Soviet Drive Relieves Besieged Afghan Garrison
A Soviet armored column pushed through the last guerrilla defenses and relieved the besieged Afghan garrison at the border town of Barikot after two weeks of fierce fighting, rebel officials said Saturday.
Barikot stands at the head of the Kunar Valley, about a mile from the northeastern border with Pakistan. Pakistani military officials said the town was being held by about 1,500 Afghan soldiers and several dozen Soviet troops. Guerrillas forces have besieged it for months at a time for the past four years, and it has had to be resupplied by air for the past year.
A senior official of the anti-communist Ittehad-i-Afghan guerrilla alliance said Soviet tanks and armored personnel carriers reached Barikot Friday night.
“But we are not finished. The moujahedeen (Muslim guerrillas) are still strong,” said the official, who spoke on condition he not be named.
Commando units had driven guerrillas from most of the machine-gun nests atop the mountains surrounding Barikot that gave the rebels the upper hand during the siege. The exiles reported heavy bombing by Soviet jets and helicopters in the area, destroying several villages and burning forests.
An estimated 8,000 Soviet troops backed by thousands of Afghan soldiers were engaged in the three-week-old offensive in the Kunar Valley, which runs parallel to the Pakistani border and serves as one of the many infiltration routes for the Pakistan-based guerrillas.
The 1,500 or so moujahedeen resisting the offensive, the Soviets’ largest this year, temporarily bogged down the advance column last week by ruining the dirt road along the last 24-mile stretch before Barikot.
Many rebels appear to have left the Barikot area to regroup on steep mountainsides along the road andto attack the column after it relieves Barikot and tries to return to Jalalabad at the southern end of the valley, Western diplomats said.
“The Russians can occupy any place they want with such a big offensive,” one Afghan exile said. “But once they begin to settle down, then the trouble starts.”
Soviet troops entered Afghanistan at the end of 1979.