Hundreds of Civilians Reported Killed in Soviet, Afghan Attacks Along Vital Road
Soviet and Afghan forces have killed hundreds of civilians in air and artillery attacks this week in a bid to force Muslim rebels to end their blockade of the main highway into the Afghan capital of Kabul, a Western diplomat said Thursday.
The diplomat quoted witnesses as saying Soviet tanks rolled over the corpses of some of the civilians killed on the Salang Highway, the main route linking the Soviet Union with Kabul, where a rebel siege and a harsh winter have caused severe food and fuel shortages.
The envoy said he received the reports of the attacks from three sources, including a diplomat “who is an outspoken defender” of the Soviet-backed Afghan government of President Najibullah.
Soviet and Afghan forces Monday bombed areas north and south of the Salang Tunnel from the air, then opened artillery barrages that “obliterated all dwellings and villages” south of the strategic tunnel, killing hundreds of civilians, the diplomat said.
The attacks were apparently a “reprisal on the civilian population as a means to intimidate” rebel commander Ahmed Shah Masood, whose forces have been attacking supply convoys on the Salang road, the envoy said. Afghanistan said Tuesday that government forces killed 372 rebels.
The Soviet Union last week launched a huge resupply operation to relieve the desperate shortages of essential goods in Kabul, but the diplomat reported long lines for fuel in the city Thursday, indicating that traffic is still not moving freely on the Salang road. Some food has been flown into Kabul from the Soviet Union.
The Soviet Union has said it will complete a nine-month withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan by Feb. 15, leaving Kabul vulnerable to seizure by the Islamic rebels.
The pullout is taking place under U.N.-mediated accords signed in Geneva by Afghanistan and Pakistan, which harbors the guerrillas and funnels to them arms supplied by the United States, China and Iran.
Rebel sources Thursday reported that a heavy air bombardment against guerrilla-held areas in the north of the country had taken a heavy toll of guerrillas and civilians in the past few days.
Warning to Rebels
One source said the attacks “come in the wake of the regime’s warning to the moujahedeen (guerrillas) not to create problems for its convoys on the Salang. The moujahedeen did not heed the threats.”
A spokesman for the seven-party guerrilla alliance based in Pakistan said the resistance has sent 40 trucks of food to civilians in the besieged government-held eastern city of Jalalabad in response to severe shortages there and that arrangements were being made to supply other cities, including Kabul.
Moscow has held talks with rebel leaders in an attempt to reach an agreement on a political framework for Afghanistan that would avoid continued civil war in the country after the Soviet withdrawal.
But the latest meeting this month ended in deadlock over Soviet insistence on a role for members of Najibullah’s party in any future government. Rebels leaders later rejected any further talks.
The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in December, 1979, to support the Marxist government against an Islamic insurgency.
Western diplomats said Tuesday that the embattled Afghan government might shift some of its functions from Kabul to Mazar-e-Sharif, a town close to the Soviet border, if U.S.-backed rebels appeared set to take the capital.
The envoys noted that some foreign embassies have been evacuating non-essential personnel from Kabul amid fears the rebels will mount an offensive after the completion of the Soviet withdrawal.
The West German Embassy suspended its operation in Kabul last week. The British and U.S. missions advised their citizens in the capital to leave immediately, saying their safety could no longer be assured.
Hundreds of civilians were reported killed by Soviet and Afghan attacks near the strategic Salang Tunnel.
U.S. will close embassy as Soviet forces leave and guerrillas press in on Kabul.