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Chief of Staff Testifies Before War Commission
Civil Georgia, Tbilisi / 29 Oct.'08 / 18:26

Zaza Gogava, chief of staff of the Georgian armed forces, testified before the parliamentary commission studying the August war on October 28.

The public part of the testimony, which was aired live by the public TV’s second channel, lasted for up to three hours and was the longest hearing held so far by the commission.

Below are key points of his testimony:

  • Military and foreign intelligence information coming before August was not comprehensive enough to indicate that such a large-scale Russian military intervention was expected;
  • We were not expecting what started on August 9 – a full-scale military intervention with the goal to take over the capital city, Tbilisi. [Officials who have already testified before the commission and Gogava also, divided the Russian military intervention into two phases – the first one from early August 7 to August 9 and the second one starting from August 9, when they said Russia started, “full-scale aggression”].
  • In 2005 the intelligence unit in the Ministry of Defense was canceled, which created problems; but now we are trying to develop this system and we are working on the matter together with our foreign partners; 
  • Not a single plan existed in the joint staff is about carrying out assault operation against Georgia’s two historic parts;
  • When asked if Georgia overestimated its army’s capabilities, Gogava responded:  A military serviceman would make a mistake if he underestimates the enemy;
  • Reserve forces are the weak side of the armed forces; this part of the armed forces have never existed before and the attempt was to establish the reserve troops; I do not shun away the responsibility and can say that the existing system of reserve troops has failed; the problem was in management and command of the reserve troops, which was the fault of the joint staff; we are now working on the new concept of the reserve forces; in a month we expect this new concept to be ready and it will be submitted to the parliament for discussion;
  • When he was asked who ordered him to launch the military operations, Gogava responded: before the order is issued on launch of the military operations, there are five levels of combat readiness; on August 7 at 2pm with the agreement of the Commander-in-Chief [President Saakashvili], readiness number one was announced – I will specify it at the closed-door session what ‘the readiness number one’ means;
  • On August 7, 2008 at 11:35pm, I have received a phone call on the secured line from the Commander-in-Chief. He told me that developments went beyond all the limits and gave me three orders: 1. Stop all type of military coming into Georgia from Russia; 2. Suppress firing positions from where the Georgian peacekeepers and interior ministry’s posts, as well as the Georgian villages were fired constantly; 3. Protect interests and security of the civilian population while implementing these orders;
  • At 2pm when we announced readiness number one we possessed unconfirmed information – we had not time for doubting about that information – that there were Russian forces in the Roki Tunnel. This information was provided by the Interior Ministry’s counter-intelligence service. This information was the reason why we announced the readiness number one.
  • It was a mobile defense operation; hence initially during the first stage of the operation attack on Tskhinvali was not planned; there was no order to attack Tskhinvali; in the course of further developments the commander-in-chief was taking decisions based on our recommendations;
  • At certain point it became necessary to go into Tskhinvali; there was no way than going into Tskhinvali;
  • I can state with full responsibility that Tskhinvali was under the control of the Georgian forces; why it became needed? As I told you initially such a move was not envisaged; there were two reasons behind going into Tskhinvali: the first – all the posts of the interior ministry around Tskhinvali and in vicinity of Tskhinvali were under intensive fire, including from the artillery weapons fire and the only way to secure those posts was to move fire line forward; it was needed to neutralize firing positions inside Tskhinvali, including those firing positions, which were so close to the Russian peacekeepers’ headquarters; the second reason: you know that there are several Georgian villages in the north of Tskhinvali – evacuation of people from those villages was not possible only through the alternative road, which is by-passing Tskhinvali; so based on combination of these two factors it was planned [to move into Tskhinvali]; I will tell you about the difficulties that we have faced during the implementation of this plan at the closed-door session;
  • I will not agree with the assumption that Tskhinvali was an empty town; there were civilians in the town and there were a large number of so called town defenders;
  • Air strikes on Tskhinvali were carried out by the Russian air forces against the Georgian forces. There was no Georgia aircraft over Tskhinvali and no bomb was dropped by the Georgian aircraft on Tskhinvali; the Georgian aircraft’s target was only the Gupta bridge [linking northern part of South Ossetia to its southern part where Tskhinvali is located];
  • The Georgian forces used precision targeting ground weapons only against several administrative buildings, where headquarters of militias were located; these strikes did not cause any destruction of civilians’ houses;
  • Battle tanks were also used [in combat operations in Tskhinvali] targeting mainly those administrative buildings and some other targets, where we knew that militias were based; later I can provide you with an exact list of our targets in Tskhinvali;
  • The Georgian troops retreated from Tskhinvali on August 10; largest casualties among the Georgian military were inflicted at the immediate vicinity of Tskhinvali and not inside Tskhinvali; Gogava said that these casualties were mainly triggered as a result of Russia’s air strikes; he also said that there were fierce street fighting taking place inside Tskhinvali;
  • I have ordered to set up operations headquarters in Gori; that decision can be argued and I am ready for debates on that matter with the military experts. From August 8 I joined the headquarters in Gori. So from August 8 command of the operation was no longer carried out from Tbilisi. I can tell you about the problems related with this matter at the closed-door session.
