January 23, 1996
Web posted at: 12:30 a.m. EST (0530 GMT)
From Correspondent Eileen O'Connor
MOSCOW (CNN) -- Four members of Russia's most elite anti- terrorist squad were killed during the Russian military's siege against Chechen rebels holding hostages in Pervomaiskaya. Troops returning from the fight there say their comrades died because of a poorly managed campaign with inept leadership.
"You can't call it a victory because if it's an operation to free hostages, if even one hostage dies, it's a failed operation," said one soldier.
The soldier said he could not name names -- "because up until the last minute we didn't know who was leading us."
Even while the operation was going on, troops were openly disgusted. They broke ranks with their commanders, whom they felt abandoned them with no strategy to take the village and without the necessary tools for survival.
Soldiers said they drank melted snow for water, and -- while helicopters constantly ferried in ammunition -- none brought sleeping bags, water or tents.
"We had one bus for 70 people and we had to take turns sleeping in it," said another soldier.
And these are not even the worst accusations. Russian generals still have not answered the toughest questions of all: How did rebel leaders get away? Why did they say the hostages were dead when they were alive? And why did they use Grad missiles on the village?
"The usage of the Grad multiple rocket launchers was mainly psychological," Gen. Mikhail Barsukov of the Federal Security Service said, laughing.
The general's answers were openly mocking. The Russian military and its political masters are a laughingstock, especially over how the rebels got into the region in the first place.
"The federal bodies closed the border for honest and law- abiding people while a tank column could have easily gotten through for a bribe," said Ramazan Abdulatipov, a Russian parliament member from Dagestan.
These kind of accusations -- mismanagement, ineptitude, corruption -- have led the mighty Russian military to its lowest point, and brought on finger-pointing from the lower ranks.
President Boris Yeltsin was hoping his decisive actions in Pervomaiskaya would help his re-election bid. But as the rebels who got away prepare to release more hostages, his decisiveness looks ever more hasty.
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