Results of a two-day standoff on April 2-5th

Results of a two-day standoff on April 2-5th

I intentionally do not describe the recent aggravation on the fronts as a ‘war’. Azerbaijan and Armenia have in fact been in a state of permanent war for many years. This is just a particular war, a war of attrition, which in the first days of April this year took the character of a 'reconnaissance in force’ in the words of the Armenian veteran and retired general Arkady Ter-Tadevosyan. "The truce to return to the truce", concluded on April 5th, to which the parties comply very tentatively, is very shaky. The negotiations under the mediation of Moscow, too, are only the beginning, and it is not necessary to give an unambiguous name of ‘war’ to the events of these days. At the time of writing of this article the most appropriate description of these events would be quite neutral and unpretentious – ‘The three-day confrontation between April 2nd and 5th 2016'.

According to the official version of the Azerbaijani side, we are talking about the next provocation of the Armenian Armed Forces at a time when the leaders of Azerbaijan and Armenia once again held meetings in the US, where the resolution of the conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh was also discussed. Such provocations have taken place in the past. However, if you put aside the diplomatic rhetoric and propaganda, a number of signs indicate that this time it was the Azerbaijani armed forces that started active hostilities the first.

The first sign is the location of the hostilities. In the north, it was the Terter - Agdere direction; in the south - the Fizuli direction. Both of these trends are kinds of gates, corridors to the mountainous part of Karabakh. The 'Ohanyan’s Line' layered defensive line of the Armenian armed forces in Nagorno-Karabakh was constructed over more than 20 years, but there is the nature of these conditions and the theater of operations, and they cannot be changed, can only increase or decrease the effect, not more. For this reason, these two strategic directions are the weak points of the defense line of the Armenian occupying forces in Nagorno-Karabakh.

Readers should remember that the last serious aggravation on the front (in early August 2014) was most actively manifested in the Agdam and Tovuz directions. Tovuz is on the border of Armenia and Azerbaijan. In case of the active offensive operations of Azerbaijani Armed Forces in this area becomes legally justified military intervention on the side of the CSTO Armenia (i.e. Moscow). Moreover, quite close to the Azerbaijani-Armenian border in this region are transport and energy communications connecting Azerbaijan with Georgia and of international importance, including oil and gas pipelines, which are of a strategic importance for Azerbaijan. In turn, the direction of Aghdam is also very uncomfortable for the Azerbaijani Armed Forces – then in case of active actions of the Armenian side in Azerbaijani there is a serious temptation to attack the empty Aghdam, and the place will be exterminated by artillery and MLRS to the heights of Aghdam controlled by the Armenians. Because neither in Tovuz, nor in Aghdam are the Armed Forces of Azerbaijan not interested in active actions, here it is advantageous for the Armenians to be active.This cannot be said about the Terter - Agdere or ​​Fizuli - Horadiz directions.

The tower of an Armenian T-72 tank was destroyed on the night of April 2nd to 3rd near Hardut. The tank was destroyed by an anti-tank missile. Nobody survived.

The second feature, the limitations involved by the Azerbaijani side forces, and quickly, the third day there was already panic, mobilization of the Armenian command. Again, it is worth recalling the August exacerbation of 2014, when the command of the Armed Forces of Azerbaijan was contracting quickly tanks and artillery units to the Agdam and Tovuz directions from the rear. This time it seems that Baku has prepared everything in advance. Here again it is appropriate to recall the words of Levon Ter-Tadevosyan, mentioned above, that the Azerbaijani Armed Forces involved a very limited range of its features, as well as the statement by the Minister of Defense of Azerbaijan Zakir Hasanov, that the measures taken by the Azerbaijani army were carried out only with the assistance of the forces placed on the front. Indeed, in contrast to the same August 2014, this time the Azerbaijani segment of social networks did not show the presence of photos and videos with columns of troops and equipment that are sent from the rear in the war zone. The Azerbaijani command prepared everything in advance.

