Soviet-Made Plane Downed by Afghan Rebels; 43 Dead : Missile Used in Attack

Associated Press

Muslim guerrillas shot down a Soviet-made transport plane with a missile today in eastern Afghanistan and claimed 43 military men on board were killed.

The Soviet press agency Tass, however, put the toll at 30 and said the dead included women and children. The agency said six crew members were among the dead, but it did not say if the crewmen were Afghans or Soviets.

Afghanistan's Soviet-backed government in Kabul, the capital, said that the plane was carrying civilians and that most of the victims were women, children and "elderly men."

Both Radio Kabul and Tass identified the plane as an Antonov-26, a two-engine propeller passenger plane used both for military transports and as a civilian airliner.

Two Squadrons Use Planes

Two transport squadrons of the Afghan air force use the AN-26, which is also widely used by Soviet forces as a military transport.

Officials of the Yunis Khalis guerrilla group said their fighters hit the Soviet-made plane as it was taking off from Khost about 25 miles from the Pakistani border in Afghanistan's Paktia province.

Soviet and Afghan troops have been locked in a major battle with the Muslim fundamentalist guerrillas in the Khost area.

The guerrillas, whose arsenal includes U.S.-made Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, said the plane was an Afghan air force transport carrying troops. They said sympathizers in the Khost garrison told them 15 Afghan officers, 22 Afghan soldiers and 6 crew members were killed in the crash. They said the plane was on its way to Kabul.

Civilian Report Doubted

The government report that it was a civilian airliner seemed unlikely. Khost is under attack by guerrillas much of the time and most of the civilian population was evacuated or fled years ago to Pakistan, where an estimated 3 million Afghan refugees live.

The Soviet Union sent soldiers to Afghanistan in 1979 to help the government battle the nationwide Muslim insurgency.

Thousands of Soviet and Afghan troops were airlifted into Khost over the last two weeks for a major offensive against guerrilla forces. Civilian air service is minimal in Afghanistan and almost always suspended during major combat operations so planes can carry troops.

Guerrillas Lose Pass

Guerrilla officials said scattered fighting was still going on south of Khost today after a major battle last week. A force of about 10,000 Soviet and Afghan army troops recaptured a key mountain pass near Khost taken by the guerrillas last month. They also bombarded guerrilla positions near the border.

The guerrillas are fighting to overthrow the communist government and force an estimated 115,000 Soviet troops to leave Afghanistan. Western journalists are rarely admitted to Afghanistan and reports from inside the country often cannot be checked independently.

The guerrilla officials said a missile crew hidden in the hills near the airstrip hit the plane as it was climbing. They would not say what kind of missile was used.

Beside Stingers, the guerrillas have also received British-made Blowpipe missiles.

The guerrillas, who are based in Pakistan, receive weapons from the United States, China, Saudi Arabia and other nations.

The Afghan government claimed in September, 1985, that guerrillas shot down a civilian airliner with a Stinger as it took off from Kandahar, killing all 52 people on board. Guerrilla forces said that the plane was a military transport and that all casualties were soldiers.

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