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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Exasperated Russia Changes Tactics in Chechnya

Russian generals, weary of cat-and-mouse clashes with Chechen guerrillas, said Friday they would take their troops out of the safety of army bases and deploy them in small contingents across the rebel region.

The armed forces chief of staff, Anatoly Kvashnin, said a task force would hunt down leading Chechen commanders who form the backbone of rebel resistance 14 months after Russia mounted its second campaign to crush the separatists.

"I think that this will be the most resolute stage of the anti-terrorist operation," Kvashnin said in an interview with the military daily Krasnaya Zvezda, using Moscow's preferred term to describe the military drive.

The decision, certain to expose troops to greater danger, illustrates the degree of exasperation in the Kremlin with the military's inability to stamp out rebel attacks and stem a steady trickle of Russian casualties.

The military has repeatedly vowed that it will deal the rebels a crushing blow this winter.

Russia's longstanding strategy has provided for troops based in a handful of strong points to launch search-and-destroy raids against the rebels, backed up by shelling and aircraft fire. Troops come under daily bomb and firearm attacks by the rebels.

In a typical dispatch from the region, Russian news agencies said that, over the previous 24 hours, artillery had pounded remote areas where rebels had been spotted and the guerrillas had mounted 16 hit-and-run attacks on Russian positions.

PLAN TO HOBBLE REBELS

Kvashnin said by fanning out across the province, police and troops would hobble the rebels' movements and stop them blending with civilians often willing to give them food and shelter.

"Such garrisons will be stationed in more than 200 of Chechnya's 357 towns and villages," he said.

Kvashnin dismissed suggestions that he might have insufficient manpower, saying his force stood at much more than the 26,000 servicemen who fought and lost a war in 1994-96, after which Russia withdrew from the region.

He gave no exact figure, though Russian officials say troop strength has been reduced from a high of about 100,000 during heavy fighting earlier this year.

Troops and security forces will also be placed in the southern mountains where the rebels hold sway, Kvashnin said. The redeployment is due to be completed within two months.

The move also aims to give at least some protection to local pro-Moscow administrators, regular targets of rebel hitmen.

Kvashnin, who has spearheaded Russia's military strategy in Chechnya, also appealed to Chechen civilians to stop laying mines, the prime cause of Russian casualties in recent months.

He conceded that Moscow had so far failed to improve living standards in the impoverished republic, where work is scarce. But he pleaded with Chechens to take no money from the rebels.