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Pentagon Intelligence Chief Calls Soviet Troop Pullout From Afghanistan a Sham

Times Staff Writer

The Soviet Union’s withdrawal of six regiments from Afghanistan was “a sham and a deception,” because most of the troops removed had been dispatched to the country only two months ago and there has been little reduction in overall Soviet troop strength, a Pentagon official said Thursday.

Air Force Lt. Gen. Leonard H. Peroots, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, also said that casualties, defections and desertions have shrunk the embattled Afghan army from 80,000 men at the time of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan nearly seven years ago to a force of approximately 30,000 troops.

As a result, the Soviets avoid reliance on the local troops in the effort to subdue the moujahedeen guerrillas, according to Peroots, the Pentagon’s senior intelligence officer.

“The Soviets are very selective in what they’ll do with the Afghan fighting force because of their lack of confidence in their ability to fight and their concern that they may turn against them,” Peroots said.

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Rebuts Gorbachev Assertion

Peroots spoke at a briefing called to rebut Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev’s contention that six Soviet regiments had been withdrawn from Afghanistan--an assertion that Defense Secretary Caspar W. Weinberger called “a ruse” on a visit to China three weeks ago.

At the time, officials traveling with Weinberger said they were unable to provide details to support the contention that the Soviets had, in effect, played a “shell game” by inserting troops with the intention of quickly withdrawing them.

On Thursday, Peroots cited “national technical means of verification"--Pentagon jargon for high-tech spying by satellites and eavesdropping--as the source of information about the troop shifts.

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“What the Soviets have done is to remove some unneeded units and to substitute others so that the number of militarily useful troops in Afghanistan is basically unchanged,” Peroots said. “Soviet claims of having withdrawn six regiments from Afghanistan are a sham and a deception.”

2,000 Fewer Troops

He said that the number of Soviet troops in Afghanistan has dropped from 118,000 to 116,000, in the period since July 28, when Gorbachev said in a speech in Vladivostok that “six regiments--one tank regiment, two motorized rifle regiments, and three anti-aircraft regiments--will be returned from Afghanistan to the homeland, with their authorized equipment and arms.”

The withdrawal Gorbachev promised would have brought the troop strength down to 112,000, the general said.

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By the general’s account, new tanks arrived from the Soviet Union in mid-September, others joined the tank unit earlier this month, and by Oct. 15, they were working their way back to the Soviet Union.

The air defense units--one-half of the regiments being withdrawn--played “no significant military role in Afghanistan,” because the guerrillas fighting the Soviet troops have no air force, Peroots said. He added:

“In the seven years of war in Afghanistan, not a shot has been fired in combat by an air defense unit.”

Rifle Units Important

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“The motorized rifle units constitute the heart of the deception effort,” the general said. He said that of the units listed by Gorbachev, only the rifle regiments are important in the fight against the moujahedeen because they can close in on the small rebel bands and engage them in combat.

“The motorized rifle regiments that withdrew were units that had arrived in Afghanistan after Mr. Gorbachev’s speech,” Peroots said.

The new units, he said, were made up of truck-towed artillery, rather than the self-propelled artillery that had been deployed earlier. In addition, the newly deployed rifle regiments used 1953658211troops from attack.

“In September, the introduction of the new motorized rifle regiments was complete,” and preparations began for their public withdrawal, Peroots said.

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The general characterized the war in Afghanistan as a stalemate, with the moujahedeen maintaining control in “most of the countryside,” and the Soviets withdrawing to garrison positions.

Overall, he said, the Soviets have suffered approximately 10,000 killed in action, and another 15,000 wounded.

And, in response to a question, he said that intelligence reports tend to confirm an assertion that relations between the Soviet and Afghan government troops have been marked by strain and stress.

“The combination of casualties and defections, desertions--this is a manifestation of that strain,” he said.

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