CHERMEN, Russia -- Thousands of Russian troops streamed into a province bordering war-torn Chechnya yesterday to search for heavily armed militant separatists who killed at least 57 people in fierce attacks. President Vladimir V. Putin vowed to stop the spreading insurgency.
The coordinated assaults on police and border guard facilities in the republic of Ingushetia was also a graphic demonstration of the Russian forces' vulnerability to Chechen guerrillas, who are increasingly taking their fight for an independent Muslim state to neighboring regions.
Troops searched for the attackers, who officials said may have come from Chechnya and were believed to have melted into the thick woods along the Chechen border or were trying to flee over the Caucasus Mountains into Georgia.
Visiting Ingushetia after the attacks, Putin said a regiment of Interior Ministry forces would be stationed permanently in the province. The move raises the number of Russian troops in the troubled Caucasus region even as Moscow tries to distance itself from the war in Chechnya.
Meeting with Ingushetia's president, Murat Zyazikov, Putin said the search for the attackers must go on "as long as necessary." He thanked those who "did not allow the bandits to achieve their goals."
Major General Ilya Shabalkin, spokesman for the Russian forces in Chechnya, said that Chechen rebels planned the attacks but that the raids were carried out by fighters recruited from both Chechnya and Ingushetia, the Interfax-Military News Agency reported.
"The attacks were clearly saber rattling, aimed to demonstrate the rebels' effectiveness to attract funding from foreign terrorist networks," Shabalkin said, according to Interfax.
Earlier, officials said some fighters shouted "Allahu akbar," a rallying cry of Chechnya's separatist rebels as their insurgency increasingly comes under the influence of radical Islamists.
The brazen assaults also raised new doubts about the Kremlin's strategy in Chechnya. Unable to defeat the rebels and refusing to negotiate, the Kremlin has banked on restoring stability through civil measures, including holding elections and promising a substantial autonomy.
Beslan Khamkoyev, Ingushetia's acting interior minister, said at least 57 people died in the Ingushetia attacks, which began after dark Monday; 47 of them were law enforcement officers or officials, Khamkoyev said, according to the ITAR-Tass news agency.
Russian news media reported that only two militants died. At least one group of rebels were caught by police as they retreated through Galashki, near the Chechen border, said a spokesman for Ingushetia's Interior Ministry.
The United Nations' office of humanitarian aid coordination in Russia said a UN worker, Magomed Getagazov, was killed in the crossfire while returning home from work in Nazran, the main city in the province.