Russia: The Challenge of Pacifying the North Caucasus
3 MINS READFeb 11, 2006 | 00:26 GMT
Russian forces launched a massive operation late Feb. 9 against a group of Chechen militants the government says was on the verge of executing a hostage-taking operation on the scale of the 2004 attack against a school in Beslan. All 12 militants targeted in the operation were killed. At the same time, another team of Russians arrested three non-Chechen militants who authorities say were in on the plot. The involvement of locals in Chechen militant operations has serious security implications for Moscow. Moscow said Feb. 10 that its forces were set in motion after surveillance indicated the militant operation was about to begin. Some 300 Russian police and paramilitary units, including elite Spetsnaz troops and members of the OMON anti-terrorist unit, moved in with helicopter support to surround the militants housed in three buildings in Tukui-Mekteb, a village near Beslan in Russia's southern Stavropol region. The militants, however, fired at the approaching Russians from all three buildings before retreating to a single building. Russian forces in armored vehicles stormed the building early Feb. 10, wiping out the main force. Several hours later, the Russians were still mopping up Tukui-Mekteb and searching for snipers on the outskirts of the village.
The ferocity of the militant response to the operation indicates they were well-armed and committed. Rather than provoke government forces, the militants — who reportedly belonged to the Chechen group Shelkovsky Jamaat — had tried to conceal their movements and intentions in Tukui-Mekteb, lending credence to the Russian claim that the raid disrupted a Beslan-type attack. As the battle raged in Tukui-Mekteb, Russian security forces also stormed an apartment in another Stavropol town, Pyatigorsk, capturing three local militants and seizing a large cache of arms. The discovery that locals are assisting Chechen militants seems to further demonstrate that the anti-Russian insurgency in the North Caucasus is spreading to other groups. Local militants also were involved in the October 2005 attack in the town of Nalchik in the Kabardino-Balkaria region. As the Russians consolidate their hold on Chechnya, the remaining Chechen insurgents have moved into Dagestan and Ingushetia and other regions. The grassroots movements by minorities in predominantly Russian areas, therefore, could be under the tutelage of Chechen fighters who learned insurgent tactics and warfare from years of fighting Russians. During the Soviet period, many Chechens served in the Red Army, and some fought in Afghanistan. These Chechens also learned how the Soviet, and later Russian, military operates against insurgents. The Russians have had success in Chechnya, but it is doubtful that the North Caucasus will ever be completely pacified. The region's numerous ethnic groups have been resisting Russian domination since the 19th century. And, as militants scatter from one area to another — and share their knowledge with newcomers — the work to contain insurgencies becomes that much harder.