We now turn to the question of the goals of the Azerbaijani side. The fact is that the frequent appearance in the reports from the northern direction the names of Talysh and Madagiz could create (and created) for many inhabitants, and even experts, who are not privy to the nuances of the theater of war the feeling that the main area of ​​fighting was just the strategically important Madagiz - Tonashen corridor on the River Terter. In addition, Azerbaijani public psychology was focused on the issue of liberation of the settlements and special attention was drawn to Talysh and Madagiz – everyone was waiting for the fall of Agder.

However, analysis of the activity of the Azerbaijani side in the conflict, and the disposition of the Azerbaijani divisions on the morning of April 5th, indicates that the strategically important area of Madagiz - Tonashen at that moment appeared minor. The Azerbaijani Armed Forces are limited here only with the control of the heights to the north-east, west, and south-west of the village of Talish (both northwest and east Madagiz). While the enemy contractsed new forces to Talysh, which were shot at immediately from the heights, the main task of the Azerbaijani Armed Forces – the seizure of a very important bridgehead to the left of the corridor – had already been completed.

General Ter-Tadevosyan in his interview above mentioned about the reconnaissance, and he was right. It's all about scale. When conducting a reconnaissance battalion, the objectives are often limited to such tasks as identifying the state of the front edge of enemy defenses, the location of his firing points, the capture of prisoners or documents. If reconnaissance in force is conducted at the level of a brigade and higher, and even with the interaction of different types of troops, that from the time of World War II the first priority is to capture strategically important bridgeheads. And only then, when it is necessary to deal a real and devastating blow, will it be applied by these bridgeheads, or under the guise of these bridgeheads.

The Terter-Agdere direction. The territory liberated by the Armenian troops on the morning of April 5th is highlighted in purple. The strategically important bridgehead occupied by the Armed Forces of Azerbaijan is marked by asterisks. This staging area is extremely important in the case of an Azeri attack in the Madagiz-Tonashen corridor (marked with a purple arrow).

If the reader pays attention to the map of the updated front lines in the north, it becomes clear that the foothold occupied by the Azerbaijani Armed Forces on the East Moors (the space between the villages of Gulustan and Talysh to the left of the corridor) on April 2-5th, but not the liberation of the villages of Talysh or Madagiz, was a key objective of the Azerbaijani Armed Forces. The task of seizure of the bridgehead was carried out at the beginning of the second day of the confrontation and all the remaining time the Azerbaijani units simply carried out on the Talysh-Madagiz direction actions aimed at the contraction to Talysh of as many enemy troops and equipment for the purpose of execution from the heights.

The large-scale offensive of the Azerbaijani Armed Forces in the northern direction of the bridgehead would create a threat to the Armenian side for the Talysh ridge, and for the whole group on the Armenian Murovdag - south-west of the village of Gulustan. The enemy cannot pass the Talysh-Madagiz corridor, because thus he opens the way to Agder. And defend it in such a disposition can not be possible – it's a reference boiler.

The Fizuli direction. The territory liberated by the Armenian troops on the morning of April 5th is highlighted in purple. Purple arrows indicate the Fizuli and Araz corridors deep into Karabakh. The asterisks mark areas of the Armenian positions on the heights occupied by the Armed Forces of Azerbaijan.

In the Fizuli direction the Azerbaijani armed forces on the night of April 4-5th (the last night of the confrontation)  fought on the outskirts of Fizuli and Jabrail. However, these battles were fought by the mobile teams of the special units whose task was to explore the state of the enemy's defense depth and to distract it, while the main force did not fulfill the main task. This main task was to capture the strategically important high ground of Lele Tepe and nearby positions of the Armenian Defense line.

As already noted by veterans of the battles of the beginning of the 1990s, and as you can see from the photos taken by the Azerbaijani military reporters after taking the heights, the fighting for Lele Tepe was complicated by the fact that the Armenian positions there were well fortified in engineering terms. Control of this mountain provides security of the Azerbaijani settlements  Ahmedalylar and Gazahlar in Horadiz station and allows viewing of the enemy defense in depth. In addition, the positions captured by the Azerbaijani divisions control the Fizuli-Horadiz road, which is vital for the Armenian Defense. Having lost the position on the Lele-Tepe heights, the Armenian side has now lost the opportunity to carry out the rapid transfer of units from flank to flank in the case of a large-scale Azerbaijani attack – an important segment of the road is now under the control of the Armed Forces of Azerbaijan.

