The Edge of theWorld
The Daily Telegraph's correspondent reports from Russia's war in Chechnya "a campaign so secret it is officially no longer being fought". And it is being fought by former Chechnyan rebels for the Kremlin.
The rebels have been stripped of much of their support base, while the president now sends in Chechen proxies to fight his war for him. Their faces wizened from over a decade in the battlefield, the Eastern Battalion fighters are a much tougher proposition for the rebels than the poorly equipped, unmotivated and corrupt Russian soldiers - who often used to sell their weapons to the enemy - that they fight alongside.
Neither side appears to have heard of the Geneva Convention on a battlefield where the best anyone seems to hope for is a relatively quick death.
"Allahu Akhbar [God is great]," shouted Magomet as his radio crackled into life. "We are coming under fire in this area all the time. There are a lot of bad guys around here - this is Wahabi Central," he said, referring to the Islamists who have long fought in the conflict and follow the puritanical Wahabi strain of Sunni Islam.
We reached a bend in the river and before us lay the first signs of success: the corpses of four rebels scattered across the river bank. Two appeared to have been finished off with a bullet to the back of the head. A third had blown himself up with his own grenade in an attempt to avoid capture.
The Yamadayevtsi, who often like to severe the heads of their dead victims, have a brutal reputation when it comes to prisoners. Human rights activists say captive rebels, as well as innocent civilians who run foul of the Eastern Battalion, are frequently sexually abused and then tortured to death. Yamadayev insists that the rebels have to be dealt with uncompromisingly.
I have often wondered how it was possible to fight a "secret war". Wasn't that a contradiction in terms? Maybe that's just a synonym for wars to which the press don't devote many column inches to. There are a number of "secret wars" raging in the world today. The Congo, Darfur, Waziristan, the Horn of Africa, to name a few.
In those unfortunate localities, the obviousness of the conflict is probably all too evident. But the real sense in which modern wars are "secret" lies in whether anyone is willing to make a political issue out of them. The real test of secrecy is "has the man on the street in London heard of it?" David Hicks, a terrorist suspect who just pleaded guilty in Guantanamo Bay, will get play because he is Australian. The two dead men in the Chechnyan river "finished off" with a bullet in the head will probably be forever nameless. Known but to God. Or Vladimir Putin.