August 31, 2005

The Logistical Nightmare at School No. 1

"Every agency wants to be first in line for the medals," he said,
"and last in line to take responsibility for the failures."
- Stanislav Kesayev

NYT: For Russians, Wounds Linger in School Siege.
[...] Most victims died in [the] last hours. But the final chaos was of a type: from the beginning the Russian response was checkered with mistakes.

In the opening hours the officials insisted there were only about 350 hostages, an error that immediately poisoned relations with Beslan's residents, who accused their political leaders of incompetence.

It may have placed hostages in danger, too. Terrorists were listening to the news on radios. Some taunted hostages with the official count. "One of them said, 'Russia says there are only 300 of you here,' " said Kazbek Misikov, who survived the siege with his wife and two sons. " 'Maybe we should kill enough of you to get down to that number.' "

Throughout those days, a tactical understanding of the crisis seemed to elude the authorities. Beslan filled with troops from the police, the Russian Army, the Interior Ministry and Russia's domestic security service, the F.S.B., which sent elite commandos.

But there was little coordination. Four different headquarters were working at once, Mr. Kesayev said. He added, "To this day we do not know who was in actual command."

The authorities also never set up an effective cordon, a lapse many residents believe allowed the escape of some terrorists, whose existence Russia does not acknowledge. The cordon they did make was within 250 yards of the school - inside the range of the terrorists' grenade launchers. Throughout the siege grenades landed occasionally near waiting relatives.

Some oversights were astonishing, the families said. On Sept. 3, the commandos left Beslan to rehearse tactics in another village. The ingredients for disaster were in place.

The explosions boomed minutes after 1 p.m. on Sept. 3. Although the blasts marked perhaps the siege's most important moment, instantly turning the standoff into a seemingly spontaneous battle, what caused them remains in dispute.

[...] Outside, the soldiers and the police opened fire. Confusion reigned, said Lt. Col. Elbrus Nogayev, a police supervisor whose wife and daughter died in the school. "I heard a command saying, 'Stop shooting! Stop shooting!' while other soldiers' radios said, 'Attack!' " he said.

Moreover, the F.S.B. commandos needed 20 or 25 minutes to return, Mr. Kesayev said, and went into action in a disorganized fashion. "I watched them running to the school through the gardens, putting on vests as they ran," he said.

More signs of poor planning emerged. Not enough ambulances had been readied, and many injured hostages traveled to hospitals in private cars, without medical help.

How could this happen?

Were there too many egos in camouflage? Too many would-be heroes?

Where is the culpability in all this mess? Who will come out amidst this shroud of Soviet-esque secrecy and own up here? Or was this all just the result of an emotional breakdown on behalf of the 'leadership" charged with handling this crisis?

Too many innocents died to just let this go.

The people of Beslan deserve the truth.

Posted by Kyer at August 31, 2005 12:49 PM | TrackBack