April 5th. The Azerbaijani flag at the height Lele-Tepe

By the way, about the scales. On the first day of the contradiction it was not entirely clear, but in the beginning of the morning of April 5th it became clear that the Azerbaijani command had deployed forces only of its two motorized infantry brigades in this operation, which were attached to the individual units of the mountain shooters and special purpose. They were supported by two dispersed divisions of artillery and MLRS in each of the areas. The artillery and MLRS ‘worked’ mainly on the front edge of the enemy defenses, as well as for individual major infrastructure objects (inherited course and settlements) to a depth of 10 km. Strategic missile and artillery preparations were not carried out before the offensive, as was pointed out by the Armenian General Ter-Tadevosyan.

In this operation, the Azeri tanks were working in platoons, actually serving as a mobile artillery, covering the actions of the infantry. This was due to the small number of tanks involved on the Azerbaijani side, and by the terrain – this is not Kursk or Orel, and tank wedges in the style of 1943 are not particularly useful.

The Azerbaijani tank crews showed themselves brilliantly according to all indicators. According to the official information of the Azerbaijani side, in three days of fighting only one Azerbaijani tank was damaged (on a mine). The Armenian side claims that they destroyed 25 Azerbaijani tanks, but there is no evidence of this, even attempts to prove, not even a photo or video has been uploaded to somehow try to justify this figure (in a similar way in August 2014, the Armenian side alleged ‘burned columns of Azerbaijani tanks’).

Tank commander Hikmet Ganiev. On April 2-5th in the fighting in the village of the Madagiz district two enemy tanks with their crews and five units of other equipment were destroyed.

But it should be noted that a significant volume of the losses (half or more) of the enemy armored vehicles was incurred not by the Azeri tanks and the infantry of Azerbaijan, but by the latest Israeli anti-tank missile systems ‘Spike-LR’. Only six of the enemy’s T-72 tanks were destroyed by these weapons in a single day on April 3rd near the village of Talysh. On the night of April 2- 3rd during the battle at Hadrut, eleven enemy tanks and infantry fighting vehicles were destroyed. The Azerbaijani tanks destroyed only two cars, nine units were destroyed by infantry, again, by using the Spike-LR anti-tank missile systems.

With full confidence we can say that the three-day standoff on April 2-5th 2016 for the Azerbaijani Armed Forces was primarily a war of artillery and special forces. Regarding the activities of artillery, I already wrote above that separately we should note the actions of the special units. Even now, after the armistice, it is clear that in the early hours of operations the main burden fell on them. However, we would like the command to use more carefully these valuable personnel, among whom there was a fairly high level of losses (especially in the area of ​​Talysh and Madagiz), in the future. However, given the nature of modern warfare and the local theater of war, Azerbaijan's special forces demonstrated two essential qualities for this category of troops. The first is a high level of interaction with other branches of the military, especially with the artillery battalions; they demonstrated a good level of adjustment of the artillery and MLRS, including on related subjects located behind the enemy lines (the use of drones to correct the location is not always the best option). Secondly, the ability to perform tasks independently, in the depths of the enemy's defense (20 km). This was demonstrated on the latest confrontation night (on the night of  April 4-5th), when part of the Azeri special forces acted on the outskirts of Fizuli and Jabrail.

April the 7th. Azerbaijani soldiers and officers, together with singers and journalists in the occupied Armenian positions at Lele-Tepe.

It is unclear why it turned out that on the first day of fighting the Azerbaijani command used attack helicopters. Firstly, the Azerbaijani side well knows that the Armenian armed forces' air defense is not the weakest point of the enemy. Secondly, judging by the evidence provided by the Armenian side, the helicopter was shot down by the forces of the infantry trenches, RPG, from a distance of about 50 meters. This reflects not so much pride, as much the suicidal actions of the crew, or the orders received by them. As a result, the Azerbaijani Air Forces lost not only  expensive equipment, but also three officers, training of whom took years.

