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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Army Says Tactics Fail On Rebels

BOTLIKH, Southern Russia -- Russia admitted Thursday that Islamic militants hadn't budged from six villages they captured in the Caucasus Mountains, despite days of air attacks, and said it would have to rethink its strategy.

For days, Russia has been predicting the imminent defeat of the rebels, who took over several villages in Dagestan on Aug. 7. But after almost constant hammering by Russian jets, artillery and helicopters, the rebels have yielded little ground.

The Russians have lost a total of 40 troops and 160 have been wounded, Deputy Interior Minister Lieutenant General Igor Zubov said Thursday.

Zubov acknowledged that the operations to dislodge the rebels from inaccessible mountain villages were not succeeding.

"The use of artillery and airstrikes and other types of weapons that are in situ is not effective enough," he said at a news conference in Moscow. Zubov said the rebels had fortified positions on the hills around the villages, which are nestled in long, narrow valleys.

"They could be taken by a direct assault but it would bring big losses," he said. "Therefore ... I must say we have decided to make sure our losses come to a minimum."

Zubov said troops were regrouping after the failed assaults and would concentrate on destroying rebel communications and supply routes and carrying out "anti-terrorist operations."

Russia continued its bombing runs Thursday, again pounding the village of Tando, where government troops took heavy casualties in a failed ground raid Wednesday.

Eighteen Russian troops died and at least 20 were injured Wednesday, most in the offensive on the mountain-top village, Russian officials said Thursday. Tando had been reduced to rubble after earlier air raids, and the rebels' grip on it was believed to have been seriously weakened before Wednesday's raid.

As long as the rebels still occupy Tando, they maintain a crucial link along a supply route to nearby Chechnya, the breakaway republic where their leaders are based.

Russia has been pouring troops and weaponry into the region and is believed to now have several thousand troops in Dagestan.

The rebel forces, who are demanding an independent Islamic state in southern Russia, include fighters from Chechnya and Dagestan as well as Moslems from elsewhere in the former Soviet Union.

There are also volunteer Dagestanis fighting on the Russian side and Zubov said around 2,000 of these had been armed with hunting rifles by the federal forces.

Zubov claimed that up to 500 rebels had been killed so far in the conflict, though the rebels say the figure is hugely exaggerated. He also said the Russians have lost a total of 40 troops and 160 have been wounded.