Kadyrov called for creating a special commission that will furnish a more accurate figure, meaning one that is lower than the FSB estimate of 400-500 fighters. Any attempt to come up with an accurate and up-to-date estimate is problematic, however, given that small groups of fighters can and do move easily from one North Caucasus republic to another, especially in summer when foliage provides ample cover.
Since his appointment as republic head in the spring of 2007, Kadyrov and other senior members of the Chechen leadership have repeatedly insisted that only a few dozen fighters remain in Chechnya, and that it is only a matter of weeks, or at most months, before they are killed or captured. As recently as late March, Chechen Republic First Deputy Prime Minister Magomed Daudov told a seminar on counterinsurgency that the "main forces of the bandit groups and extremist underground" have been crushed and their most dangerous leaders "neutralized." He said 140 militants were killed in Chechnya in 2009 and 120 apprehended.
Chechen official estimates of the strength of the insurgency are consistently far lower than those cited by the FSB and the Russian Interior Ministry, which could explain why some Russian officials are increasingly disinclined to take them at face value. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev in January made a disparaging comment about unnamed officials who "spout figures" that "may not reflect reality."
In fact, the losses inflicted on the insurgency by the Chechen police and security bodies during their periodic counterterror sweeps have until now been more than compensated for by the steady influx of new recruits. Meeting with Kadyrov last week, however, Daudov claimed that not a single young man has "headed for the forest" to join the ranks of the insurgency this year.
Daudov said Chechen records currently list 198 suspected militants, but some of those persons have left Chechnya and now live abroad.
Why Kadyrov has issued orders to compile an accurate estimate of the number of fighters in Chechnya at this juncture is unclear. But such purportedly accurate figures could provide a face-saving rationale for abandoning, or at least scaling back the current practice of routinely rounding up and shooting law-abiding civilians and then branding them militants.
Extrajudicial killings and reprisals by law enforcement personnel were one of the issues that human rights activists raised with Medvedev last week during a three-hour discussion of the problems besetting the North Caucasus and how they could conceivably be solved.