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Soviets' dismal four years in Afghanistan

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The Soviet Union has now entered its fifth year of occupation in Afghanistan. For the Red Army, fighting in this Central Asian country, its first armed conflict on foreign soil since 1945 has lasted longer than World War II. Nevertheless, its efforts to crush a headstrong and popularly supported resistance movement continue to prove a failure.

As before, the war remains a military standoff with no political settlement likely in the near future. Tragically, it promises to be a drawn-out and dismal affair.

The Kremlin persists in prosecuting a long-term strategy consisting of brute force and KGB-style subversion. The mujahideen (holy warriors), for their part, have managed to defy all predictions of defeat by preventing the regime of Afghan President Babrak Karmal from establishing any semblance of control beyond the towns.

At present, the resistance ''holds'' roughly 85 percent of the countryside. It regularly infiltrates the capital by night and occasionally by day.

The nature of Soviet involvement still contrasts strikingly with that of the United States in Vietnam. Unlike the Americans, who at the height of the war deployed more than half a million men in Indochina, the Soviets have maintained a low-level holding operation in and around the main urban areas, military bases , and communications links.

And with no uncensored press coverage and with no antiwar pressure at home, the Kremlin has a virtual free hand in its war effort.

It has only slightly escalated its initial commitment of 85,000 invasion troops to today's 105,000 to 110,000, plus another 30,000 just across the Afghan border. Among these, up to five Air Assault Battalions of commando-style rangers , supported by helicopter gunships, have proved particularly effective in anti-insurgent operations.

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