Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Russia Targets Rebels Said Based in Bamut

GROZNY -- Widening their bloody offensive against the rebels in Chechnya, Russian troops Wednesday shelled villages in the south of the breakaway republic and fired rockets at the separatist stronghold of Bamut.

"The troops are conducting planned destruction of the militants' base in Bamut," a senior Russian commander, Vyacheslav Tikhomirov, told Itar-Tass.

The village, 60 kilometers southwest of the capital Grozny, is a key base of separatist fighters and the scene of some of the heaviest fighting in recent weeks. Tikhomirov said at least 150 rebels remained holed up there.

Russian military officials reported shelling of several villages to the southeast of Grozny in the area of Nozhai-Yurt, some 55 kilometers from the capital. The area borders on Russia's ethnic region of Dagestan and is vital for the rebels to replenish supplies and move around the southern, mountainous region of Chechnya.

For the first time in the nearly 16-month war, fighting focused on the vicinity of Zandak, a village of 3,500 people near Nozhai-Yurt where a failed disengagement accord was signed by Russian and rebel commanders last summer, Itar-Tass said.

The Russian military command reported two servicemen killed and 17 wounded in fighting Tuesday night. A spokesman grimly told Interfax that the "overall situation in the republic remains without noticeable improvements."

Lieutenant General Anatoly Shkirko, Russia's top commander in Chechnya, disclosed Wednesday that Moscow still had more than 23,000 interior troops in the tiny republic, in addition to an unspecified number of army servicemen. Russia sent an estimated 40,000 troops when it marched into Chechnya in December 1994.

During Russia's recent offensives, Chechen villages have been given a choice between proclaiming neutrality or facing brutal assault. Officials of the Moscow-backed Chechen government say about 120 of Chechnya's 365 towns and villages have signed accords so far promising to keep rebel fighters out.

The recent attacks have claimed the lives of many civilians, as did the entire war that has killed more than 30,000 people. Up to 200 people were wounded just in three besieged southern villages which the rebels agreed to leave Tuesday, a leader of Chechnya's national reconciliation committee, Gerzolt Elmurzayev, told Itar-Tass. He did not give the number of those killed.

In the western village of Samashki, also the site of recent fighting, Russian troops have detained about 100 residents suspected of involvement in armed rebel activities, said a deputy premier of the pro-Moscow government in Chechnya, Vakha Sagayev.

Sagayev told Interfax that about one-half of the detainees have been released and the rest "are being checked in the Russian Stavropol territory."

Itar-Tass, meanwhile, reported massive army presence in Grozny, where the Russians and their Chechen allies are carrying out an operation to search for rebel militants hiding in the ruined city. Three districts have been sealed off for combing, it said.

The military says similar searches are to be carried out later in Gudermes and Argun, Chechnya's other major towns.