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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Rebel Suicide Bombers Kill 37 Troops

A suicide truck bomber blew apart the living quarters of an Interior Ministry unit stationed in the Chechen town of Argun, killing more than 30 police troops.

The attack was one of five nearly simultaneous suicide truck bombings late Sunday and early Monday aimed at federal troops based in towns ostensibly under Moscow's control.

Kremlin spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky said at least 37 servicemen were killed and 74 wounded in the five attacks. The Associated Press, citing the Emergency Situations Ministry, said 11 civilians also died and four servicemen were missing. At least one truck driver was believed to have died in each attack.

Two explosives-laden trucks exploded near two checkpoints in Gudermes, the republic's second-largest city and seat of the Kremlin-appointed Chechen government. In Urus-Martan, once a rebel stronghold, another suicide bomber destroyed the building where the local military commander had his office. A fifth attack occurred in Novogroznensky in eastern Chechnya.

The bombings were the Chechen rebels' most organized attacks in months. In a videotaped message cited by Interfax, Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov said the rebels' guerrilla tactics "leave the Russian troops no chance of establishing control in Chechnya."

The rebel web site said 490 people had been killed. Both sides regularly exaggerate the other side's losses.

The worst losses occured when a truck exploded after crashing into a police dormitory on the outskirts of Argun, about 15 kilometers from Grozny. The building housed OMON paramilitary police from Chelyabinsk and a Chechen special police unit, Itar-Tass reported.

NTV television showed pictures of grim-faced rescue workers searching for bodies in the wreckage of a two-story building. Two almost-intact beds were still fastened to one of the few remaining walls, overlooking a pile of debris and a huge crater where the building used to stand.

By Monday afternoon, the bodies of 31 servicemen were recovered from the ruins of the building, Yastrzhembsky said.

The military effectively sealed off Argun and the other towns and sent in reinforcements. People living near the bombing site in Argun were "trying to go deeper into the city center, fearing further complications," Interfax reported. Residents apparently were anxious to avoid troops "mopping up" after the attack.

Troops have detained 18 people suspected of taking part in the attacks, Interfax said late Monday, citing Deputy Interior Minister Ivan Golubev.

Military commanders suggested that part of the blame may lie with a lack of discipline among the police and army forces in Chechnya.

General Gennady Troshev, the chief commander in Chechnya, said that based on "certain information" he possessed, he had asked federal forces to be "vigilant, especially when it comes to letting big trucks through the checkpoints.

"Most of the commanders fulfilled this request, but unfortunately, not all was done well, like for instance in this temporary unit of the Interior Ministry forces in Argun," Troshev said on ORT television. "Conclusions will be drawn" from this, he said.

President Vladimir Putin sent condolences to the families of the victims.

After more than nine months of fighting, the military has claimed that the operation in Chechnya is all but finished, but it has been dogged by one Chechen guerrilla attack after another. Troops were hit by several car bomb attacks last month that officials said were carried out by civilians tricked by the rebels into driving the booby-trapped vehicles.

Reuters quoted Chechen rebel spokesman Movladi Udugov as saying the bombings were part of a "large-scale campaign to free Chechen villages and destroy the Russian aggressors." Udugov said the Chechen rebels have many more suicide bombers ready "to die for Islam."

Military analysts in Moscow, however, said the suicide bombings are more likely an indication that Chechen forces are no longer able to conduct big military operations.

"It could be read as a sign that the war in a classical sense is over," said Ruslan Pukhov, director of the Center for the Analysis of Strategy and Technologies. "There will probably be no more big battles, and Chechnya will look more and more like Ulster, where the troops will be the object of ceaseless painful attacks of the sort we've seen in the last 24 hours."

Alexander Iskandaryan, director of the Center for Caucasian Studies, expressed a similar view.

"These attacks suggest Chechen forces have decided to economize on human resources and finances," he said. "We're witnessing the transformation of Chechen war into a textbook guerrilla war.

"The guerrillas have the passive support of the majority of the population and a small core of active supporters, which is more than enough for this type of operation."

Another factor helping the rebels is the high level of corruption in the army. "Everything can pass a checkpoint if there's enough money to pay for it," Pukhov said.

Iskandaryan said attacks like the latest suicide bombings may be intended to force the Kremlin to talk peace. But if so, the tactic was unlikely to work, he said. "Similar conflicts in the world can last for years without forcing the government to a negotiation table," Iskandaryan said.

Alexander Malashenko of the Moscow Carnegie Center said negotiations in the near future are all but impossible. "After these attacks they would look like a Russian defeat," he said.