  • When we announced readiness, I ordered to set up operative headquarters in the town of Gori – that might be arguable decision; from August 8 the command of the operation was not carried out from Tbilisi, it was from Gori; I will tell you reasons at the closed-door session;
  • Mamia Balakhadze, who at that time was the commander of the land forces, was the chief of operations on the ground in the military theater; I was the commander of the entire operations;
  • Gogava said he would speak about which military units were operating in and around Tskhinvali at the closed-door session;
  • Gogava denied widespread allegations that civilian officials, including Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava, were involved in giving orders to the military. Gogava said: I want to state with full responsibility, that when I was in the operations headquarters, I saw no civilian officials, not even Defense Minister [Davit Kezerashvili] or Interior Minister [Vano Merabishvili]. Although I was often seen together with these officials, we were never together in the operations headquarters.
  • Gogava also denied allegations that there were problems in supplying soldiers on the frontline with medicine and water. He, however, said: Against the background of large-scale military aggression, when you have eight or ten hours for military planning and in parallel re-deployment and sending of troops is ongoing [to the conflict area], of course there might be some flaws;  
  • Tbilisi Mayor Gigi Ugulava’s statement on the ceasefire and on the opening of a humanitarian corridor was agreed with the military command and it did not create any problems to the military operations; that statement was agreed with the political leadership, the Command-in-Chief;
  • Not a single Georgian aircraft was shot down or damaged in combat;
  • Responding to widespread allegations about communication problems between ground forces and commanders, as well as a failure of the communications systems, Gogava said: Usually the major problems during combat operations are related to communications;
  • There really were problems in communications and it was, to some extent, related to the [mountainous] landscape of the area in question;
  • We contracted [U.S. defense communications and information technology company] Harris Corp. in late 2006 to supply us with communications systems; we had a problem with time; these systems need well-trained personnel and we regularly send our personnel to the U.S. for training in the use of these communications systems; these systems were not fully incorporated because of a lack of time;
  • M4 assault rifles were left in the Senaki base [these rifles were seized by Russian troops after they took over the base], because M4s were not used in combat operations, because not all the units were armed with this rifle; so I gave orders to use rifles better known to the Georgian army [Kalashnikov assault rifles]; Gogava said that the loss of the rifles was painful;
  • I will give you detailed data on damage inflicted on the Georgian armed forces at the closed-door session;
  • Two modernized T-72 battle tanks were seized by Russian troops at the Senaki base;
  • At the closed-door session I can tell you what happened to other armaments seized by the Russians at the Senaki base [Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili said on October 23 that the Russians had also seized at the Senaki base two BUK - NATO specification SA-11 Gadfly - ground-to-air air defense systems. Merabishvili said that both were destroyed by Georgian police at Zugdidi and Khamiskuri as the Russians were transporting them from Senaki apparently to Abkhazia];
  • Starting from August 9 – a major air strike took place early on August 9 with the involvement of two regiments of the Russian air force; on August 10 a full-scale Russian attack was already in progress on all fronts; we failed to stop them at Gupta; after crossing Gupta [bridge] the Russian forces were able to widen their offensive in all directions in South Ossetia and after that the Georgian armed forces were at a disadvantage; from that point on, the Georgian armed forces started retreating from Tskhinvali and moving south;
  • Commander of the land forces Mamia Balakhadze was in charge of the retreat; I will give you the details of the retreat operation at the closed-door session;
  • There were some flaws during the retreat operation, but no fatal ones;
  • The Russians say four of their aircraft were downed in Georgia; but I maintain we shot down 19 Russian aircraft, including one Tu-22 strategic bomber; we have evidence of that;
  • The Georgian soldiers have special guidelines and undergo training on how to treat the civilian population; there were no cases of Georgian soldiers mistreating the local ethnic Ossetian population;
  • 168 servicemen of the Georgian armed forces died in the conflict; 20 of them are still unknown soldiers, we are still waiting on DNA test results to identify them;
  • Criminal charges have been brought against 170 servicemen for going AWOL; criminal charges for desertion against 23 servicemen, including 15 officers, rumors about mass persecution of servicemen for desertion are disinformation;
  • In accordance with the law, the border police automatically go under the subordination of the Defense Ministry; as far as the Interior Ministry’s other units are concerned, here I have a decree by the Interior Minister, according to which Interior Ministry units came under the command of the joint staff of the armed forces;
  • Of course joint command of the combined forces [of the Defense Ministry and Interior Ministry] is difficult; there is speculation that there was miscommunication and no coordination between the various units, which even grew into clashes between them; nothing of the sort happened; although there were some problems in the command of joint forces, no serious ones.
  • Gogava said that a series of staff changes had been made after the August war – heads of J1, J5, J6 have been replaced, as well as two deputies of the chief of staff; commander of land forces and commander of the national guard; Although he said that it was not directly linked with the August war, he also added that these changes were not planned prior to the war; Gogava said that none of the officials replaced were dismissed from the armed forces and some of them were assigned to other positions; they were replaced not because they were to blame for something, Gogava said. “All responsibility is mine and this responsibility will not be redirected from me to others,” he added.
  • There were no Ministry of Defense units in upper Kodori Gorge [Georgia says that it had only Interior Ministry forces in the gorge];

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