New Delhi — In a fresh indication of Soviet distrust of the desertion-riddled Afghan Army , the Soviet military command in Kabul has shipped four Afghan Army units off to the countryside and given Russian troops responsibility for guarding the capital , diplomats report.
"Kabul is now virtually depleted of Afghan troops," said a Western diplomat in a report reaching the Indian capital of New Delhi.
The switch comes just as rebels and Soviet forces are limbering up for spring offensives after the long, harsh Afghan winter.
At least two independent diplomatic reports last week confirmed the move of the Afghan Army's 4th and 15th armored divisions and the 7th and 8th infantry divisions from the capital to the provinces.
One diplomatic source reported that units are being sent to reinforce Afghan Army garrisons at Herat and Kandahar, which have been seriously weakened by desertions and defections. Both cities are the scene of running battles between government and insurgent forces.
It is unclear whether the Soviets have increased their troop strength in Kabul to make up for the departed Afghan units or simply assigned more of their forces on hand to security and guard duties.
Soviet troops have long shouldered the major share of fighting against the insurgents, who oppose both the occupation of their country by 85,000 Soviet troops and the Soviet-installed government of President Babrak Karmal.
In January, according to diplomatic accounts, Afghan authorities in Kabul reportedly approved plans to pit only Afghan soldiers against the rebel guerrillas. The plans were met with skepticism by regional analysts, who noted that the Afghan Army has proved incapable of putting down anticommunist resistance ever since Afghanistan's first Marxist government came to power in a coup in April, 1978.
Most estimates set the size of the Afghan Army at about 30,000 men, only a third of its original strength due to desertions and defections of both officers and enlisted men. The Karmal government, which came in on the heels of invading Soviet troops in December, 1979, has been resorting to house-to-house searches and press gangs to conscript military-age men into the armed services. Salaries nearly 10 times the pay for draftees have been offered to volunteers.
Shortly before the move of the four Afghan Army units out of Kabul, large numbers of shops were reported looted in nighttime robberies. Diplomats said that the thieves' apparent confidence, their use of jeeps, and their ability to move freely despite the evening curfews convinced the victims that the robbers were government security forces.
The rebels, whose activities along the roads were apparently responsible for the dearth of fresh fruits and vegetables in the Kabul bazaar late last month, have now started to issue receipts for "captured supplies," a diplomat reported.
One puckishly worded receipt was issued to a truck driver whose load had been stolen. "In the name of God Almighty we have received from (blank), driver of truck number (blank), a consignment of (blank)," the receipt read. "Thank you for your kind cooperation. We ask you earnestly to accept this receipt. In case you do not accept it, we shall come personally and give our answer to Brezhnev."