Ambushed in Ingushtia?- The Islamic rebels long active in Chechnya are redoubling their efforts to carry the fight beyond their old battlefield, and have made an end-run into Russia's other southern republics. In order to make it out of Georgia before the winter snows closed the high passes, a large group of fighters moved covertly along several passes and into what the Russians would soon claim was a deliberately laid trap (based on informants' information). The battle's objectives were obvious: the rebels were attempting to break through to Chechnya, the army set out to trap and eliminate them all.
58th Army commander Lieutenant General Valery Gerasimov said the rebels paid $7,000 to a Georgian to lead them from Georgia into Ingushtia. The first contact was on 20 September, a rebel group attacked a military vehicle near the village of Tarskoye in North Ossetia and then fired on a military helicopter.
A reconnaissance patrol of Russian police from Ingushetia and North Ossetia, along with Federal 58th Joint Arms Army troops, engaged elements of this same rebel group near the Ingush town of Galashki on the night of 24 September. The situation quickly snowballed, when the patrol engaged another group of rebels the next morning and claiming to have wounded several. The mountainous border area is about 12 miles from the border with Chechnya. The village of 6,000 has about 1,500 Chechen refugees (Ingushtia is home to about 140,000 refugees from the brutal fighting in Chechnya).
This particular rebel group was led by field commander Abdul Malik and had earlier been deployed in the Pankisi Gorge (at that time, they mustered up to 300 fighters) and were reportedly subordinate to Chechen field commander Ruslan Gelayev's own group.
At 08.00 on the 26th, the rebels fired five shoulder fired anti-aircraft missiles and brought down one Mi-24 gunship near the village. Both crewmen were killed. The rebels also fired on a second helicopter, but did not damage it. An Su-25 bombed the village, with smoking rising after it's run. The Federals claimed to have killed and wounded 30 rebels, while suffering 10 wounded.
By 09:20 Moscow time (0520 GMT), the 150-strong group were trying to break through to three bridges across the Assa River and slip into Chechnya. The army moved armored vehicles to block the approaches to the bridges. The army cordon was backed by Ingush Interior Ministry personnel. Civilians in the village were hiding or on the run. An air-mobile landing party was moved in to block higher passes. Russian Armed Forces Chief-of-Staff Anatoly Kvashnin had supposedly personally taken control of the Gakashki operation.
Across the border, the North Caucasus Combined Federal Forces headquarters deployed more troops in the Achkhoi- Martan district, in order to prevent a rebel breakthrough from Ingushetia. Within Chechnya, small groups moving into the dilapidated silos (leftover from a Soviet missile regiment) near the village of Bamut. The Russians believed that these groups had moved out of the mountains to mass and link up with the group attempting to force the border.
By noon, the army casualty list had grown to 10 troops and policemen killed and 17 wounded (three of them critically), while claiming 50 to 70 rebel casualties. ORT television said that up to 20 troops had been killed. The Chechen version was that their groups had withdrawn, leaving only rearguards. They figured to have inflicted 40 deaths for seven of their own killed and ten wounded. They also claimed to have knocked out two APCs.
Among the dead were Arabs, Turks and a Georgian. One of the bodies was 30 year old British citizen Roderick John Scott's, who had a video camera, videotapes, a notebook kept in English and a satellite phone on his person. He was apparently working for British company Frontline Television.
The Ingush Interior Ministry said that the village was back to normal as of 15:00 p.m. Moscow time (1100 GMT), with most of the remaining rebels broke into small groups and were blockaded in a forest about 10 miles away. Federal troops also seized arms, including an "IGLA" surface to air missile.
The pro-Russian Chechen Government accused Georgia of supporting rebels allegedly based on its territory. He described the Pankisi Gorge as 'greenhouse conditions' for their operations.