ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — U.S.-backed guerrillas have captured a provincial capital in southern Afghanistan, the first such city to fall to the resistance since the start of the Soviet troop withdrawal last month, rebel sources said Saturday.
They said the seizure of Kalat, capital of Zabul province about 200 miles south-southwest of Kabul, came Friday night after eight days of intense fighting between Afghan troops and guerrillas that caused heavy casualties.
The sources said that one fortress on a hill just outside the city remained occupied by an Afghan garrison, and that many Afghan soldiers escaped to the fortress during the fighting.
They said the capture of Kalat, which has a population of about 50,000, was made easier by the efforts of the civilian residents, who cooperated with the guerrillas.
Kalat is the first provincial capital to fall to the guerrillas since the Soviet Union began withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan on May 15. The pullout was called for as part of the April 14 Geneva accord signed by Afghanistan, Pakistan, the United States and the Soviet Union.
The resistance, which is based mostly in Pakistan and is backed by the United States, China, Pakistan and Iran, has claimed more than 20 towns in the last three months, most of them near the Pakistan border and previously abandoned by Afghan troops.
Many diplomats and analysts predict that the Soviet withdrawal will lead to the overthrow of the government of President Najibullah by the guerrillas.
Kalat lies on the main road between Kabul and Kandahar, Afghanistan's second-largest city and the scene of intense fighting during recent weeks. Western diplomats have said the Soviets have delayed their withdrawal from Kandahar to support the besieged Afghan garrisons there.
"The general assessment is that once the Soviets are out of Kandahar, it will be very easily overwhelmed," said one diplomat.
The diplomats and guerrilla sources have reported severe food shortages and power cuts in the city. They said two of three main roads to the city are blocked.