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Soviet-Afghan Offensive Destroys Rebel Stronghold

April 23, 1986 GMT

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) _ Soviet commandos captured and destroyed the strongest Moslem rebel base near the Pakistani border in southeastern Afghanistan, rebel commanders said Wednesday.

House-to-house fighting was reported Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second-largest city, which is about 250 miles west of the fallen Paktia province base at Zhawar.

Thousands of Soviet and Afghan government troops had surrounded the base and jet fighter-bombers, helicopter gunships and artillery pounded it for days.

Both Afghan state radio and the official Soviet news agency Tass reported Tuesday that the mile-long underground complex of bunkers and storerooms had been overrun. It was a major supply and training base defended by tanks, artillery and anti-aircraft emplacements.

Zhawar also guarded important routes used by the insurgents to move weapons and reinforcements into Afghanistan from Pakistan, where an estimated 3 million Afghan refugees live in border camps.

Insurgent commanders said Wednesday that about 2,000 Soviet soldiers and 5,000 Afghan troops, supported by air strikes and artillery, were attacking other rebel positions in strategic Paktia province and pushing the guerrillas back.

″There has been very heavy destruction. The situation is bad,″ one said. He and the others spoke on condition of anonymity for security reasons.

Officials of four main rebel groups told The Associated Press that Soviet commando units had taken and destroyed the Zhawar base in the past two days.

In its report of the capture Tuesday night, the communist government’s Kabul radio said 1,000 defenders were killed and Paktia had been cleared of guerrillas.

Yunis Khalis, the rebel organization that controlled Zhawar, officially denied it was lost, but sources inside the party confirmed the Soviet victory privately.

Jalalladin Haqqani, insurgent commander at Zhawar, said in a message from Paktia that 125 of his men were killed and 220 wounded. He claimed 282 Soviet and Afghan troops were killed and 300 Afghan soldiers captured.

An estimated 115,000 Soviet troops are helping fight the insurgency. The first units entered the country in December 1979 and installed President Babrak Karmal after the previous communist regime was overthrown.

Karmal’s government rarely allows Western reporters into the country, and battle reports cannot be checked independently.

Mohammed Gailani, a top commander of the National Islamic Front of Afghanistan, said he expected the next major attack to be directed against his group’s Main base at Ghulam Khan in Paktia province.

The Afghan Information Center, an independent agency in the Pakistani border city of Peshawar that monitors activities in Afghanistan, said heavy bombing and artillery bombardment had made the difference at Zhawar. Center officials said the rebels’ few anti-aircraft weapons were ineffective against sophisticated jets and gunships.

Soviet and Afghan forces began major attacks in Paktia during the first week of April and launched their push on the border-area bases after a lull last week.

Guerrilla officials and other Afghan sources in Peshawar reported the fighting at Kandahar in southwestern Afghanistan.

They said hundreds of rebels had slipped into the city since the weekend and were fighting Soviet and Afghan troops house-to-house.

The Afghan Information Center in Peshawar said it had reports from Kandahar that Soviet jets had bombed the city, heavily damaging the central Top Khana bazaar and wounding scores of people.

Kandahar has been bombed in the past and guerrillas have held parts of the city for years.