Sharing and celebrating spoils of war. Afghan guerrillas find valuable booty in wake of Soviet withdrawal. Eyewitness account below and related story, P. 7.
Jagi District, Afghanistan
It was an odd combination of fun fair and city dump. Carts of rocket and mortar rounds, gas masks, field telephones, helmets, mobile kitchens, chairs, tables, ration packs, documents, and a sewing machine littered the ground as the guerrillas, some wearing captured Russian helmets, rummaged through the spoils of war. Then, outside the badly scarred buildings that once served as base hospital and cookhouse, they divided their booty. ``We share whatever we find among the seven [resistance] parties,'' said Comdr. Zabid Shahboz, a member of the Hezb-e-Islami (Gulbuddin Hekmatyar faction), who claims to be in charge of 600 men in Afghanistan's Jagi district.
``We have good unity here. Not like in Peshawar,'' he added, referring to the political infighting that has beset the exile resistance parties in Pakistan for years. Commanders of other political groups also indicated good working relations with fellow commanders operating inside Afghanistan.
Also scattered across the fortified position were various artillery pieces and two dozen Soviet-made armored personnel carriers, trucks abandoned by the government forces. Shouting above the roar of engines, groups of Afghans swarmed over the vehicles to tow or drive them away, or dismantle them for the scrap merchants who scavenge the battle zones.
Although the taking of Jagi, a string of heavily fortified positions spread over six miles, could hardly be considered a military feat, the sudden withdrawal from the district on May 15 of an estimated 4,000 Army troops, militiamen, and militarized Khad (the Kabul secret police) was reason enough for the mujahideen (holy warriors) to feel festive. Many had come down from the mountains to look at their new prize. As several horsemen reached Chowni, the district headquarters, an excited tour of 30 guerrillas clambered on top of a wrecked tank to wave their guns and shout, ``Allah o akbar [God is great],'' for photographs.
Nearby, another group picked its way through the debris of the compound, already stripped of its electric wiring and furniture, equipped with underground bunkers and a self-styled Finnish sauna where the Soviet advisers used to live.
The fact that Soviet planes had dropped two bombs the day before, one of them carving a huge crater in the middle of what once was the vehicle-repair yard, did little to perturb them. More planes flew overhead that morning, but one young commander, Nasseri Tal Ibudin of Jamiat-e-Islami, shrugged and said ``We have Stinger,'' implying that the mujahideen in Jagi are equipped with the American antiaircraft missiles.
The Soviet Afghan government forces first established their string of fortified positions at the foot of the snowcapped Safed Koh range during the early 1980s.
For four years, local Pathan tribesmen resisting the Soviet occupation had entrenched themselves around the government positions, harassing them with mortars and machine-gun fire. The besieged communists would return the assaults with long-range artillery bombardments or call in jet and helicopter strikes from nearby Jalalabad and other air bases.
When the regime forces pulled out on the day the Soviet Union had scheduled the start of its proposed nine-month withdrawal from Afghanistan, they did so in haste, judging by the amount of equipment left behind. The mujahideen moved in within hours. More than a week later, I traveled by jeep over the mountain pass from the Pakistani frontier town of Terimangal and down along a rutted track leading to Jagi.
In a war that has meant often days or weeks of trekking by foot through mountains and deserts to get from one place to another, it seemed strange to be able to drive into Afghanistan. The road was now virtually open to the main Kabul-to-Kandahar highway, less than a day away. A few more hours and you could be in the Afghan capital. A steady stream of trucks, pickups and tractors, camels and horse caravans was making its way over the pass with enormous quantities of ammunition and weapons.
Over the past two years, the mujahideen have set up an elaborate system of arms, depots, base camps, tunnels, and roads in the mountains overlooking Jagi. There are also reportedly more than 600 Arabs now fighting with the guerrillas around Jagi.
With the signing of the Geneva accords April 14, the Pakistanis sought to move as much weaponry as possible by the start of the May 15 withdrawal date, but munitions were still pouring across 10 days later. Most of the villages along the way have been deserted since the early days of the war. Years of bombing and shelling have turned them into shattered ruins surrounded by crumbling, terraced fields, thickly overgrown with weeds.
Within four days of the government departure, however, one enterprising old farmer from Khozi Khel had already established an open-air tearoom, next to the heavily damaged village mosque.
As a barrel-like samovar steamed in the background, Feruz Khan sat under a tarpaulin shelter where he sold chewing gum, sweets, biscuits, flashlight batteries, and cigarettes displayed in ammunition boxes to passing mujahideen. ``I will bring back my family from Pakistan as soon as we have built a new house,'' he said. ``But there are too many mines. We don't know how long it will take to clear them.''
Although there appeared to be no deliberate booby-trapping, as was the case when the communists pulled out of Barikot in Kunar Province last month, the Soviet-Afghan forces had left most of the fields and hillsides bordering the road and the security posts covered with mines. For returning Afghans, the country's estimated 3 to 5 million mines could pose problems for years to come. Already, a number of Afghans had died both on foot and in vehicles around the Jagi posts. The morning of our arrival, another guerrilla fighter was killed when he stepped on a mine.
Approaching Chowni, you had to drive carefully, particularly when pulling around the destroyed bridges and along the riverbeds when there was no road to speak of.
While most of the valley's inhabitants had fled during the early stages of the war, those from several villages at Alikhel and around Chowni stayed on under communist rule. According to the guerrillas, they cooperated with the resistance but sold vegetables and fruit to the government.
These villages stood out in vivid contrast to devastated settlements farther up the valley. Life appeared more or less normal. Some buildings had obviously been hit, but farmers continued to plow their fields with oxen, women washed clothes in the streams, and children played in the dust. Somehow, the sudden appearance of groups of guerrillas moving along the road to Chowni seemed to make little difference in their lives.
``We have taken Jagi and the communists will never come back,'' declared Comdr. Mahmoud Daoud, a thickly bearded Pathan from Ashamkhel, a nearby village, and a member of an extremist fundamentalist party. ``They want us to join their government. But they are afraid, because we will soon take Kabul. And then, we will bring the jihad [holy war] to Tadzhikistan [and] Uzbekistan,'' he laughed, referring to Soviet Central Asia. ``The Muslim people are waiting for us.''