Russian Jets Bombard Rebels
KOMSOMOLSKOYE, Russia (AP) _ Russian artillery and warplanes today bombarded a village in southern Chechnya where 700 rebels are fiercely resisting attempts to drive them out.
Russian forces have been striking the village of Komsomolskoye around the clock in an intense assault to push out rebels who seized the settlement over the weekend.
The regional military commander said 700 rebels were holed up in the village but that Russian forces were preparing to oust them.
The seizure of Komsomolskoye, on the edge of Chechnya’s southern mountains, undermined Russian claims to have all but defeated the rebels.
Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev had said Tuesday that up to 1,000 rebels were believed to be holed up around in and around Komsomolskoye, and that up to 2,500 are elsewhere in the republic.
About 1,000 Komsomolskoye residents who fled the bombing and spent the night in a nearby field stood on a highway waving white scraps of cloth and chanting ``stop the bombing″ as the warplanes flew over.
Russian warplanes and helicopters flew 89 sorties over the past 24 hours, the federal military headquarters told the Interfax news agency. The airstrikes targeted rebel positions in the Argun and Vedeno gorges and the villages of Komsomolskoye, Ulus-Kert and Selmentauzen.
One airstrike destroyed an airplane near Goluboye Lake that was being prepared to take rebel leaders out of Chechnya, the military headquarters said, according to Interfax.
Russia hopes to keep the rebels from breaking out of the mountains into the Russian-controlled flatlands, but the attack on Komsomolskoye and an ambush of Russian troops last week in Chechnya’s capital, Grozny, showed Russian forces are vulnerable.
Dozens of Russian soldiers have been killed and wounded during the past week in rebel attacks.
Russia began its ground campaign in Chechnya in September to fight Islamic rebels who attacked the neighboring republic of Dagestan in August. Moscow also blames the rebels for apartment bombings in Moscow and two other Russian cities that killed about 300 people.
On the Net: http://www.russianembassy.org