Another Battle For Argun- Argun, one of the key cities just east of Grozny (with a population of around 50,000), has long been a hotbed of rebel activity. In the last few days, the local skirmishing has boiled over into one of Chechnya's largest battles in months. On 8 December, they attacked a police patrol, killing two officers and wounding four. Four rebel were allegedly killed with return fire.
On 12 December 2001, unknown individuals encircled and opened fire at a group of policemen stationed in Argun. Within 30 minutes, the policemen were backed up by eight AFVs, a Ural truck loaded with Interior Ministry troops and two AFVs belonging to the local military commandant's office.
In a separate incident, a column of armored vehicles came was ambushed in Argun and a firefight followed, with six soldiers and policemen wounded in the clash. The Russians claimed that ten rebels were killed during the fighting. This supposedly occured on the town's and the rebels retreated into Argun after Federal helicopters fired on them. Gunfire could be heard within the town throughout the rest of the day and night.
The Federal response was swift. Russian Defense Ministry, Interior Ministry and secret service units launched a large-scale operation in Argun at dawn on 13 December. By 12.30 hours, Argun was blockaded, with the roads to Grozny, Vedeno, Gudermes and the Dagestani border closed.
The Russians may have figuratively shot themselves in the foot, since General Director of the Grozenergo Energy Company Nurdin Usamov told a press conference that the electricity to Khankala (the Federal's main military base in Chechnya) was stopped at noon because the a power plant in Argun was damaged by Russian troops. Lights were also down in Grozny and other large towns.
The Russians discovered up to 50 rebels had come to the town, many of them planning to stay for the winter. Later in the day, this figure was raised to 200 and then 300, with the Russians moving reinforcements to the town and bringing artillery units into play. These fighters are believed to be from a unit answering to Khattab, the Jordanian-born warlord who Russian officials accuse of being a close associate of Osama bin Laden.
Chechnya's chief prosecutor Vsevolod Chernov told the press that the rebels had only suffered three casualties (who resisted arrest), but that one was a well-known field commander. Chernov initially refused to name him, but ITAR-TASS later revealed that it was "Arab mercenary" Khalid Mutaliyev and that there were seven other rebels killed.
The pro-rebel "Marsho" news agency reported that Jamaat of Saifullah fighters engaged Russian troops near Argun's sugar refinery during the day, destroying a BTR and killing five troops.
According to Vladimir Chernykh, chief of the criminal police of the Argun Interior Ministry department, on the 14th the acting military commandant of Chechnya Major General Alexander Tretyakov and Chechen Prosecutor Vsevolod Chernov arrived in the town of Argun on Friday to investigate the tough mop-up operation that had been carried out at the Power Plant. The situation stabilized after that and only pin-point ID checks were still going on in the town.
No engagements or shootouts had occurred, but the town remained blockaded and dozens of suspects were detained, although most were refugees from the Nozhai-Yurt district. Acting Military Commandant of the Chechen Republic General Alexander Tretyakov told Interfax on Friday that the operation would continue until all rebels who had infiltrated the town were eliminated or arrested. The town administration maintained that the Federal figure of 250 rebels might be exaggerated and that probably only a dozen fighters were hiding in the town at the beginning of the operation.
Power supply to the Khankala military garrison was fully restored by nightfall and federal troops commander Lieutenant General Vladimir Moltenskoi had promised to punish those responsible for the damage. Top on Moltenskoi' "hit list" was Major Labunets, commander of the party that broke into the power plant and damaged its equipment.