YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Afghan Leader Steps Up War Against Guerrillas : Soviets Also Bolster Military Activity as Hopes for a Political Settlement Dim

July 06, 1986|WILLIAM J. EATON | Times Staff Writer

KABUL, Afghanistan — The new leader of Afghanistan, Najib, is reaching for the sword, not the olive branch, calling for a sharp escalation in the war against guerrilla forces.

Najib, who has only the one name, has ordered a buildup in the Afghan army, along with an end to draft exemptions for college students and a crackdown on draft dodgers and deserters. He has appealed to students, workers and peasants to sign up for military duty in the war against the anti-government moujahedeen, already in its seventh year, and has urged young women to serve as nurses.

"Today you hear the voice of the motherland calling you," he recently told a group of army recruits. "There exists no more noble and sacred task than defense of the dear homeland when it has encountered aggression and interference."

Civilians have also been organized to bolster security against the guerrillas. In villages near Kabul, self-defense militias have been formed of older men and women, and boys as young as 14. They post guards even though they say there have been no rebel attacks for many months.

The Soviet troops here, estimated to number 120,000, are stepping up their activity, too, employing elite commando units, advanced weapons and new tactics in what is seen as a drive for an all-out victory over the guerrillas.

Early Accord Unlikely

These developments appear to have doomed any chance for an early agreement in talks sponsored by the United Nations aimed at halting the fighting and speeding the withdrawal of the Soviet forces. The governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan have been holding such talks in Geneva off and on since 1982 in search of a political solution to end the war.

Zia Aziz, a spokesman for the ruling People's Democratic Party, said the talking and fighting may continue for many years. Diplomats in Kabul say that the guerrillas now seem to be less capable of mounting a major attack or of penetrating to the northern part of the country than they once were.

Najib, 38, is not holding out the prospect of a quick or easy victory over the insurgents.

"Years will pass by, our revolutionary people will annihilate the enemy and purge their suffering land of the marauding bandits, mercenary terrorists, provocateurs and their patrons," he told the recruits.

A Western diplomat in Moscow who follows developments in Afghanistan said of Najib, who took over as general secretary of the People's Democratic Party in May, "He's young and tough, and he's pursuing the war more vigorously."

Youths Pressed Into Army

One sign of the new resolve is an increase in street roundups of young men who have not served in the army. During a recent visit, journalists saw many youths in civilian clothing being herded into army trucks for immediate induction.

Moreover, there is a new regulation that eliminates the draft exemption for college students. It subjects young men to two years in the military as soon as they reach their 18th birthday. The new regulation is aimed at closing a loophole that had allowed youths from well-to-do families to delay or even avoid military service.

The new measures will be canceled, officials in Kabul said, only after "full and complete eradication of the counterrevolutionaries and a guarantee of peace and security in the country."

In Peshawar, across the frontier in Pakistan, rebel leaders have confirmed that Soviet military pressure has intensified in recent weeks.

"In all the years of war, we had never seen anything like it," Rahim Wardak, a guerrilla commander, was quoted by the Associated Press as saying after a recent engagement. "They bombed us night and day."

Rebel sources, as well as Western diplomatic and intelligence officials, say the fighting has increased markedly in the past year, and the guerrillas are on the defensive after earlier having controlled much of the countryside.

The Soviets are using new counterinsurgency tactics, calling on a 3,000-man commando unit known as spetsnaz (special purpose) that arrived in Afghanistan earlier this year. They have also reinforced their conventional forces with advanced aircraft, artillery with a range up to 25 miles and helicopters that have been used in night operations.

The commandos, skilled in setting up surprise attacks, have been known to surround guerrilla strongholds, sometimes by climbing sheer cliffs in the middle of the night. Once they have cut off escape routes, the commandos call in helicopter gunships and long-range artillery and rockets.

In March, the guerrillas lost one of their largest bases, at Zhawar in eastern Afghanistan, to a quick-hitting assault by two battalions of the airborne commandos. The base was destroyed, and hundreds were killed or wounded on both sides.

Los Angeles Times Articles