Academic journal article Homeland Security Affairs

Beslan: Counter-Terrorism Incident Command: Lessons Learned

Academic journal article Homeland Security Affairs

Beslan: Counter-Terrorism Incident Command: Lessons Learned

Article excerpt

In July 2006, Russian officials announced that Shamil Basaev, the Chechen extremist guerilla leader who masterminded some of the most notorious terrorist acts against Russia, had been killed. Although the long-term impact of Basaev's death, much like that of Abu al-Zarqawi in Iraq, remains to be seen, it does represent a significant success for the Russian government. Furthermore, it provides an opportunity to renew interest in the lessons learned from the attack in Beslan, perhaps Basaev's most notorious operation.

From September 1 - 3, 2004, Russia experienced a tragedy as damaging to its national psyche as the 9/11 attacks were to the United States' three years prior. A terrorist assault on School Number 1 in Beslan, North Ossetia resulted in more than 300 hostages, including 186 children, perishing as the Federal Security Service (Federal'naya Sluzhba Bezopasnozi or FSB) attempted to rescue them by storming the school. Beslan represents a complex incident that exposed significant failures in preventing terrorist situations through the mismanagement of intelligence. Furthermore, it offers insight into the effect that past events have on decisions made during terrorism crises, the "fog of war" that influences decision-making in counter-terrorism operations, and the failure of effective incident command that results in mis-managed objectives, ineffective transfer and chain of command, and errors in the dissemination of public information and intelligence. All of these contributed to the tragedy. This article critiques the Russian government's efforts at prevention, protection, and response to arrive at the lessons learned. It then proceeds to explain how some of these lessons might be applied to improve anti- and counter-terrorism operations in the United States.

The on-going Chechen conflict has created a range of political and security concerns for Russia. The first, and perhaps greatest, of these is that Russia's improved suppression of insurgent actions in Chechnya has facilitated the conflict's migration into other parts of the North Caucasus. Second, in addition to perpetrating attacks across the North Caucasus region, the insurgents have demonstrated a capability to execute terrorist operations as far away as Moscow, further embarrassing the Putin government and spreading insecurity among the population. Third, the terrorist assault on a Beslan school was another in a series of deadly attacks by secessionist and Islamic extremists seeking to oust the Russians from North Caucasus and was representative of the Chechen conflict's trademark reliance on "catastrophic terrorism." 1 Previous attacks had resulted in eighty killed and 106 wounded in a raid on a Ministry of Interior (Ministerstvo Vnutrennikh Del or MVD) armory in Nazran, Ingushetia in June 2004; forty killed by an alleged suicide bomber in the Moscow subway in February 2004; and 129 killed during an FSB rescue attempt at the Dubrovka Theater in October 2002. Undoubtedly, these experiences influenced the response at Beslan.

The Beslan siege started on September 1, 2004, when terrorists, primarily ethnic Ingush and Chechens, seized School Number 1 and created a tactical and strategic dilemma for the Russian government. After seizing the hostages, the terrorists demanded the release of prisoners captured during the Nazran raid and the complete withdrawal of Russian troops from Chechnya. To prove their resolve, the terrorists executed nearly twenty adult male hostages during the first day.

The initial failure in the Beslan incident occurred when local authorities failed to execute an effective anti-terrorism strategy. Prevention and protection require a strategy based on deterrence and intelligence. Deterrence seeks to make the cost of terrorist action too high and intelligence informs authorities of possibilities, thus enabling them to prioritize the implementation of deterrent measures. The efficient gathering, analysis, dissemination, and, ultimately, use of intelligence is crucial in identifying potential threats, prioritizing their credibility, and deploying counter-measures. …

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