We also note that on the same morning of April 2nd, the enemy fire damaged another helicopter of the Azerbaijani Air Force, which was able to return to base (the Armenian side stated that the helicopter had been shot down, but evidence was not provided). Accordingly, it is necessary to make conclusions. With such opportunities, the Azerbaijani artillery (did not use even 10 percent of their capacity), the use of the Air Forces, especially in this kind of limited operation, was probably totally unjustified.

The wreckage of the destroyed Azeri Mi-24 Air Force of Azerbaijan. The entire crew (three people) died.

These three days of fighting brought surprises as well. All these years the Azerbaijani command kept secret the presence of such means in the arsenal of the armed forces, the existence of which was not evident to many senior Azerbaijani military. As an example we can cite the so-called ‘Kamikaze Drones’, or the Harop unmanned aerial vehicles produced by the Israeli Airspace Industrial Company (IAI). The use of this tool was successfully tested, too – the bus with Armenian volunteers from the Syunik region, going to the front, never reached its destination. It was destroyed with the help of a Harop.

About losses. According to the situation at the beginning of April 5th, the total losses of Armenian soldiers (killed and wounded) were 158 (29 killed, 28 missing, 101 injured). This is the official data. It is known that the Armenian side suffered losses after the truce, at least it was reported that three Armenian soldiers were killed on April 6-8th. But on April 8th new information was posted on the official website of the Press Secretary of the Ministry of Defense of Armenia, Artsrun Hovhannisyan, that the total number of losses of the Armenian side on April 2-8th was 44 soldiers killed. And here the confusion begins. Because the difference in numbers between 29 + 3 (= 32, see above ) and 44 is not clear. It is believed that this number does not include the five or seven killed by the Armenian volunteers. In this case the number of killed from the 2nd to the 5th is 39, not 44. It appears that someone seriously injured died, or someone who was considered missing was found, or simply they knew the exact number and concealed it.

Speaking about the missing Armenian persons. I think that most of these 28 missing persons are Armenian soldiers and officers, whose bodies were left at positions occupied by Azerbaijani units. The Red Cross has already started its work, the Azerbaijani side has not reported about captives, and with a probability of 99.9% it can be considered that, according to the official data, the number of killed from the Armenian side will soon reach a minimum of 72 people (44 + 28), according to the official Armenian data only. This is if there are no new figures, such as "deaths in a ravine in the Ararat region", etc. It is not the Rzhevskij cape, not the Volkhovsky corridor to have their own alive ‘missing in the woods’ on their own territory. These 28 people were killed.

And further. The Armenian side, or rather the press service of the Ministry of Defense of Armenia, always has a good ‘statistical loophole’. They specify only the losses of the troops located on the territory of Armenia. They are not responsible for the Self-Defense Army of the NKR. You should reach your own conclusions.

This was the data officially recognized by the Armenian side. According to the Azerbaijani command, during the fighting on April 2 - 5th the Armenian side lost about 200 people dead and more than 500 wounded. 14 destroyed Armenian tanks, four infantry fighting vehicles, 17 artillery pieces and multiple rocket launcher systems, up to 20 light armored vehicles, more than 10 trucks and cars must be added to that. Reliable confirmation of the Armenians is limited to video frames of the remains of the downed helicopter and photos of the Azerbaijani commandos killed in the area of ​​Talish - Madagiz. The Azerbaijani side has provided an abundance of authentic photographic and video evidence of the destruction not only of the enemy’s vehicles, but also a command post near the village of Madagiz. As a result of the strike, a group of senior Armenian officers, including one general, were eliminated. Despite compelling footage, the Armenian side at the time of writing of this article, had not confirmed the loss of its senior officers.

