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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Fighting Spills Into Ingushetia

NAZRAN, Ingushetia — Federal troops clashed with Chechen rebels in Ingushetia and had to call in artillery and helicopter gunships to drive the rebels off, said officials Friday.

A large rebel force was spotted in Ingushetia on Thursday and a battle erupted when a federal battalion tried to intercept them near the village of Verkhny Alkin, said federal officials. Six rebels were killed and at least 10 others were wounded in the clash, they said, adding that several federal troops were wounded.

Ingush police officials said one soldier was killed and a second was wounded in the clash, but they did not know if the rebels suffered losses.

Only one previous clash with Chechen rebels in Ingushetia has been reported by the military this year.

The government claims the rebels are a defeated force no longer capable of mounting serious operations. But the rebels mount daily attacks across Chechnya and are able to cross freely into neighboring republics such as Ingushetia, which adjoins Chechnya’s western border.

Despite incessant rebel attacks, the head of the pro-Moscow administration in Chechnya, Akhmad Kadyrov, insisted the rebels do not pose a serious threat.

"Separate groups of militants pose no serious threat and there can be no talk about the resumption of large-scale hostilities by them," he said in a televised address Thursday night on Chechen television.

But federal officials said Friday that the rebels are preparing to launch attacks in the Russia region of Dagestan to the east of Chechnya. Some 80 rebel groups with around six fighters in each are preparing to stage a breakthrough, Itar-Tass agency reported.

Federal forces along the Dagestan border were stepping up security.

Troops also clashed overnight with rebels in the south of Chechnya and a federal convoy was attacked near the Vedeno Gorge, according to a federal official, who declined to be identified.

A border patrol came under attack from rebel fighters on the border overnight with Georgia, the fifth straight day of such attacks, said the official. The Russian border troops called in artillery, but there was no word on possible casualties.

Chechen guerrilla spokesman Movladi Udugov said rebels were still checking the report of the clash in Ingushetia.

Udugov also said guerrillas had shot down a military transport helicopter in the Vedeno Gorge on Friday afternoon, killing up to 50 paratroopers. Federal authorities denied any such crash had taken place. (AP, Reuters)