Russia: August 19, 2002



An Mi-26 "Halo" transport helicopter crashed just outside the Russian military base in Khankala, Chechnya, at about 16:50 Moscow time (1250 GMT) on 19 August. Itar-Tass news agency quoted military officials saying that at least 85 soldiers had died (later adjusted to 74) and there were at least 25 injured, but fire and smoke from the crash hampered efforts to determine the full number of casualties. Initial reports had 112 servicemen and five crew members aboard, but later articles placed only 106 servicemen on the helicopter. Rebel websites quickly claimed responsibility for the crash, although Russian sources reported that the pilot requested permission to perform an emergency landing because an engine was on fire. - Adam Geibel

On 19 August, the Georgian Interior Ministry announced that their troops were 15 to 20 days from entering the volatile Pankisi gorge to establish order and thwart Chechen rebel activity. On the same day, Russian sources reported that rebel gangs (up to 600 fighters) in the Pankisi were getting ready to make fresh attempts to cross over into Chechnya. One source noted that they used about 300 horses to transport ammunition over the mountains and that several sniper rifles, grenade launchers, machine-guns and five MANPAD launchers had been seized recently.

Foreigners were also allegedly running training camps in Georgia, but their numbers were dwindling due to financial problems. A member of the Khasan Ali gang recently detained by a special Defense Ministry unit in Chechnya's Itum-Kale district revealed that a Pakistani named Khalil was his instructor.

Getting the Chechens out of Georgia may be difficult. The Chechen representative office in Tbilisi was reportedly involved in funding rebel groups, providing them with ammunition, medical assistance and sending them away to third-party countries.
Georgian Minister of State Security Valeri Khaburdzania also told journalists that Chechen mafiosi currently in Georgia (primarily in the oil industry) were actively engaged in legalizing money, buying real estate and establishing new illegal businesses. He admitted that one indicator was Chechen businessmen buying houses and flats in the Georgian capital. - Adam Geibel


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