Khost, Afghanistan — Afghan guerrilla groups are showing signs of achieving a high level of organization and professionalism in their six-year battle against Soviet occupation forces. But guerrilla leaders have no illusions of winning a conventional military victory in this war.
They are using their military momentum to raise the costs of Soviet occupation, in much the same way as the Vietcong raised the costs to the United States in Vietnam in the 1970s.
A case in point is the current fighting raging in Paktia Province, just across the border from Pakistan.
All summer long, the mujahideen laid siege to the Soviet-Afghan garrison at Khost. In mid-August, the Soviets finally responded, launching a counter-offensive that has turned into one of the largest battles of the war.
``I want to drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan the way the Americans were driven out of Vietnam,'' said Jalaluddin Haqani, the commander of the mujahideen in Paktia, with soft-spoken confidence during a late-night interview in his mountain cave.
Jalaluddin's siege of Khost is a significant escalation of the the mujahideen war against the Soviets. Previously, it was only the Soviets who conducted large-scale operations.
The fighting in Paktia is an indication that the mujahideen are now also capable of waging large and punishing offensives against the Soviets.
But the goal of Jalaluddin's offensive has not been to capture Khost. Instead, he was baiting a trap to draw the Soviets out of their virtually impregnable bases at Gardez and Kabul. To get to Khost, the Soviets had to travel through mountain roads the mujahideen have held and mined for years.
In some places, the roads didn't even exist anymore. Heavily armed muja- hideen lay in ambush in the mountains. On the plains, dug-in mujahideen awaited the arrival of elite heliborne Soviet troops.
Jalaluddin's offensive is possible because of other military progress made by the Afghan resistance this year. The mujahideen have become more professional through their training and fighting experience, and their numbers are growing. And thanks in part to increased United States, Chinese, and Arab aid, they are also better equipped.
The mujahideen still lack effective anti-aircraft weapons like 23-mm heavy machine guns and shoulder-fired missiles. Without them, moving men and supplies during the day is risky, and mujahideen on the battlefield are virtually defenseless against helicopters and bombers.
But Jalaluddin's mujahideen at Khost have been making effective use of the newly supplied Chinese-made 107-mm rocket launcher. Tank-destroying rocket-propelled grenade launchers and recoilless rifles are abundant. He controls logistics between his bases with captured Soviet radios driven by hand-cranked generators. He even has several captured tanks that he uses as mobile artillery.
And the mujahideen are better led. Commanders like Ahmad Shah Massoud in the Panjshair Valley, Abdul Haq in Kabul, and Jalaluddin in Paktia, are forging large, effective fighting units that more and more resemble regular armies.