Moscow again plans wider war in Dagestan
August 19, 1999
After 13 days, the rebels -- backed by veterans of Russia's two-year war in Chechnya -- still control at least four villages in a part of the northern Caucasus they vow to turn into an Islamic state.
"In the next few days, you will see massive anti-terrorist military operations across the entire territory of Dagestan," Deputy Interior Minister Igor Zubov said.
Russian casualties likely to mount
The Russian campaign has been fought at a distance so far: Russian troops rely on helicopters and artillery to drive the guerrillas out with a minimum of losses. A wider push is likely to mean higher death tolls among Russian soldiers.
An initial ground assault on the village of Tando failed Wednesday, leaving the rebels in control of the high ground after the loss of four Russians. At least 18 more were injured -- Russia's highest losses in a single day since the fighting began.
The Russians now say they have lost 40 men in Dagestan compared to rebel losses of about 500. The rebels dispute the Russian claims, saying Moscow's estimates of its battlefield success are greatly exaggerated.
The Muslim guerrillas are believed to have as many as 2,000 fighters in Dagestan.
The war so far has the backing of almost all of Russia's major politicians -- even those who opposed the war in Chechnya three years ago.
"If they have weapons, if they are trying to make violence, you have to stop them in the same way, with more violence," said Grigory Yavlinsky, leader of the leading reformist party in Russia's parliament.
The Russians so far have the support of the locals, who have armed themselves to take back their villages from the Islamic rebels. But Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's promise to destroy the rebels by this weekend may prove more difficult to keep.
No end in sight to Dagestan fighting despite Russian promises
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