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Afghan Rebels Face Tougher Foe in Elite Soviet Commando Units

May 24, 1986|RONE TEMPEST | Times Staff Writer

Said the report: "This significant improvement in force projection has been enhanced by the introduction of several special purpose (spetsnaz) battalions into Afghanistan. Trained to operate in small teams behind enemy lines, spetsnaz units exemplify the continuing Soviet efforts to tailor forces in Afghanistan to counterinsurgency operations."

Outsiders who have witnessed the new Soviet style in action are impressed.

Alain de Bures, 40, is a French civilian who has spent several months during each of the past three years inside Afghanistan helping Afghan civilians to establish agriculture programs in a wartime setting. His territory is the Kunar River valley, which runs parallel to the Afghan-Pakistan border north of Jalalabad.

Beginning last year, the Soviet strategy in the Kunar Valley has been to cut off supply lines across the Pakistan border. The most effective technique, according to De Bures, has been for Soviet airborne units to take positions atop the foothills facing the passes in the mountains separating the two countries.

Bulldozer Airdrop

First, De Bures said, larger Soviet MI-8 helicopters drop bulldozers and other heavy equipment on the hilltops to clear the trees and establish a base. From these positions, the Soviets can pick off any caravans making their way through the passes.

"The Soviets for the first time have been able to close the border," said de Bures. This causes food and ammunition shortages and other hardships in the valley.

If the moujahedeen forces try to mount an offensive against the Soviet hilltop forces, the Soviets are able to bring in reinforcements or leave by helicopter, setting up another base on another hill. Without any effective weapons against aircraft, the moujahedeen are at a great disadvantage.

Like other rebel commanders, Abdul Haq is encouraged by reports in the Western press that the Reagan Administration has agreed to supply them with sophisticated Stinger ground-to-air missiles. Last year, the United States supplied the rebels with more than $400 million in military supplies, the largest expenditure in a covert CIA operation since the Vietnam War. However, all of these weapons were conventional equipment, basic ammunition, assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades for the most part.

Want Stinger Missiles

Meanwhile, not one of the rebel groups claims yet to have received a Stinger. In Washington, Pentagon officials would not comment on whether Stingers would be sent or have been shipped.

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