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The War Nerd October 31, 2002
The Big Show
By Gary Brecher Browse author Email
Page 2 of 5
The 80s opened with a classic: the seizure of the Iranian Embassy in London in 1980. Six guys from "Arabistan," an ethnically Arab part of Iran, shot their way into the embassy demanding independence. It turned out that they were backed by good ol' Saddam himself. (Man, that guy knows how to hang on! 22 years later, everybody in the world is out to get him, and he's still in power! You kinda gotta admire it, you know?) So you figure these Arabistani terrorists weren't very bright in the first place -- imagine how much "independence" Saddam was gonna give 'em if "Arabistan" did manage to get free of Iran.

Their other piece of stupidity is: they forgot that by attacking an embassy in London, they were as good as inviting in the SAS. Now those British are good at some things. Not many, but some. And the thing they do best is commando operations. The SAS is the best, hands down. Those guys just live for an opportunity like this. All the Brits had to do was back the SAS guys' cages up to the Embassy, raise the bars like they were releasing the Big Mama Velociraptor in Jurassic Park, and say, "Sicc'em!" The SAS swung down on ropes, crashed through the five-story embassy and killed all six Arabistanis without losing a man or a hostage. No, wait -- they actually only killed five: they broke the sixth guy's arm and then threw him down a flight of stairs. Kind of a doggie bag for the other SAS guys to play with back at the base.

And they made it look easy. But that's a dangerous lesson, because there's a huge range of hostage-takers: six of Saddam's dupes, that's one thing, but the group your Russian forces had to deal with -- 50 crazed Chechens -- that's a whole 'nuther thing.

Russian hostages after being freed in Budyonnovsk

Russian hostages after being freed in Budyonnovsk

The bloodiest disasters in recent hostage-takings have all involved Chechens. I've been learning a little more about these Chechens, and all I can say is, I'm glad they haven't moved to Fresno. A lot of terrorists like to talk big, but when the Chechens say they'll kill their hostages, they mean it.

Of course it didn't help that they were up against the Russian Army, mid-1990s version. Nobody respects Russian troops as much as me -- tough, patient, brave. But let's face facts: after the USSR dissolved, the Russian Army was like your unemployed stepfather with a bad hangover. Soldiers trying to sell their APCs to people in the next lane at a stoplight, soldiers actually selling ammunition to the Chechens right across the front line. You figure soldiers have to be pretty damn demoralized to sell ammunition to the people who want it to fire right back at them.

The worst mess was in 1995, when the Chechens embarrassed the Russians by raiding way up into Russia proper, bribing the losers at every army checkpoint to get by without opposition. They made it to this dusty place called Budyonnovsk -- named after that famous Red Cavalry thug, Budyonnov. They picked up 2,000 hostages there, after killing 20 cops in what they call a "one-sided" gunbattle. They actually made it back to Chechnya -- the only people who didn't were the 150-odd hostages who got blown away by the Russian Army. That is not good: killing 150 of your own people and not even managing to get the terrorists. The Russians blame Yeltsin: supposedly he said the troops had to attack immediately, no planning. Not a good strategy with these hostage deals.

The scariest thing about this raid, the thing the Russians should've paid attention to, was the leader of the raid saying that his plan had been to raid Moscow. But Chechnya was in such chaos and the Russian troops there were so totally bummed with their job that nobody did much but duck and try not to get shot. So in 1996 there was another big hostage-taking raid, this time finishing up in a Russian village called Pervomaiskaya. The troops made the exact opposite mistake this time: they let the Chechens alone for five days, and the Chechens dug in so deep it took a big artillery bombardment to kill them. As you can imagine, artillery is not the kind of weapon you want to use to separate hostage from hostage-taker.

Russian flares over Pervomaiskaya

Russian flares over Pervomaiskaya

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Gary Brecher
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