Russia: January 20, 2005


After five years of fighting, the government believes that it has reduced the number of rebel leaders in Chechnya from 200 to 10. At the same time, the number of foreign Islamic radicals operating in Chechnya has been reduced from over 2,500 to about sixty. There were about 200 of these foreign fighters in operation last Summer, but greater use of Spetsnaz commandoes, and Chechen police, caused more of the rebel camps to be found and destroyed. The foreign Islamic radicals were the trigger for the Russian 1999 invasion in the first place. The Islamic radicals had been moving across the border into other parts of Russia and beginning their "Islamic conquest" of the Caucasus. This was more than Russia was willing to tolerate from an autonomous Chechnya. Many of the Islamic radicals thought the Caucasus would be "another Afghanistan." But these radicals, most of the them Arabs, failed to remember that nearly all the fighting in Afghanistan was by Afghans. Arabs got very little combat experience in Afghanistan. Moreover, the Russians won nearly all the battles. During the 1980s war, some two million Afghans were killed, and 15,000 Russians. The Russians finally left because they decided fighting in Afghanistan simply wasn't worth it. This is not quite the same as a military defeat. In the Caucasus, the Russians are fighting on their own turf. They are not leaving, and they have beaten Chechen rebels many times in the past. They are doing it again. Most of the foreign fighters still operating in Chechnya are Turks. The Arabs have nearly all been killed, or got discouraged and went home. The Russian army of the early 21st century is more professional, and less dependent on conscripts, than it was two decades ago in Afghanistan. Chechnya has become one large, brutal,  training exercise for Russias growing commando force.


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