Karabakh: scenario for winter mountain blitz

Karabakh: scenario for winter mountain blitz

This week the head of Azerbaijan's Defence Ministry visited a front-line area - the Odundag hill and Murovdag - the units located in mountainous and severe climatic environment on the line of confrontation with the Armenian occupation forces. Theoretically, military experts consider the intensification of hostilities unlikely in view of the winter period. Indeed, despite the fact that the positional war has been underway all the year round, the fighting has recently intensified in the warm season - early June 2012, early August 2014, early April 2016. Only the February exacerbation of 2017 stands out in recent years.

In any case, the parties do not expect active actions during the cold season. The readiness of one of the sides for active fighting on the frontline in the winter is of the nature of an unexpected paradox resulting from the ineffectiveness of active hostilities on the Armenian-Azerbaijani fronts in winter conditions. According to the experts of the Istiglal analytical group, consideration of the importance of paradoxical solutions from Azerbaijan's perspective is also of interest because of the relative advantages of the Azerbaijani Armed Forces in human and material resources, which makes it possible to single out the theme of offensive actions in the mountains in a separate program priority, while the Armenian Armed Forces are limited by their poor capabilities and bet on maintaining the status quo.

The Istiglal study proposes to consider the defense sectors of the Armenian occupying forces, targeted by the footholds under Talysh, which were taken under the control of the Azerbaijani Armed Forces on April 2-5, 2016, explaining why this foothold is considered as strategic.

The fact is that these positions create a constant tension on the road in a southerly direction up to the key centre of the Armenian defense - the village of Madaghiz. The takeover of Madaghiz in the case of Azerbaijan's offensive not just makes the defense of the Agdere regional center (Armenian: Mardakert) a losing battle, but also opens the way to the Sarsang reservoir, surrounded by Armenian units stationed in the mountains of eastern Murov.

The Armenian side is also aware of this, but until April 2016, the Armenian command apparently expected the Azerbaijani armed forces to take active action on the Agdam front, rather than between Terter and Agder in the north and Fizuli-Khojavend direction in the south. "What if the qualities that make possible the next decision paradoxical for Armenia  will become a strong argument in favor of the Armed Forces of Azerbaijan? For example, a limited but unexpected winter offensive operation in the Murovdag mountain range in order to take control of a number of strategically important positions of the Armenian occupation forces," the experts ask.

The yellow dotted line is the approximate front line in the eastern part of Murovdag. The red areas are places where active operations of the Armed Forces of Azerbaijan were planned

Hypothetically, if it is a short-term limited operation, its goal should be to take control of Armenia's positions near Mount Gamish (3,724 m - Armenian: Gomshasar) on the main Murov and capture the foothold south of the village of Gyulustan. In each case, these are 4-5 posts at a distance of several hundred meters from each other. Operational and tactical actions here are strongly influenced by the specifics of a theatre of operations. This is not a war of tanks. This is the war of the combined strike teams of special-purpose units, alpine riflemen trained to fight in the mountains. Such an offensive operation will be very different from the actions of Azerbaijani units in April 2016 and most likely should be a combination of quick-fix raids. Critical factors should be the quality of Azerbaijan's infantry, the surprise and impeccable work of military intelligence and communications in the conditions of mountain war, but not tanks, artillery or multiple launch rocket systems. A minimal use of heavy weapons and aviation would create a sense of limited escalation, which is beneficial for the Azerbaijani side.

The region of Mount Gamish - the highest point of Murovdag. Azerbaijan's positions are marked in blue, Armenia's positions - in red. The distance between the points is several hundred meters

Undoubtedly, such operations are prepared in advance. Both in terms of material and logistics, and in terms of personal training of each officer and soldier of special purpose groups. Military analysts are proposing to choose most experienced servicemen of the 191st mountain-rifle brigade and various special units that have undergone additional training of Alpine shooters to make four combined companies, which would be a skeleton for the training of infantry personnel. They call to pay close attention to physical training, orientation skills and movement of combat groups in the mountains, as well as work with special outfits and equipment.

An important element of success in such an operation will be the mobility and the firepower of the assault teams, but the main role will be played by the experience of officers and re-enlistees who have been serving here for several years. They not only got used to the war in the mountains physically, but also are familiar with the local system of fire interaction between their and Armenian posts and fire points, the range of fire, routes, etc. These people may be at the forefront of Azerbaijani assault groups as conductors.

The analysts also suggest to pay attention to equipping Azerbaijani infantry with light, but effective models of portable anti-tank missiles, rocket-propelled grenades and automatic grenade launchers, and ability to successfully use them. The Israeli Spike LR used in April, 2016 against enemy tanks, this time can hit the fortified enemy firing points from a long distance. "We should not pin high hopes on artillery and aviation. Nevertheless, the Azerbaijani command should have 1-2 groups of paratroopers for disembarkation in the mountains in case of emergency. At an altitude of 3000 m above sea level, a maintenance of the vital activity of a group of people is extreme in itself, not to mention active hostilities. The transparency of the air and the low level of the atmosphere distort the perception of the target range. Correction for a strong lateral wind when firing from a machine gun and an RPG means directly opposite actions. A relatively safe route by day can be a way to the death of the whole group at night at -20 degrees Celsius," the Istiglal experts believe.

The front line is strengthened posts and firing points of both parties located on ridges. The distance between them, as a rule, is several hundred meters, which are more difficult to walk in the mountains than several kilometers on the plain. Both Armenian and Azerbaijani posts have been standing here for a long time, so the frontal approaches are perfectly targeted. For this reason, the coordinated secrecy and speed of the Azerbaijani units' operations should be ensured by analyzing a large volume of army intelligence data.

One of the risks in an operation of this kind can be not so much the inability to seize key enemy posts on the peaks of Murovdag and south of the village of Gyulustan, but the inability to hold them if the enemy takes counteroffensive actions. They will have a task for three-day-fighting in the mountains of conversing employed Armenian positions to their own defense or creating new fortified firing points in a very short time in order to change the system of fire interaction and the fire range in their favor.

The ideal moment for such an operation is the middle of autumn - late autumn, when movements in the mountains are still possible, but it will be closed soon so that in case of successful operation the Armenian side would not have enough time for strong strengthening on new lines and for retaliatory actions, the Istiglal analysts write.

The paradoxical nature of this scenario comes primarily from its complexity for the offensive side. But, in spite of all this, Azerbaijan's seizure of marked positions on the peaks of Murov and to the south of Gulustan village in winter by the forces of the mountain shooters and special forces trained in advance for this operation is quite a feasible task. In addition to strategic and operational benefits, a successful operation of this kind would bring the experience and moral and psychological state of the Azerbaijani Armed Forces to a qualitatively new level, becoming a logical continuation of the April 2016 success. There are examples of such operations in recent history, which also have to be studied, primarily of Turkey's and Pakistan's colleagues.

"The appearance of such material and discussions on the possibility of the scenario described above do not mean that it is inevitabe. Nevertheless, even the discourse on this topic will leave a sludge not only in the Azerbaijani, but also in the Armenian information field, " the Istiglal analytical group's analysts believe.

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