Rebels inflict heavy losses as Russian forces close on Grozny

RUSSIAN TROOPS in Chechnya have suffered serious casualties in some of the heaviest fighting of the war as they battle to control the strategic highway running south of Grozny, the Chechen capital.

After two battles in and around the village of Alkhan-Yurt, which is on the main road south-west of Grozny, villagers fleeing the fighting said they saw the bodies of hundreds of Russian soldiers. Earlier a senior Russian officer was quoted as saying 250 Russain soldiers had been killed.

Over three days from 1 December, Russian armoured reconnaissance units first tried to storm the bridge over a small river in Alkhan-Yurt. Eyewitnesses said the Russians then launched an infantry attack, which also failed.

Russian troops also flanked the village to the south, moving through a small forest where they again came under heavy fire from Chechen guerrillas. Omar Issayev, an elderly man who was driving through the forest, said: "I could see the bodies of at least 100 soldiers beside the road."

The fighting in Alkhan-Yurt was particularly ferocious. Zena Ataiva, who lives in the village, said: "Two Russian soldiers who were taking a video machine were captured and were decapitated by the fighters."

Alkhan-Yurt is known as a stronghold of the Wahhabis, a militant Islamic group, whofought side by side with regular Chechen guerrillas, led by a local commander called Ahmed Zakayev.

Russian television showed pictures of Alkhan Yurt, which appeared as a total ruin, with billowing clouds of smoke rising over shredded roofs.

The battles at Alkhan-Yurt are the first sign that Russian forces are abandoning their tactic of keeping their casualties low by avoiding close contact fighting and relying on their artillery and air power. Support for the war in Russia has remained high partly because losses have been much lower than in the first Chechen war in 1994-96.

The fighting in the forest to the east of Alkhan-Yurt may also explain why Russian Interior Ministry troops, possibly unnerved by guerrilla attacks, opened fire on a convoy of refugees in a bus and seven or eight cars in the area on Friday morning.

Rosa Aidemirova was shot in the head by the Russians. She said yesterday: "I was bandaged and given a painkiller by the same troops that shot at us from the forest. They had the badges of Omon (Interior Ministry troops) on their uniforms." Russia has denied massacring refugees.

Relatives of Mrs Aidemirova sitting by her hospital bed showed a Kalashnikov bullet taken from her leg and, lowering their voices so she would not hear, said another bullet was still in her head.

Chechen fighters were reported by refugees yesterday to have pulled out of Alkhan-Yurt. Russian troops have now largely encircled Grozny but Chechens say there are gaps in the Russian lines.

"Chechen commanders believe the fight for Grozny has begun," a pro-Chechen rebel was quoted as saying yesterday. Russia's chief commander in Chechnya, General Viktor Kazantsev, had proclaimed on Saturday that the town was under a full blockade.

Usam Baisev, a resident of Samashki, about 18 miles west of Grozny, said: "In my village the fighters were able to withdraw with their wounded long after the Russians had surrounded it."

The main guerrilla forces have withstood the recent attacks and were reported by the Russian army to be withdrawing into the mountains further south.

Russian forces faced relatively little opposition for the first two months of the campaign, but rebel resistance has intensified markedly - as have Russian artillery and air strikes - as the troops have advanced towards Grozny over the past week.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine