Saturday, May 23, 2009

Military Action Underway Across the Northeast Caucasus

Publication: North Caucasus Weekly Volume: 10 Issue: 20
May 22, 2009 01:48 PM Age: 22 hrs
Category: North Caucasus Weekly, The Caucasus, North Caucasus , Home Page, Featured
By: Mairbek Vatchagaev

For the first time in recent years, joint military and police operations targeting fighters of the armed resistance are underway simultaneously in all three republics of the Northeast Caucasus: Dagestan, the Chechen Republic and Ingushetia. The operation in Chechnya involves the troops from the defense ministry and the Federal Security Service (FSB), yet it is the only place where the action is described as a police-only maneuver. The reason for the misnomer is Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov’s sensitivity to the term “counter-terrorist operation,” which is commonly used in the region. In Dagestan and Ingushetia, however, all similar operations are managed specifically by the Anti-Terrorism Center.In another development in Chechnya, Kadyrov delivered an embittered speech during Friday prayers at Grozny’s central mosque calling for a take-no-prisoners response to those who take up arms against the government (http://www.gazeta.ru/politics/2009/05/16_a_2987132.shtml). The speech came on May 15, after a suicide bomber (shaheed) earlier that day detonated a bomb in front of Chechnya’s Interior Ministry, which infuriated Kadyrov. The president declared that amnesty for rebel fighters was now out of the question, and that any of them who had not yet surrendered would be eradicated. Kadyrov’s harsh statement, which has no basis in Russian laws, will most likely be revised by Moscow in order to avoid embarrassment before the Western community. Kadyrov said he had decided to deal a decisive blow against the armed resistance by dividing the mountainous areas of Chechnya into sectors where authorized officers would be charged with eliminating everyone found to be armed. In his speech, Kadyrov referred to 70 rebel fighters, but it was not quite clear whether he meant that there were 70 rebels in the area where the anti-rebel operation was being conducted or was instead repeating the old claim that the total number of rebels in Chechnya is no more than 70, and that the goal of the current operation in the mountainous area of Chechnya is to eradicate them. On May 16, Kadyrov personally traveled to southern Chechnya’s Vedeno district to oversee the operation (http://www.kasparov.ru/material.php?id=4A0FCCAD82712). At the same time, reports from the western part of Chechnya indicated that a joint operation between Chechnya’s and Ingushetia’s law enforcement troops, supported by Russia’s federal forces, is currently underway near the village of Bamut in Chechnya’s Achkhoi-Martan district, which borders Ingushetia’s Sunzha district (http://gazeta.ru/news/lastnews/2009/05/17/n_1362629.shtml). Joint operations of that sort are not often seen in the region, where coordinated action remains difficult due to the many tensions clouding the relationship between regions of the Russian Federation despite their common federal ties. As for the operation’s progress, the government has already reported three dead and several wounded rebels, including one casualty believed to be a Middle East native. The rebel group was reported to consist of 20 to 25 men. Two previously stolen vehicles were also recovered during the operation (http://newsru.com/russia/17may2009/sv.html). It is not quite clear why the government claimed that the group of rebels found near the border between Chechnya and Ingushetia has ties to Dokka Umarov, as the news media reported. In accordance with the established tradition, the reports make no mention of losses among the federal forces: all the news of casualties among the interior ministry, FSB and defense ministry troops become public only in the event of an information leak. For instance, on the evening of May 17, a serviceman was taken to the hospital, which was followed by reports of one wounded soldier among the federal forces. As for the rebel siege operation, as of 1 a.m. on May 17 it was overseen personally by Ingushetia’s president, Yunus-Bek Yevkurov, and one of Kadyrov’s most trusted associates and member of the Russian State Duma, Adam Delimkhanov along with his younger brother Surkho, who commands the Sever (North) battalion, which was established as a counterweight to Sulim Yamadaev’s Vostok battalion (http://ru.proua.com/news/world/2009/05/17/165039.html). The involvement of top officials suggests that the hunted rebel group may not be merely associated with Umarov: there must have been some intelligence claiming that Umarov himself was with the group, and the goal therefore would be his capture, which would certainly be the best