetia.

Unlike in Dagestan or Kabardino-Balkaria, the rebels in Ingushetia feel so strong that, in addition to fighting the security forces, they are attempting to establish control over the region. The top Caucasian rebel leader, Dokka Umarov, said that “everywhere a mujahideen puts his foot Sharia law should be established.” Since 2006, the militants in Ingushetia have been establishing Sharia law systematically, destroying movie houses and saunas, burning liquor stores, gambling centers and killing fortune-tellers, whom Islam regards as grave sinners. They also attack private houses of top Ingush officials infamous for their corruption and bribery.

Security officials, who cannot defend themselves, have been unable to prevent this, thereby increasing the authority of the rebels in the eyes of the population and discrediting the official bodies, which people regard as weak and ineffective. It should be understood that this process is not peculiar to Ingushetia and that if the rebels in the other Caucasian republics become as successful as those in Ingushetia, we will see the same situation develop there.