Final Phase - February 2000
By mid-February Russian aircraft were bombing suspected Chechen positions in the southern mountains in Chechnya, where as many as 8000 Chechen fighters wre believed to be based, as troops prepared to launch a ground offensive there. Military officials said federal troops controlled strategic heights along two gorges which cut through the rugged terrain. Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev said that up to 50 thousand ground troops would move into the southern mountains to attack rebels there in what the Russians call a "final offensive" against the Chechens. But in the fight to seize the mountains, the Chechens were able to launch hit-and-run attacks against Russian positions.
As the war dragged on, refugees who fled to neighboring Ingushetia found that Russia had quietly started cutting back services to camps that were home to tens of thousands of displaced people. Russian officials urged camp residents to return to their homes in areas they call "liberated Chechnya," even though the war was far from over and much of the countryside lies in ruins. Moscow earmarked millions of dollars to help restore basic services in the devastated region. The decision to restore services has been tried before, during the first Chechen war several years ago. Then as now, Russia occupied most of Chechnya and earmarked large amounts of money to bring the rebel region back into the fold. But most of the funds were embezzled by corrupt officials, including the leader of a Chechen militia who is now fighting alongside the Russians. After more than a year under occupation, the Chechens retook the capital Grozny and the Russians withdrew.
Despite Russian predictions the war will soon be over, some experts believe fighting could drag on for years, as rebels resort to guerrilla tactics that worked so well for them in the previous conflict.
By late 2000, months after victory was declared by Moscow, Russian forces occupy almost all of the region, but actually control very little of it. Russian soldiers and police periodically search villages looking for rebel fighters, and Russian warplanes and helicopters continue the war from the air. The rebels continue to launch ambushes, with dealy result. By the end of September 2000 about 3,200 Russians had died since the war began in August 2999, according to the official count, and Russian soldiers were being killed at a rate of about ten each week.
According to official figures released by the military headquarters in the North Caucasus on 22 July 2002, a total of 4,249 federal servicemen had been killed and 12,285 wounded in fighting in Chechnya since fall 1999. The military also claimed that federal forces have killed 13,517 rebels over the same period. Although Putin declared the military operation over in early 2002, rebels still control much of the southern part of Chechnya, and kill 20 to 30 Russian soldiers each week.
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