present imaginable for Kadyrov. All-day operations using artillery and aviation units were underway in Ingush villages bordering Chechnya (Dattykh, Nizhny Alkun and Chemulga) on May 17 (http://kavkaz.tv/russ/content/2009/05/17/65679.shtml). The joint efforts of the pro-Moscow Chechen and Ingush governments were triggered by a number of high-profile actions carried out by the rebels as well as by what in all likelihood were criminal elements. In Ingushetia, it is often hard to determine who is behind a particular operation (http://newsru.com/russia/17may2009/pok.html). On May 16, the rebels kidnapped two residents of Verkhny Alkun village, who were later retrieved by the police during a shootout with the rebel group near Nizhny Alkun (http://newsru.com/russia/17may2009/sv.html). That same day gunmen targeted houses in Sleptsovskaya and Karabulak villages, and a stationary checkpoint near Yandare village was shot at as well (www.ingushetia.org, May 17). A number of murders and armed assaults against private homes forced Yevkurov to react swiftly and mount a response to the actions of the armed opposition—specifically, the Shariat Jamaat led by Amir Akhmed Yevloev.The joint operation of May 17 was concluded with a joint press conference of Yevkurov and Kadyrov in the Ingush capital Magas, where both leaders emphasized the need for stronger coordination of their anti-rebel activities. Not much more should be expected from the joint operation considering that both presidents rushed to announce its “preliminary” results by mid-day. News reports cautiously admitting that the rebels dispersed in the mountainous areas should be read to indicate that the rebels broke the siege again (http://newsru.com/russia/17may2009/banda.html). On the evening of May 17, Yevkurov quoted a realistic number of rebel fighters (i.e. 15). Yet, despite Yevkurov’s admission, a day later (May 18) Russian news media continued to say that the rebel headcount in the area was as high as 70 (http://www.radiomayak.ru/doc.html?id=129308&cid=45). Contradictory numbers in Russian government reports are nothing new: the FSB, interior ministry and local governments routinely give differing reports, a sign that the government agencies lack coordination even when it comes to press relations. Operations in Dagestan are not being coordinated with Chechnya but rather have continued on their routine course, and recently news reports cited places like Khasavyurt, Karabudakhkentsky district and Buinaksk. On May 13-14, a large-scale military and police operation targeting the Khasavyurt Jamaat (the Dagestan Front of the Caucasus Emirate) was conducted in the forest near Endyrei village and the Sulak River. Four rebels and one serviceman of the elite Alfa special forces group were killed during two days of fighting. The Dagestani government hoped that casualties might include the new Dagestani amir Al Bara (Umalat Magomedov); however, after Magomedov did not turn up among the dead, the government reported the casualties included the amir of the Khasavyurt sector, Amirza Abdullaev (gazeta.ru/politics/2009/05/14_a_2986313.shtml). The government barely had time to declare victory over the local rebels when a senior police lieutenant was gunned down by unidentified individuals on May 16 in Khasavyurt (http://gazeta.ru/news/lastnews/2009/05/17/n_1362594.shtml). Additional federal regiments were dispatched to Karabudakhkentsky district, designated as a site of counter-terrorism operation on May 17. This area is located to the southeast of Buinaksk and is settled primarily by ethnic Kumyks. The government reported that the forest near the villages of Kakashura, Kakamasi, Chankurbe and Dorgeli serves as a hideout for a group of rebels responsible for several assaults against law enforcement and government forces (http://www.riadagestan.ru/news/2009/05/17/81027/). During his interview with the Kavkazky Uzel website on April 17, Dagestani President Mukhu Aliev admitted that dozens of interior ministry servicemen are being killed in the republic (http://www.assalam.ru/assalam2009/334/01-s.shtml). Taken together, military actions in the area indicate that the current year will be no exception to the general trend of increasing rebel fighter activity in the spring and the summer. Therefore, those who monitor developments in the region will be paying close attention to the government’s actions toward the rebels as well as tactics used toward their families. In the meantime, the Chechen government announced that all law enforcement agencies in Chechnya are on heightened alert and all military units are on standby (http://www.radiomayak.ru/doc.html?id=129308&cid=45). It is not known how long the police in the republic will be operating on this status.

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