Over the past week, Russian government special forces have been conducting a large-scale special operation to root out militants in the Achkhoi-Martan district of Chechnya and the adjacent Sunzha district of Ingushetia. The fact that even auxiliary police forces have been participating in the special operation indicates that the government has especially high hopes for the outcome of its efforts in the area. This likely means the government forces are not simply out to search for ordinary militants, given that auxiliary police do not normally participate in such operations, but rather that they have information about Doku Umarov’s presence in the area. A Chechen police officer told the Kavkazsky Uzel (Caucasian Knot) that the special operation in Achkhoi-Martan district might take several weeks and that there are no set limits for its duration. “Our primary aim is to find and neutralize active groups [of rebels],” the source said. “Presumably, the leader of the underground movement, Doku Umarov, may be hiding in this particular area [of Chechnya] or in the neighboring territory of Ingushetia in the forests of Sunzha district” (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/222453/).
In contrast to previous special operations in the area, which were widely publicized by the government and emphasized the involvement of a large military force, this time the special operation received relatively little attention, possibly because there have been some deaths reported among the government forces. The first news about casualties on the government side came from Ingushetia. On April 2, a group of Russian reconnaissance officers hit a mine set by the militants near the village of Alkun in Ingushetia’s Sunzha district. According to the militants, two people in the reconnaissance group died and one was taken to the Khankala military base in Grozny with life-threatening injuries (www.kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2013/04/02/97156.shtml). After that, investigators from Ingushetia who were conducting forensic tests at the site of the attack hit a mine, causing an explosion that injured two officers from the Ingush OMON riot police detachment (www.sknews.ru/photo/61322-troe-voennosluzhashhix-podorvalis-na-mine-v-ingushetii.html).
On April 3, the day after this incident, an explosion took place in Achkhoi-Martan district. According to the Russian Investigative Committee, the explosion took place 12 kilometers away from the village of Bamut. Four members of Chechnya’s auxiliary police force were wounded in the blast, and one of them later died (http://www.sledcom.ru/news/290222.html). It was not the first explosion in the area of Bamut in recent days: on March 31, two Russian servicemen hit a mine in the same area. One of the servicemen died and the other was hospitalized in critical condition (http://www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/222245/).
As a result of this it appears that the special operation was taking place on both sides of the administrative border between Chechnya and Ingushetia, and that it involved both military and police forces, including auxiliary police. When Russian military aviation started to bomb the area, it became clear that the Russian air force was also involved in the pursuit of the militants (www.kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2013/04/06/97243.shtml). According to rebel sources, a large, well quipped military force is currently operating in the area.
The operation started as far back as March, but news agencies only began reporting on casualties among the rebels on April 6. Citing the Life News agency, many media outlets reported that the rebels suffered serious losses, up to ten killed, and the toll could climb as the search continues (http://lifenews.ru/news/112508). According to government sources, serious clashes took place in vicinity of Bamut. At the same time, the Chechen interior ministry could not confirm the killing of ten rebels (http://rusnovosti.ru/news/255380/).
Some news agencies provided more expanded coverage of the events, reporting that an armed group was located in Achkhoi-Martan district. A police source told the Interfax news agency that the rebels had fought back against the government forces and that one policeman was injured and hospitalized. The source said that the rebels had managed to escape. It is unlikely that the Interfax agency used a spurious source, so the Life News agency report that up to ten rebels were killed has not been confirmed yet officially. Nor did rebel media sources confirm losses among the North Caucasian resistance movement. The rebel media outlets only commented on the Russian media reports. The primary media resource of the North Caucasian rebels, Kavkazcenter.com, stated that it did not have reliable information about the Sunzha district clashes and that it could not confirm casualties among the rebels (http://kavkazcenter.com/russ/content/2013/04/06/97240.shtml). A Chechen police officer complained that “the rebels are actively laying mines, which seriously undermines the activities of the government forces. Just in the course of one week in the forests near Bamut, which is only several kilometers away from the administrative border with Ingushetia, six servicemen were hit by mines” (www.kavkaz-uzel.ru/articles/222453/).
The Russian security services along with the army are trying to strike the insurgency before the arrival of mild weather in the mountains, given that searching for the rebels during the warm period of the year is practically hopeless. This area is covered by thick forests, which is why the rebels find it easy to hide as well as operate there. Even during the Soviet period it was forbidden to cut down trees in the area because of the top secret Soviet missile bases near Bamut. All the villages in the area, from Bamut up into the mountains, were closed to visitors, and outsiders were not permitted to even settle there. This is why the government forces have been unable to locate the leader of the North Caucasian rebels in this small area during the past 13 years.
Any special operation in this area always results in casualties on both sides, and the latest special operation was probably not an exception.