The number of people killed and injured during the first six months of this year in fighting in the North Caucasus between police and security forces and the Islamic insurgency has fallen by almost two-thirds compared with the same period in 2014, from 279 to 95.
Between January and June 2014, 180 people were killed and a further 99 injured; the figures for 2015 were 77 (including 65 militants) and 18, respectively. The overall casualty figures for 2014 reflected a 46.9 percent drop compared with 2013.
The most obvious explanation for that ongoing trend is the transfer by many fighters in Chechnya and Daghestan of their allegiance from the Caucasus Emirate (IK) proclaimed in October 2007 by then-Chechen Republic Ichkeria President Doku Umarov to Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi, head of the terrorist organization Islamic State (IS).
But those two republics still account for the overwhelming majority of fatalities (52 and 10, respectively), suggesting that not all fighters who have sworn allegiance to Baghdadi have left the North Caucasus to join the fighting in Syria and Iraq. According to the National Antiterrorism Committee, the eight fighters killed a few days ago in Ingushetia's Sunzha district that borders on Chechnya were all residents of Chechnya and belonged to a group based in Achkhoi-Martan that was directly subordinate to Aslan Byutukayev (aka Amir Khamzat), who heads the insurgency wing in Chechnya.
Byutukayev was reported in June to have pledged allegiance to Baghdadi; the eight men who died were said to have aligned with IS "not long ago."
Meanwhile, Said Arakansky, who heads the IK's Daghestan wing, has named two new sector commanders: Abu Abdulla Kasumkentsky to command the Southern sector and Mukhammad Abu Dudjana Gimrinsky to command the adjacent Mountain sector.
Abu Dudjana Gimrinsky, born in 1984, is said to have studied Islamic law in Syria from 2003 to 2010, and then returned there three years ago. It is not clear whether he was one of the fighters who left Daghestan for Syria via the so-called "green corridor" with the blessing of the Federal Security Service, a practice chronicled in detail last week by Russian journalist Yelena Milashina.
Abu Dudjana "acquired military experience" at the Sheikh Suleiman military base west of Aleppo, and is said to have taken part in the liberation of the settlement of Ma'arat al-Artik, which RFE/RL blogger Joanna Paraszczuk suggests indicates that he was fighting in the ranks of Jaish al-Muhajireen wal Ansar or Seyfullakh Shishani's jamaat, both of which participated in that operation in 2014.
In a five-minute video clip, recently posted on the insurgency website vd.ag, Abu Dudjana pledges allegiance to Arakansky, and appeals to "sincere believers" to join the jihad against "unbelievers." He also reminds his own fighters, and the other Daghestani amirs, of the need to avoid shedding the blood of fellow Muslims and destroying their property. Whether his military expertise will translate into a change of tactics on the part of the fighters in Daghestan, meaning a departure from the usual small-scale ambushes and killings of policemen and local officials, remains to be seen.