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Soviet Troop Pullout Slowed as Afghan Rebels Step Up Attacks, Diplomats Say

May 25, 1988|From Times Wire Services

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — The Kremlin probably won't meet the goal of pulling one-fourth of its soldiers out of Afghanistan this month because U.S.-backed guerrillas are overwhelming Afghan troops left behind, Western diplomats said Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Kabul Radio reported that guerrillas Tuesday staged rocket attacks on Kabul, the Afghan capital, for the second straight day, killing at least two people.

According to the diplomats, based in Islamabad, such attacks have been increasing not only on the capital but also on key Afghan garrisons in an effort to harass departing Red Army convoys. The rebels have also overrun a string of bases defended only by Afghan soldiers, most of which are on the eastern border with Pakistan.

"The regime has lost 18 district towns since mid-March, an unprecedented string of losses with tactical implications," strengthening the belief that the Afghan army cannot fight the guerrillas alone, one diplomat said.

Soviet forces began their withdrawal May 15 under terms of an agreement signed April 14 in Geneva, and Lt. Gen. Boris Gromov had said that 25% of the estimated 115,000 troops would be out by the end of this month.

"It is difficult to see how this will be achieved," said one diplomat.

Apart from the much-heralded pullout of several smaller Soviet units, there had been little evidence of other troop movements in Afghanistan, the diplomats added, quoting embassy dispatches as saying that only one Soviet combat unit was on the move in the past week, a 165-vehicle column of mostly armor and artillery.

They also said that guerrillas last week seized Sayedbad, a district capital southwest of Kabul on the main highway to the Soviet garrison town of Ghazni, and that intense fighting around two other rebel-captured garrisons has left heavy casualties.

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