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The BBC's Jim Fish:
"This assault was preceded by the heaviest bombardment so far"
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Tuesday, 18 January, 2000, 12:40 GMT
Challenge of urban warfare

Russian armour has proved to be a liability in the street fighting
By Defence Correspondent Jonathan Marcus

Western military experts have been closely following the Russian offensive in Chechnya comparing it to the Russian army's performance during its earlier assault on Grozny in 1994.

Battle for the Caucasus
It is a campaign with wider lessons. Urban warfare is seen as one of the challenges facing armed forces in the coming decades.

And as the Chechen resistance shows, it is a form of combat in which even numerically and technically superior forces do not hold all the aces.

The Russian army is much criticised in the West for its poor training and lack of basic military skills - shortfalls which are once again in evidence in Chechnya.

Many of the Russian tanks proved to be deathtraps

BBC defence analyst

But in several important respects, the Russian commanders have learned some of the lessons of their first campaign in Chechnya.

And Russia's political leaders have become a little like their Western counterparts in recognising the need to try to avoid massive casualties among their own troops for fear of losing the public relations battle at home.

Back in 1994 the Russian army stormed into Grozny poorly prepared - with little or no real intelligence and with heavy armour leading the way.

Chechens are still fighting back strongly

Many of the Russian tanks proved to be deathtraps in the streets of Grozny and units which had been thrown together prior to combat simply fell apart under fire.

This time the Russians have taken a much more cautious approach, relying upon long-range artillery and air power to soften up Chechen resistance.

Lighter, more manoeuvrable armoured vehicles are in the vanguard with self-propelled, multi-barrelled, anti-aircraft cannons proving themselves an ideal weapon for city fighting.

But the Chechens are still fighting back strongly, showering Russian columns with rocket-propelled grenades and, according to US sources, often occupying the middle floors of buildings where the Russians control the street level and the roof.

Russian soldier in southern Chechnya
Infantry are poorly trained and ill-equipped

The long-range firepower cannot drive the Chechen fighters from Grozny.

Russian commanders know they must ultimately occupy the city and the only way to do that is a brutal street-by-street battle.

Here the poor skills of the Russian infantry present problems.

There are also reported to be serious problems for the Russian forces with hygiene and sanitation - all indications of poor organisation and morale.

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See also:

18 Jan 00 | Europe
Russians 'reach Grozny centre'
10 Jan 00 | Europe
Can Russia win the Chechen war?
13 Jan 00 | Europe
Eyewitness: Eerie calm in Argun
12 Jan 00 | Europe
How Russia pays for the war
13 Jan 00 | Europe
Russia accused of war crimes
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