Russia, March 9 (AFP)
Hundreds of defiant Chechen fighters battled Thursday to hold the key southern town of Komsomolskoye, inflicting heavy losses on Russian troops despite Moscow’s claims to have all but crushed rebel resistance.
Less than a day after a top general said the rebels would be defeated in hours, frontline Russian officers said stubborn resistance by some 500 guerrillas had forced commanders to order costly infantry assaults on the town.
The Chechen’s Internet website www.kavkaz.org confirmed heavy fighting was continuing in the area, saying up to 70 Russians had been killed in the past 24 hours around Komsomolskoye and nearby Goiskoye.
It made no mention of Chechen dead.
Russian soldiers interviewed by AFP refused to discuss precise casualty figures but hinted that losses were running high among federal troops, particularly on Wednesday.
“We’ve tried to approach (the town) several times after artillery cover, but were forced back. We’ll have to wait even longer,” said Semyon, 26, an interior ministry officer.
“We’re being pushed to storm the town so they can announce the war’s over, but that only means we take losses,” added Yevgeny Maximovich, 30, a defence ministry officer.
Russian officials are sensitive to reports of battlefield reverses, mindful that his handling of the Chechen campaign has catapulted Vladimir Putin into the Kremlin, and made the acting president odds-on favourite to secure the job permanently in March 26 elections.
But troops near Komsomolskoye said they faced an arduous task wrapping up the five-month ground offensive and were sceptical that victory would come any time soon.
“They’ll have to keep on bombing it for a lot longer before we can get a foot in,” said Yevgeny. “In any case, the war won’t be over for a long time.
“We’ll have to fight for years here because the Chechens keep reappearing in villages we’ve already taken,” he said gloomily.
The official version was starkly different. More than 150 rebels had been killed and 24 captured Wednesday during mopping up operations in Komsomolskoye for the loss of two Russians, domestic news agencies reported.
The previous day General Gennady Troshev had said his troops would need only two or three hours to finish off the 25 rebels remaining there.
Russian generals have repeatedly declared that the five-month ground war was all but over, only to be stunned by spectacular guerrillas raids behind federal lines.
Meanwhile, Moscow announced its forces now controlled a key segment of the strategic Argun Gorge where bitter battles with Chechen guerrillas have raged for weeks.
Federal troops had wiped out rebels in a string of villages along a 20-kilometre (12-mile) stretch of the gorge from Dachy-Borzoi near the entrance, to Shatoi, Interfax reported, citing military officials.
The villages of Yaryshmardy, Zony, Bolshiye Varandi and Maliye Varandi were now in the hands of Russian forces, officials told Interfax. It was not possible to independently confirm the claim.
MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistani Kashmir, March 9
A top Muslim militant leader who escaped from Indian custody said Thursday only a jihad, or holy war, could settle the Kashmir dispute.
“We believe in a relentless armed struggle, as only the gun can force intransigent India to quit Kashmir,” Ghulam Rasool Shah, chief commander of Jamiatul Mujahideen group, told a news conference here.
The 42-year-old commander, who uses the alias General Abdullah, reached here Wednesday, about a month after he escaped from custody in Srinagar in Indian Kashmir after two years in jail.
Shah said he expected no progress on the Kashmir issue during the visit of US President Bill Clinton to South Asia later this month.
India and Pakistan have fought two wars over the disputed Muslim-majority Himalayan state since independence in 1947.
“I see no chances, the Kashmir issue can be settled only through jihad,” Shah said.
9 March (BBC)
Nato flew more than 3,000 bombing missions
A mole at Nato headquarters is alleged to have leaked secrets of the Kosovo campaign to the Yugoslav military command. Information leaked during the first two weeks of the campaign included targets to be hit and precise flight paths, according to intelligence sources within the US Air Force.
Details of the deployment of Nato reconnaissance operations were allegedly given to Belgrade, enabling the Serbs to move troops and equipment out of the target zones.
The allegations are the subject of a BBC television documentary called Moral Combat: Nato At War, to be broadcast on Sunday.
The BBC programme says that General Wesley Clark, Nato’s Supreme Allied Commander, was convinced that there was a mole inside the organisation.
”I know I have a spy, I want to find him,” he is said to have told colleagues at the time.
Access to details of daily air tasking orders allocating missions and targets - which initially went to 600 people on a secure computer network - was cut back to 100, and it is said that the leaks stopped immediately.
A Nato spokesman said the alliance’s military headquarters had no knowledge or evidence that the air tasking orders were compromised.
He insisted that security procedures were continually reviewed and that steps were taken to ensure that sensitive information reached only those with a need to know.
The BBC’s defence correspondent, Andrew Gilligan, says the mole has not been caught, but heavy hints are being dropped that it was not a leak from Nato headquarters itself, but from one of the national delegations attached to it or from a national government.
In August last year it was reported that a spy may have leaked the flight plan of an American F-117A stealth fighter shot down by Yugoslav forces during the Kosovo conflict.
The Scotsman newspaper alleged that an unidentified Nato officer leaked top secret flight plans and mission targets to Russian military intelligence, who passed the information on to the Serbs.
In November 1998, a senior French military officer was arrested and detained in Paris on charges of spying for the Yugoslav Government.
The BBC programme also reveals that a Swedish financier was sent on a secret mission to Moscow and Belgrade during the war.
All Over the Globe is published by IPA House.
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