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A rain of bombs destroyed and resounded in Ghouta Oriental for more than a week.
Children, the elderly, wounded men and women, desolate parents with corpses in their arms, bodies piled up in bloody bags, rubble and desolation everywhere.
They are the images that multiply in what remains of the suburb controlled by opponents in the outskirts of Damascus , the capital of Syria, after the air strike by forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad.
The scenes of the last week are part of an offensive that began the troops of the Syrian ruler earlier this year to retake control of the area, in the midst of the internal conflict that already reaches its seventh year.
The balance of the bombings already exceeds 500 dead , according to estimates of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, and the United Nations has described the chaos that takes place there as “a hell on Earth.”
The UN Security Council, in fact, on Sunday called for the creation of a humanitarian corridor to help the victims and Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered on Monday to respect a truce of five hours a day for these purposes.
But beyond the bombings and the channel to help the victims, what is happening at the moment in Ghouta Oriental has resonated in the memory of some for two similar events: the bomb storms that fell two years ago on Aleppo and, almost two decades, on the capital of Chechnya, Gronzi.
And, according to experts on military issues consulted by BBC World, what is happening now outside Damascus is the result of a similar strategy designed by Vladimir Putin’s generals during the takeover of Grozny in 1999.
“What we are seeing is a strategy used by Russian troops during the Chechen war,” explains Richard Weitz, director of the Center for Military-Political Analysis of the Hudson Institute, a think tank for weapons and strategic studies based in Washington.
In the world of military analysis it is also known as “Grozny doctrine”, by the name of the city where it was first implemented.
“It is a strategy consisting of heavy bombings that seek to destroy as much as possible, cause the greatest damage to the reach of the bombs, to terrorize the civilian population, force them to try to flee, and then attack the forces by land. enemies that remain in the field, “he explains.
But how did this doctrine emerge and how is its use explained in the Syrian conflict?
An “extreme” military strategy
James Hess, a professor at the School of Security and Global Affairs of the American Military University, explains to BBC Mundo that the strategy had an interesting evolution, since it was born as part of the plan to prepare the battlefield before the land invasion.
“It had its roots in the Soviet experience in Afghanistan, the Soviet Mil Mi-24 (large attack helicopter) was used to locate the Mujahideen insurgents, which succeeded until the introduction of the US Stinger missiles, which they were used to combat the armed recognition of Mi-24, “he says.
From then on, according to the specialist, the strategy became less intelligence-based and more force-oriented with air strikes and artillery preparations .
According to Weitz, the conflict between Russians and Chechens (first in 1994 and then in 1999) later became one of the first occasions when a modern military force fought the insurgents in a large city.
The urban area, he says, gave the Chechens shelter, resources, interior lines and opportunities to change their positions and perform covert movements without being detected by Russian troops.
However, the Moscow generals retook in 1999 a strategy that had already been used in another context during the Second World War: to raze the city with bombings and then facilitate the entry of ground troops and heavy artillery.
They have their historical background, he explains, in what in the world conflict was known as saturation or carpet bombing , and that was also used during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), when the German airplanes of the Condor Legion bombed the populations of Durango and Guernica.
According to the analyst, with the Grozni strategy, the bombings generally force the creation of a humanitarian channel and, without the civilian population in the city, it is easier to fight the enemy troops and recover or take the territories.
After the bombing offensive in the Chechen capital, thousands of people managed to escape from the city and another indeterminate number was buried under the rubble of the capital, which was described by the United Nations as “the largest city in ruins of the planet.”
Given the consequences of this strategy, mainly due to the high number of civilians killed, the absence of a specific military target and the total destruction in which it leaves the sites where it has been practiced has led some experts to describe it as a “crime of war”.
The strategy, however, had such an impact that, according to a document published in 1999 by the Pentagon, the United States Army subsequently made a revision of its protocols on how to use air power in support of ground forces.
But how did this strategy reach the Syrian conflict and how is it different from that used in Grozny?
According to the specialist of the Hudson Institute, it is not the first time that Syrian troops use this technique during the long internal conflict that has ravaged the Middle East since 2012.
In his opinion, its use comes from the military aid and assistance given by Moscow to Damascus during the conflict and the similarities of these urban centers with Grozny itself (large urban centers used as refuge by rebel groups).
The expert explains that a similar situation was experienced at the end of the battle of Aleppo in 2016, when the planes of the Syrian and Russian governments bombed the largest city in the country to force the departure of the civilian population and then go for the last Rebel strongholds.
In fact, the name of the strategy, which later became popular among military experts, came from a speech by the then Secretary of State of the United States , John Kerry, to refer to the joint bombings against Aleppo.
“Obviously, Russia has decided to bomb indiscriminately and terrorize every human being and not just focus on the fight against the enemy, this is what I call Grozny strategy,” said then who was the leader of US diplomacy between 2013 and 2017.
And, according to Weitz, this was the first time that Syria took up the military doctrine used by Russia more than a decade earlier.
“What they did in Aleppo was to attack first with aerial bombardment, accept the ceasefire, go attack other flanks and then return to Aleppo until it collapses, and I think that is a little bit what they are looking for in Ghouta: a cessation to the fire to then attack any other rebel focus, “he says.
However, he considers that, although the strategy of the bombing is the same as that used in the capital of Chechnya, there are also notable differences.
“It’s a bit different: in the attack on Grozny the Russians used artillery and missiles, while here they are mostly airstrikes,” Another point is that the Russian army is not directly involved on this occasion, but is basically supporting the Syrian government “he argues.
Jess notes that other of the differences is that in the conflict in Gouta there are several groups with varied interests, ranging from Sunni separatists, militants of the self-styled Islamic State, Kurds and dissident groups.
“In addition, East Gouta is really a suburb of Damascus, not a separate region like Grozny,” he adds.
Nonetheless, Weitz points out that the basic idea is the same: “They want to force civilians to flee the opposition zones and then put an end to the rebels that remain and take the territories, only now the strategy is more sophisticated than in Grozny” , Add.
However, the specialist clarifies that what this strategy seeks with humanitarian corridors or eventual ceasefires is not a peace treaty, but to restart the attack at its convenience.
“It’s a bit of concentrating your forces with the enemy at the same time, concentrating your offensive in one point and then moving it towards another,” he says.