While much has been made over the last twelve years of American Special Operations Forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Pakistan, and other locations around the world, Russian Special Operations have been almost completely overlooked. What American and Russian SOF share in common is the War on Terror. Both nations have had to tangle with extremist Islamic ideologies and the terrorists that draw inspiration from them.

Many Americans may recall Russia’s battles in Chechnya during the 1990s, but most are unfamiliar with the efforts of Russian Special Operations to conduct strikes against High Value Targets, or HVTs. High Value Targets are those individuals within a terrorist group who represent a significant node within that network, such as the leaders of that particular organization.

By targeting HVTs, American Special Operations have found that they can disrupt and sometimes destroy these networks. However, HVT strikes are just that, a disruption or delaying tactic. HVT strikes are unlikely to win the war in of themselves. Russia has more than likely reached the same conclusions but, like their American counterparts, these strikes continue in order to prevent these terrorist networks from getting stronger and eventually growing to the point that they are completely unmanageable.

Russian Special Operations have developed their own Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures for hunting down and eliminating terrorist leaders. Many of these TTPs having been developed during the course of operations in Chechnya. Intelligence is gathered by both SIGINT and HUMINT to pinpoint where the HVT is located, then Russian forces move in to conduct an ambush or cordon off an area so that assaulters can raid a fixed target. One interesting TTP that surfaced as Chechen terrorists cells were targeted is the use of poisoned letters. At least one HVT collapsed and died when Russian forces contrived a situation in which a poisoned letter was delivered to him.

The hunting of High Value Targets in Russian territory continues to this day, especially in places like Dagestan. Here you find hybrid organizations, much like what American forces have encountered in Afghanistan and Iraq. They are terrorists who conduct bombings and assassinations, but they are also criminals who profit from crimes such as kidnapping. In Dagestan, there are numerous gangs of this nature, often known as a Jamaat.

The Russian FSB developed intelligence which led to an operation on March 20, 2013. The Russian Special Operations Forces knew their High Value Target was in Samandar, near Makhachkala, the capital of Dagestan.

Soldiers from the FSB and the Interior Ministry cordoned off the target area to begin looking for the leader of the “Gimrinsky” gang, Gadzhidadaev Ibrahim. Gadzhidadaev was believed to have been personally involved in the murder of over thirty individuals, ranging from police officers, to prosecutors, to other civil officials.

This Russian SOF operator wears a SEAL trident out of respect for another group of HVT hunters.

At 0600, the Russian Special Task Force moved in and began evacuating civilians from homes in the village of Samandar. Once the militants realized that Russian Forces were closing the net, they barricaded themselves in a home belonging to a chairmen of the Untsukulsky region of Dagestan named Magomedhabibu Magomedaliev. The rest of the day was spent in negotiation with the terrorists as the Russian forces attempted to get them to release the women and children that they were holding hostage. After seven hours, negotiations were still on going.

It was about this time that Magomedaliev’s relatives and a crowd of around a hundred supporters staged an impromptu rally to support the militants and demand the release of Magomedaliev. The crowd rallied and set up roadblocks with tires which they set on fire, a problem which the local police had to deal with and eventually the roadblocks were abandoned.

Meanwhile, Magomedaliev and the militants refused to lay down their arms and surrender. At 2200 hours, the Russian forces stormed the house while the militants took refuge in a bunker constructed in the basement. The firefight that resulted lasted into the early morning hours of March 23rd until all of the militants were eliminated. Those killed included Magomedaliev, Gadzhidadaev Ibrahim, and three other known terrorists. During the firefight, one FSB soldier was also killed.

During a search of the house and the basement, Russian forces discovered both TNT and ammonium nitrate explosives with detonation devices and elements to be used as shrapnel such as nuts and bolts. Explosives experts from the FSB placed their own charge on top of the cache and blew the explosives in place, completely destroying the house in the process.

As a result of the Samander raid, the Russian military and intelligence services developed further intelligence that later led to a raid in Gimry.

Sniper overwatch position for Gimry operation
Sniper overwatch position for Gimry operation

On April 11th, 2013 Russian Special Forces under the operational control of the Russian intelligence service known as the FSB, conducted Special Operations in the Gimry region of Dagestan. Reconnaissance and assault elements moved into the targeted valley to occupy observation posts and ambush lines during the night. By 1400 Russian soldiers from the Special Task Force moved in to the cordon off the village. A Special Task Force is a collection of units assembled under the GROU (main regional operational management) consisting of the FSB, MVD, and local police units.

By 1530, Russian forces were being actively engaged by the enemy, resulting in one Russian soldier being wounded. The civilian population was first removed, and then the homes were inspected. The Special Operations Forces then began clearing the suspect village, killing three High Value Targets in the process. Unfortunately, a number of enemy managed to slip out of the Russian cordon before it could be completely closed.

The three criminals eliminated were members of the “Gimrinsky” gang led by the late Gadzhidadaev. The three Gimrinsky gang members killed were Shamil Abdullayev, Ilyas Kamilov, and Abdul Spree. The Gimrinsky gang was known to be involved in robberies, kidnapping for ransom, extortion of businesses, and the assassination of civil leaders, police officers, and Russian soldiers. They were also behind the assassination of a FSB officer in 2006.

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OP for the Gimry operation
OP for the Gimry operation

The following pictures were taken of weapons, bomb making material, and documents found inside the village’s mosque:

IED construction materials
Salafist flag
Counterfeit money
Ambush sketch
IED diagram

Eleven explosives caches were also found in Gimry, all of which were destroyed in place.

Russian Special Operations have clearly made great strides tactically and institutionally since the first campaigns in Chechnya in the 1990s. Russia continues to fight its own War on Terror in the southern Caucasus region and, like America’s War on Terror, it is unlikely to end anytime soon.

(Featured Image Courtesy: Vitaly V. Kuzmin)