According to official numbers, in the fighting on April 2-5th the Azerbaijani side lost 31 people, one Mi-24 helicopter and one tank (damaged by a mine). The number of wounded varies, it is no more than 200 people. The Armenian side claims unreal figures of 300 dead and nearly 1000 wounded Azerbaijani soldiers. These figures are confirmed only by a few photographs of the Azerbaijani commandos killed and the remains of a downed helicopter. Only one Azerbaijani opposition source spoke about 80 Azerbaijani soldiers and officers killed. Later by a random check it turned out, that by a mistake or by intention, not only the victims, but also wounded were included on this list. But even if this figure had been true, it would be almost equal to the Armenian official figures on the dead and missing (which continues to grow). This means that the most depressing and unofficial estimates of the Azerbaijani side of the losses in manpower in this case would be almost equal to the most optimistic official Armenian-retouched numbers (see above).

And who then won after these three days, despite the fact that the Armenian side lost important sections of the front, and Azerbaijan was the advancing side with limited forces in the unfavorable conditions of the theater of war?

In addition, it was the Armenian frontline hospitals were overcrowded and  the wounded were taken to Yerevan, this was not observed on the Azerbaijani side. And it was the Armenian side in panic that started to call 50-year-old veterans to the frontline, while Azerbaijan engaged a very limited contingent of its advanced units in the fighting – only two reinforced motorized rifle brigades were operating. This fact cannot be hidden from the world's leading powers, which carry out permanent reconnaissance from satellites on all the hot spots of the world, including over Nagorno-Karabakh.

In the battles on April 2-5th 2016 the Azerbaijani Armed Forces carried out their tasks with limited forces. The tasks such as those described above were very serious. In addition, due to a number of political factors, the Azeri commanders had to take into account the factor of time. They had to seize control of bridgeheads and apply the most severe damage to personnel and equipment of the enemy as soon as possible. The army was given just three days (the raising of the Moscow ‘duty’ brigade in Dagestan by alarm can be regarded as the end point). And the army did it in three days. According to official figures, the raising of the Moscow ‘duty’ brigade in Dagestan by alarm suffered losses of at least twice as many men, and is incomparably higher (14 to 1 tanks, 17 pieces of artillery and MLRS to 0!) in technology. But the Azerbaijani soldiers and officers stormed a plain line of defense on the heights which had been constructed over 20 years! The enemy crossed the most important staging areas in the strategic plan, which in case of a really serious and large-scale Azerbaijani attack will crush the entire defensive line of the Armenian Armed Forces in Nagorno-Karabakh. In these parts of the front, the Azerbaijani and Armenian units are equal now, and the enemy lost the advantage of commanding the heights, and thus during a relatively quiet time the number of losses will be less respectively.

In addition, the enemy, more than 20 years living with a ‘syndrome of the winner’ and believing in that it was ‘chosen by God’, ‘exclusive’ and ‘invincibile’, and that a real war would never start, finally understood that the war will start for sure ... If Nagorno-Karabakh will continue to be under Armenian occupation. And Azerbaijani soldiers and officers, and in general all of Azerbaijani society, has since 1994 lived in a state of inferiority complex and under the burden of responsibility for ancestral lands lost in 1994, felt like the winners. The Armenian heights and trenches can be taken easily. The Armenian tanks can easily be blown up. The Armenian commanders can be killed in large numbers. We are stronger, we are better, we have been proceeding towards this for more than 20 years. Nagorno-Karabakh will certainly be returned. By hook or by crook. Our army learned to fight, and do this very well. This is not ‘300 meters’ – take a ruler and measure. The distance from Lele-Tepe to the old Azerbaijani positions is more than 2 km, pitted with trenches.

Therefore, whatever is written on the Internet, the biting nails and biting elbows Armenian propagators of the school of the Ptghni village, no matter what IGIL militants are invented by Seyran Ohanyan, no matter what ‘Russian and Turkish instructors’ are painted by Igor Muradyan and Richard Kirakosyan – this is an important and long-awaited victory of the Azerbaijani Armed Forces. Now this is just a win. But victory is still ahead.