Guerrillas keep control
Shotal, Panjshir Valley, Afghanistan
The dust-covered and weary young partisan, a Kalashnikov assault rifle slung over his shoulder, hastily recounts the latest developments from the battlefront.Skip to next paragraph
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"The communists still hold the ridge," he says, "but the mujahideen [ guerrillas] are regrouping lower down and awaiting new orders."
Massoud, the resourceful and highly respected guerrilla commander of Afghanistan's strategic Panjshir Valley, 40 miles north of Kabul, listens intently until the messenger finishes. He and his heavily armed companions sit quietly in the mud and stone farmhouse, their hardened, bearded faces etched eerily against the flickering shadows of the gas lantern. They show little concern for the ripping explosions of Russian mortars and rockets that rear into the rugged mountain landscape above the village.
A bright but modest former engineering student still in his 20s, Massoud has displayed such leadership and knowledge of guerrilla warfare that he has earned a reputation here in Afghanistan not unlike that of Che Guevara. He consults briefly with his lieutenants, then draws out a notebook, scribbles a series of orders, and hands them to the messenger with a word of encouragement. Oral or handwritten messages are often the only forms of communication among his country's vast patchwork of resistance groups.
"We shall wait a bit longer," he explains, "and then attack in small units to take back the ridge."
"The Russians don't like to fight at night," he adds with a wry, creased smile that softens his otherwise strict hawk nose and piercing eyes. "We'll also keep them busy by launching a diversionary assault against the Salang highway. We have got to keep hitting them from all sides. They are already getting tired and demoralized."
As part of a massive communist offensive against this resistance-held Panjshir Valley, a combined force of Russian and Afghan commandos seized control only 24 hours earlier of the long, jagged ridge that dominates this bomb-scared village and its terraced wheat fields.
By dawn, however, Massoud's disciplined, olive-denimed fighters, using primarily captured Soviet weapons, fought their way back up to their original mountaintop positions and pushed the communists down into the plain below.
If there is one clear conclusion from this correspondent's recent one-month-long, 700-mile trek through several provinces, it is that the majority of Afghanistan's estimated 200,000 active partisans have developed into a formidable resistance force well versed in guerrilla tactics.
Conditions vary from region to region. But the combat effectiveness of Massoud and the roughly 1,000 well-armed Jamiat Islami guerrillas of the Panjshir Valley illustrates a marked improvement in the overall ability of the Afghan resistance to strike back at the Soviets.
In contrast to the situation just over a year ago when this correspondent last visited Afghanistan, morale among the mujahideen is high. They are better armed, better trained, and better organized.
No longer do they launch large free-for-all attacks against Soviet bases or convoys. Carefully planned strategy, using small but more incisive well-armed units, is now a vital element in what has become an increasingly successful war of attrition against the Soviet-backed central government in Kabul.
Furthermore, despite a continued lack of political unity among the country's seven major resistance organiza&gt;Please turn to Page 6&gt; &gt;From page 1&gt; tions, there is greater readiness to coordinate guerrilla activities.Only tne Muslim fundamentalist Hekmatyar Gulbaddin factions of the Hezb-i-Islami continues to withhold its cooperation.