Ambush kills 18 Russian soldiers

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The Independent Online

In what appeared to be an attack by Chechen rebels, officials said gunmen ambushed a Russian troop convoy in a region just west of breakaway Chechnya on Thursday, killing at least 18 soldiers.

In what appeared to be an attack by Chechen rebels, officials said gunmen ambushed a Russian troop convoy in a region just west of breakaway Chechnya on Thursday, killing at least 18 soldiers.

The convoy was passing along a wooded section of road near the village of Galashki, in the Russian republic of Ingushetia, when gunmen opened fire with automatic weapons and grenade launchers, said Russian military investigators on the scene of the attack.

Sixteen soldiers were killed at the scene and two others died of wounds on the way to hospital. Four other soldiers were wounded and one trooper was missing, officials said.

Chechen rebels have killed scores of Russian soldiers in ambushes in recent months, catching the poorly-trained federal units by surprise and causing heavy losses before reinforcements can arrive.

Ingushetia borders Chechnya, and has been the site of occasional crossover attacks by Chechen rebels. Russia has a heavy military presence in Ingushetia, and the border has been a key crossing for some 200,000 refugees fleeing the fighting in Chechnya.

Investigators at the scene of the ambush, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Associated Press that the convoy consisted of two trucks, one of them towing a broken down armored personnel carrier. The convoy was ambushed at a wooded, upward-sloping section of the road.

Near the site of the attack, Russian military sappers could be seen searching for mines believed to have been left by the attackers. Investigators said seven grenade launchers were weft behind in trenches where the ambushers hid before the attack.

They said that the attack happened too quickly for the soldiers to put up serious resistance. It was not immediately known how many soldiers were in the convoy.

Ingush Interior Ministry spokesman Mikhail Khamkhoyev said it wasn't clear who launched the ambush, but it resembled tactics used regularly by the Chechens, who have been fighting Russian troops in a bitter conflict for nine months.

On Wednesday, rebel fighters claimed to have trapped a Russian unit in eastern Chechnya, killing 30 soldiers. The Russian military denied the claim.

Both the Russian military and the Chechen rebels exaggerate the other side's losses while playing down their own. Accurate casualty figures have been difficult to come by since the Russian forces invaded Chechnya in September to quash what it called a major terrorist threat.

In Moscow, Deputy Chief of the General Staff Valery Manilov said Thursday that 2,233 Russian servicemen had been killed since the start of the operation in the North Caucasus, while 6,575 were wounded. He did not say how many rebels had been killed or wounded.

Chechen rebels drove out Russian troops at the end of a 1994-96 war, and the region was overwhelmed by violence and kidnapping. A rebel attack on the neighboring Russian region of Dagestan was cited as one of the main reasons why Russian troops went back into Chechnya in September.

Alew 12 sorties to bomb suspected rebel positions in southern Chechnya on Wednesday. Combat helicopters also flew 30 flights.

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