KABUL, Afghanistan — Thousands of Afghan soldiers captured a strategic city near Jalalabad and killed more than 200 guerrillas in a major offensive involving artillery and air support, the government said Saturday.
"Our troops are in complete control not only of Jalalabad but also of areas beyond the city, and we are pushing the enemy" toward Pakistan, Mohammed Nabi Amani, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, told reporters.
Amani said the recently completed offensive by 10,000 government troops captured the city of Khushgumbad, 20 miles east of Jalalabad. "Our victory is very crucial because we have an important airport at Khushgumbad," Amani said.
The city of 30,000 was considered a guerrilla stronghold.
The eastern city of Jalalabad was the guerrillas' first major target after Soviet troops completed their withdrawal Feb. 15 from Afghanistan. The rebels predicted a quick victory, but a stalemate occurred soon after the battle began three months ago.
"We are no more just defending positions, we are now on the offensive," Amani said. "The areas are not only under our control, but we are setting up permanent military posts."
Afghan President Najibullah has called upon the United States and Pakistan, which support the guerrillas, to press for a negotiated settlement to the war, which Najibullah says the guerrillas are incapable of winning. The insurgents control much of Afghanistan's countryside but have been unable to take major cities.
The state-run Bakhtar news agency said 229 guerrillas were killed and 150 wounded in the offensive. It said 86 rocket launchers and 18,200 machine-gun cartridges were captured. The report did not mention government casualties.
It was not immediately possible to verify the government's claims.
An Asian diplomat who monitors military developments in Afghanistan said such a victory would be a major blow to the insurgents.
"Jalalabad was the prestige battle, and if the government is now saying it is pushing the rebels farther east, it is a big blow to the insurgents," said the diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity.