|Author: Aleksandre Kvakhadze
On 22 December 2017, a special operation was organized against a small armed group at an apartment located on Gabriel Salosi Street. Following a clash lasting several hours, the Georgian Special Forces killed the leader of this armed group, IS field commander, Ahmed Chataev, and his two companions, Ibrahim Adashev and Aslanbeg Soltahmadov. The fourth member of the group, Shoaip Borziev, was arrested before the beginning of the skirmish. A month later, on 26 December, the Counter Terrorism Department apprehended four alleged members of Mr. Chataev’s group with a fifth heavily injured and later succumbing to his injuries from the force used by the Georgian Special Forces. Later, owing to an alleged association with this group, two individuals were arrested in Georgia and one in Turkey.
As noted above, the individual who was wounded and died during the special operation was a resident of the Pankisi Gorge, Tamerlan Machalikashvili. According to the version of the information given by the authorities, Mr. Machalikashvili was collaborating with Ahmed Chataev’s group and was holding a hand grenade during the attempt to arrest him which caused the use of force. However, Mr. Machalikashvili’s family, his lawsuits and a group of NGOs all express skepticism towards the official version. The ombudsman also raises the question of a potential misuse of force by Georgian law enforcement.6 The death of Tamerlan Machalikashvili has led to strong grievances and protests in the Pankisi Gorge.
The incident with Ahmed Chataev’s group and its further developments have revealed several problematic issues in Georgia’s national security. Namely:
1. Problem of Border Defense
The clash with Ahmed Chataev’s group has demonstrated severe gaps in the defense of the country’s borders. According to the State Security Service of Georgia, Mr. Chataev’s accomplices facilitated his transportation to Georgia’s border and then assisted him in illegally entering the country through the Kirnati-Maradidu section of the Georgian-Turkish border. The official version suggests that the mountainous and forested sections of Georgian borders are poorly controlled. The loopholes in border defense create a fertile environment for a variety of illicit activities. Aside from militant groups, smugglers, human traffickers, drug cartels and foreign intelligence also could benefit from these routes. It is known, that Turkish-Georgian border has better infrastructure compared to the borders between Georgia and its other neighbors, which increases the risk of illegal penetration. Moreover, the demarcation of state borders between Georgia and its neighboring countries, except Turkey, is still problematic.
2. Available Weapons and Explosives
The skirmish on Gabriel Salosi Street has shown that Ahmed Chataev’s group possessed enough weapons and explosives for a long-standing resistance against the Georgian Special Forces. The information obtained by the media lists more than 1,000 bullets and tens of optical devicesconfiscated during the special operation. In addition, military radios, backpacks, binoculars and bullets were found in a hiding place near Tbilisi.9 According to the State Security Service, Mr. Chataev blew himself up during the clash which shows that the group also possessed explosives. This all suggests that these persons, who illegally entered Georgia, were able to obtain a large amount of weapons. Georgian security services did not reveal information on the origin of these weapons. Theoretically, the weapons could have been obtained abroad or from the occupied territories. Illegal weapons on Georgia’s controlled territories could be available for extremist organizations as well as organized crime groups.
3. Operational Failure
4. Special Operation
The positive sides of the operation could be considered as the lack of casualties or hostages among civilians and the detention of one of the group members. However, the special operation raises several questions. How effective were the negotiations with the armed group? Was the death of the law enforcement officer avoidable? Did the group attempt to use a human shield and take hostages? Did someone from Ahmed Chataev’s group manage to escape from the place of the operation as was reported in the media?17 Currently, additional information on the incident is classified which makes it impossible to answer these questions.
5. Public Relations
6. Transit of Militants from Syria to the North Caucasus
All rights reserved and belong to Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form, including electronic and mechanical, without the prior written permission of the publisher. The opinions and conclusions expressed are those of the author/s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Georgian Foundation for Strategic and International Studies.