Sochi SITREP 6: Lessons Learned

The Olympics have ended – thankfully nothing untoward happened (that we’re aware of).  Whether that was because Russian CT and security efforts were effective, because the Jihadis are busy elsewhere or a combination of those two things. We may never know.  Here’s the final Sochi SITREP from Groz. Mad Duo                                                                  

Sochi Sitrep Pt.6: Lessons Learned

The Closing Ceremony for the Sochi Olympics ended a week ago.  With the conclusion of the Olympic Games also ended the chance of a terrorist attack on the Winter Games.  This fear of an attack on the games permeated the entire event and led to many predictions.  Among them was the anxiety over a full fledged attack by the Islamic Caucasus Emirate, which had called for some time been calling for attacks on the games.  Now that the Olympics have officially ended we may begin to analyze why no attack took place and how attacks were prevented.  In this series of articles we have discussed the attacks leading up to the Olympics and reaction and counter reaction between ICE and the Russian Security apparatus.  In the lead up to and during the Olympics we have analyzed the changing Russian doctrine on counter terror and how this has affected the security of the Olympics. 

Has this evolution in how Russia deals with terrorism been proven by the failure of ICE to attack the games?  How has the movement of Chechen Jihadis to other areas of operation such as Syria weakened ICE’s ability to conduct operations in the Caucasus?  These are the factors that we will discuss and try to draw conclusions from in this installment of the Sochi Sitrep.

Just how effective was the Scalpel Doctrine?

In covering the evolution of Russian Counter Terrorism doctrine we have often used the analogy of hammer versus scalpel to describe how Russia has shifted its emphasis on CT.  During previous articles the use of massed armored forces against terrorist groups was analyzed as being ill suited to locate, close with, and destroy Chechen Jihadis in the Caucasus.  This failure caused the Russians to shift fire to a more Western approach of utilizing smaller elite formations to eliminate Jihadis such as those from ICE.  By using more motivated and well trained units such as VDV or airborne, Naval Infantry (marines), and Special Operations Forces like Spetsnaz or Alfa in conjunction with interior ministry forces like FSB the Russians have seemed to found a solution.   This evolution has been a long and expensive process both in blood and rubles, but has become a prime focus of the Russian government in recent years. 

Do not confuse this evolution as solely a focus on elite military formations as the addition of ISR or intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets has been just as crucial.  Less glamorous than SF or drones is the crucial switch to increased collaboration between different branches in the Russian military or paramilitary. Remember the Russian services are much more complex in regards to command and control than analagous Western Forces, who established joint commands decades ago. 

This all then begs the question, has the shift from hammer to scalpel been effective?  Well, based on the seriousness of the threat to the Olympics as expressed not just by the Russians but the international community it is hard to disagree that this doctrinal shift has increased the effectiveness of Russian Counter Terrorism.  Hindsight is obviously 20/20, but one would be hard pressed to find a subject matter expert on this region who did not believe an attack was not possible, if not probable or even eminent during the games.  Let us also not forget that as of yet there has been no intelligence regarding failed attempts.  When analyzing the big picture it is hard not to give this shift in doctrine some credit for the security that allowed the Olympic Games to remain free of attacks.  This is not to say that the Scalpel Doctrine is the only factor in the failure of a terrorist attack on the games.   While reading this analysis one should be wary of walking away believing that Russian Counter Terror forces are the “be all end all” of CT,; they have mirrored the lessons learned by Western CT units, but they still still have much room for growth before being counted as the equal of the West’s premier Special Mission Units.

This analysis would not be complete without discussing how the Chechens contributed to their own failure.  However, such a failure does not lie in their lack of ability or drive but rather in the more complicated context of their current emphasis.  As this series of articles was initially released, more and more information has trickled out, revealing just how involved the Chechens were in the fighting in Syria.  It is not breaking news that there are Chechens fighting in Syria. This has been known for some time. 

The number and role of the Chechen Jihadis in Syria has changed though.  As discussed in previous installments, more and more intelligence on the role of Chechen Jihadis in Syria has become known.  Such events as Saifullah al Shishani’s alliance with Al Nusrah and recent death have brought focus to how important a role the Chechens are playing.  Just before this particular article was written, another major event in the Syrian debacle has focused yet more attention on Chechens (though current events in the Ukraine have largely overshadowed it). 

During the massive mechanical ambush conducted by the Syrian Army against Al Nusrah recently it was released that among the almost 200 Jihadis killed were numerous Chechens. The large number of Chechens answering the call to Jihad in Syria has obviously weakened the operational effectiveness of ICE back in the Caucasus.  As in the previous article many will ask why are the Chechens in Syria? Again I will ask you to not confuse Jihad with nationalism; they do not correlate in the mind of the Jihadi. (Note: video of that ambush is here.)

Hopefully this final installment of the Sochi Sitrep has provided some conclusions as to why the predicted terror attacks on the Olympics have thankfully not come to fruition.  The mixture of Russian action and Chechen inaction has in my analysis provided the reasoning for the failure of an attack on the games.  As time passes more information will most likely be released of what transpired behind the scenes.  However, in Putin’s Russia expect this information to be scant and heavily censored to present Russia in the absolute best of lights.   

Sochi SITREP Part 1:

Sochi SITREP Part 3:

Sochi SITREP Part 4:

Sochi SITREP Part 5:


About the Author: Sean “Groz” Burke is a former Assault Section Leader in the Marine Corps infantry with combat deployments to assorted sunny Middle Eastern and African locations. During his tenure as a gyrene many doors were kicked, gates blown and people’s days excessively ruined. During these deployments Sean often instructed the use of foreign weapon systems, helped his command understand the armament capabilities of the enemy and was his unit’s resident “terp wrangler.” He attended numerous PME schools, including Sensitive Site Exploitation and the Iraqi Arabic and Culture Course. After departing the Marine Corps Sean graduated Temple University with a degree in history and is now (no shit) a high school teacher. When not teaching he continues to compulsively study foreign weapon systems, world affairs and foreign policy. Groz is one of the biggest geardos the Mad Duo knows (which is really saying something). He is a wealth of information regarding al things Cordura, Steel and COMBLOC.

Mad Duo, Breach-Bang-CLEAR!

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