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ANALYSIS-Chechnya shows sobering lessons for Afghanistan
By Adam Tanner

MOSCOW, Nov 14 (Reuters) - As the West celebrates the Northern Alliance's victories over the Taliban in Afghanistan, Russia's breakaway province of Chechnya provides a sobering reminder of the difficulties of subduing guerrilla resistance.

After two wars in the past decade and thousands of dead, Russia has uneasy control over the southern region, yet Chechen fighters still battle Russia's massive military machine.

The same fate could await U.S.-backed forces in Afghanistan, where the North Alliance has captured the capital Kabul and other towns in recent days amid a Taliban retreat.

"The quick taking of cities in Afghanistan does not mean the end of military activity," said Sergei Yastrzhembsky, the Kremlin's top spokesman on Chechnya. "The experience of Chechnya shows seizing populated areas does not signify the end of war."

"The Taliban and al Qaeda can conduct a partisan war, which has a prolonged nature," he told Reuters on Wednesday.

Russia launched a second war to subdue Chechen separatists in October 1999 but its 50,000-strong force still faces regular attacks and ambushes. Servicemen fall victim nearly daily, adding to official losses in the latest war of 3,500 men.

"Converting military success into political success will be difficult," Yastrzhembsky said. "It is much easier to complete military activity than find a political solution."

In previous fighting from 1994-96, tens of thousands of soldiers and civilians died in Chechnya.


As the World Trade Center attacks prompted the U.S. war on Afghanistan, blasts that killed about 300 people in Moscow and other cities in 1999 prompted Russian intervention in Chechnya, although the perpetrators of the blasts were never identified.

Western governments initially criticised Moscow's crackdown on overwhelmingly independence-minded Chechnya, but the condemnation has faded since the September 11 attacks.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has repeatedly said the Chechen guerrilla war is linked to "international terrorism."

And much as U.S. President George Bush has vowed to get Osama bin Laden dead or alive, Russia has sought Chechen rebel leaders -- with little success.

The only prominent Chechen commander caught by Russia, Salman Raduyev, goes on trial on Thursday, a year and a half after his capture. Chechnya's rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov and infamous warlords like Shamil Basayev remain at large.

"Of course bin Laden will be hard to find because he commands great respect among the local population," said Sharip Yusupov, Maskhadov's former Moscow representative.

"If Russia can't find Basayev and Maskhadov in such a small territory, imagine the situation in Afghanistan, which is such a large territory with so many places to hide."

Washington and its allies hope Afghans themselves will help to flush out bin Laden, a Saudi, while in Chechnya overwhelming support for the rebel cause makes it highly unlikely Moscow will capture their leaders that way.

But Afghanistan is 50 times larger than Chechnya, which is about half the size of Belgium.

There are some direct Afghan-Chechen links. Some Chechens now fight for the Taliban, and some reports speculate bin Laden could seek refuge in the rugged Russian enclave.

Another parallel between Chechnya and Afghanistan comes in local figures supported by Moscow and Washington who later turned on their patrons.

"Russia itself created (first Chechen leader Dzhokar) Dudayev. We armed him and financed him as part of our support for democracy," said retired Gen. Major Leonid Shershnev, who served as a Soviet commander in Afghanistan. "The Americans did the same with bin Laden."

Chechnya, where about 1,500 to 2,000 fighters still oppose Moscow, shows that small bands of guerrilla fighters can survive in mountainous terrain for years against much larger armies. A propaganda war is still going on as well.

"The lesson of Chechnya is that the matter has to be carried out to the end, they must be completely destroyed," said Yastrzhembsky. "This is not a matter of just a month."

"The problem is the landscape. Some areas cannot be held under constant control."

Former Chechen official Yusupov said events in Chechnya also illustrate the need for economic stability to end hostilities.

"To succeed in Afghanistan, America must first understand Russia's actions in Chechnya and not repeat those mistakes," he said. "In the mid 1990s, Russia signed deals with Chechnya and promised help which did not arrive."

"If America wants Afghans to accept the situation after the Taliban, it should actively help Afghanistan economically."

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