Russian Artillery Targets Chechens
NAZRAN, Russia (AP) _ Russian artillery struck suspected rebel positions in Chechnya’s southern mountains Friday after another night of hit-and-run attacks on Russian checkpoints.
The military shelled positions in the Nozhai-Yurt and Kurchaloi regions in eastern Chechnya and in the Argun gorge, officials said. The gorge is a key rebel refuge and supply route to Georgia, the only foreign country bordering Chechnya.
Russian forces took control of most of the rebellious region in a military operation that began in September. They are trying to wipe out remaining guerrilla bands hiding in the rugged southern mountains, using their massive advantage in firepower while avoiding close combat.
The rebels have fought back with hit-and-run attacks by small groups that have inflicted a steady stream of casualties and chipped away at the troops’ morale.
Rebels attacked Russian positions 14 times over the past 24 hours, officials said Friday. Several soldiers were wounded, they said, without specifying a number.
Russian troops disarmed four land mines and eight remote-controlled mines across Chechnya, officials said. Remote-controlled mines have been a favored guerrilla weapon recently, along with truck and car bombs.
Four Russian police officers were killed Thursday when their car drove over a mine in the republic’s capital Grozny.
Army helicopters flew more than 30 combat missions Thursday, officials said, targeting rebel positions identified by reconnaissance patrols.
A rebel arms cache was discovered in the Kurchaloi region, including three large-caliber machine guns, grenades and rifle ammunition, officials said.
Russian troops were expelled from Chechnya in a 1994-96 war with independence fighters. They re-entered the republic after militants based there seized several villages in the neighboring Russian region of Dagestan, and after about 300 people died in apartment bombings the government blames on Chechens.