Yesterday Chechen rebel fighters used a portable surface-to-air missile to down a Mi-8 military helicopter after it took off from Djohar (Grozny), the Chechen capital. On board the helicopter, which was headed for the Russian military base at Khankala, just outside the capital, were members of commission set up by the armed forces general staff. They had been in the Chechen capital for two weeks, working on “a mechanism for coordination” between the commanders of the federal forces in Chechnya and the pro-Moscow administration in Chechnya. According to a report today, the commission’s main task was to prepare the withdrawal from Chechnya of troops from outside the North Caucasus Military District. All of the helicopter’s ten passengers–including two generals, Anatoly Pozdnyakov and Pavel Varfolomeev, along with eight colonels–were killed (Kommersant, September 18; Russian agencies, September 17).
The downing of the Mi-8 capped a day on which the rebels mounted a kind of miniature Tet offensive, simultaneously attacking the Chechen cities of Gudermes, the republic’s second largest city and former temporary capital, and Argun. Guerrilla units, some of which had reportedly infiltrated the cities earlier, attacked local federal military and Interior Ministry headquarters in both cities, along with other official buildings. According Interior Minister Boris Gryzlov, more than 300 rebel fighters were involved in both operations. According to Sergei Yastrzhembsky, aide to President Vladimir Putin, the federal side mounted air strikes and launched artillery barrages against the rebel attackers, who were apparently driven out of the cities by the evening. According to the federal forces, ten Russian servicemen were killed in Gudermes and ten killed in Argun, with another eight wounded in each of the battles. The Russian military also claimed that at least fifteen rebels were killed in the two cities, including “well-known field commanders,” who were not identified.
The rebels also carried out attacks yesterday on three local administration heads in Chechnya. An apparent suicide bomber drove a truck loaded with explosives into the home of the head of the Argun district administration, Movsar Timerbaev, killing his bodyguard (see the Monitor, September 17). Gunmen–apparently rebels–attacked the home of the chief of the Shali district’s administration, Sharip Alikhadzhiev, killing his bodyguard. The head of the Achkoi-Martan district’s administration, Shamil Buraev, was the apparent target of bomb blast in Djohar. Three of Buraev’s bodyguards were seriously wounded, but Buraev himself was unhurt (Kommersant, September 18; Russian agencies, September 17).
Anonymous military officials said that yesterday’s attacks were a failed attempt to repeat the events of August 1996, when the rebels managed to retake the Chechen capital in a surprise attack. The Gazeta.ru website, however, wrote that while the rebels managed to hold Gudermes for several hours only, the very fact that the city was unexpectedly stormed, along with “the general panic that prevailed in Chechnya the whole day,” was evidence “that the Russian special services are not capable of controlling the situation in the republic” (Kommersant, September 18; Gazeta.ru, September 17). Earlier this year, Putin put the Federal Security Service (FSB) in charge of the military operation in Chechnya. The rebel website, Kavkaz.org, proclaimed after yesterday’s battles that the “occupiers” were “panicking” (Kavkaz.org, September 17). Kavkaz.org is connected to Movladi Udugov, the Islamist rebel ideologist, and Shamil Basaev, the radical field commander.
A Russian newspaper, meanwhile, suggested that in launching the attacks on Gudermes and Argun yesterday, the Chechen rebels may have been running interference for terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden. “Someone is trying with all their might to force Russia to resolve its internal problems and not get involved in the fight against international terrorism that is now beginning,” the paper wrote. Bin Laden, it claimed, had financed Chechen rebel units fighting under Khattab, the Arab field commander of Chechen extraction (Moskovsky Komsomolets, September 18).
FSB AND CHECHEN REBELS CONTINUE TO SPIN U.S. TERRORIST ATTACKS.