MOSCOW — Russia's military acknowledged Thursday that it had lost 10 troops in a battle with Chechen rebels, and President-elect Vladimir V. Putin said commandos would strike back with redoubled vigor.
Russian officials said the rebels attacked a squad Wednesday near Serzhen-Yurt, near the entrance to the key Vedeno Gorge that leads into Chechnya's southern mountains. In an oft-repeated tactic, the rebels engaged the Russian unit from the front to divert its attention, then launched a deadly strike from the rear. At least 17 rebels died, the officials said.
An ambush Sunday near the same town killed at least 13 Russians, officials said.
Putin on Thursday told ministers that he would boost commando numbers in the mountains, where the rebels have stepped up attacks.
"For Russia there is no other aim than destroying the bandits and rebuilding the social-economic sphere," he said, adding that Moscow will spend about $260 million to reconstruct Chechnya, all but flattened by Russia's seven-month campaign.
Although the Russian leadership recently has toyed publicly with the idea of negotiations and Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov has claimed that he ordered the rebels to halt hostilities, fighting has apparently resumed. The two recent ambushes have embarrassed the military, underscoring that it is not in control of Chechnya and undercutting claims by Putin that the war is over.