Soviets struggle to keep Kabul government going until pullout date
Afghan resistance forces have made substantial, albeit sometimes chaotic, inroads against the Soviet-backed regime in the past two months. But in recent weeks, forces of the Kabul government have been able to regain ground from the resistance. This underlines the failure of some tribal groups to organize proper defenses for captured positions.
Still, the resistance has repeatedly cut the country's communication routes, causing food and other shortages. The Soviets have been forced to fly in supplies to Kandahar and Jalalabad, often under cover of night. The main road from the Pakistan border to Jalalabad and Kabul remains closed to commercial traffic, with large sections openly held by the resistance.
According to recently returned travelers, it is a similar situation at Chaman near Spin Boldak on the Quetta to Kandahar road. Commander Ahmed Shah Massoud's ``Resistance Council of the North'' has also blocked portions of the 200-mile highway leading from the Afghan capital to the Soviet Union, Western diplomatic and resistance sources say.
As far as can be determined, at least three provinces in northeast Afghanistan - Takhar, Bamiyan, and Kunar - now lie totally in guerrilla hands. Two more, Kunduz and Kapisa, are under virtual guerrilla control except for sections of each capital, including Kunduz airbase. Resistance forces have also taken most of Badakshan Province apart from major posts along the Amu Darya (Oxus River) and the Wakhan corridor, the panhandle that borders the Soviet Union, China, and Pakistan. Guerrillas can now travel freely in areas where only months earlier they were only able to walk at night.
The Soviets seem determined to prevent a collapse of the regime as long as they remain in Afghanistan. As a result, they have escalated their operations in a bid to support Afghan troops with some of the heaviest aerial bombardments reported over the past few years. They have also recently introduced highly destructive SS-1 Scud missiles.
According to representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, the number of victims, many of them civilians, brought to war casualty clinics in Peshawar and Quetta has risen dramatically since the bombing began. Relief officials have also reported hundreds of refugee families crossing over into Pakistan, particularly from the Jalalabad region.
Western diplomats in Islamabad and Peshawar, however, feel that the Soviets are still hoping for a solution that could prevent a collapse of the Kabul regime once the last occupation troops have left. It is believed that Moscow still intends to be out by Feb. 15, 1988, as agreed under the United Nations Geneva accords last April.
One encouraging sign some diplomats point to is that Moscow has not rejected the proposal of the resistance's political leadership for a 400-member elected shura (assembly). This calls for ``good Muslims'' from Kabul to be included and could thus help avert the impression of a total defeat of its surrogate regime in Afghanistan. As with the alliance's failed interim government, however, the shura concept, though backed by Pakistan and the United States, is making little headway among the resistance fighters.
While the mujahideen have yet to take a major town - many commanders say they lack the administrative organization to hold towns or that occupying them will only invite reprisals against civilians - guerrilla actions are beginning to tell on government morale in parts abandoned by the Soviets.
Soviet forces continue to occupy Kabul, Herat, Shindand and other strategic points to the north and west, but, Soviet air support notwithstanding, Afghan troops are now fighting on their own in Kandahar and Jalalabad. While keeping up their rocket and ground attacks, resistance commanders are known to be secretly negotiating with army officers and party officials for local surrenders.
Internal coup attempts have been already reported in recent months in Kabul, Jalalabad and elsewhere but were thwarted by Khad, the much feared Afghan secret service now known as KAM. Last week, however, a number of officers reportedly launched a coup attempt in Kandahar, where government forces still hold part of the city and the airport. Resistance sources say this was put down, but that the rebels managed to defect to the resistance.