Soviets open up on Afghanistan

A Soviet official said Thursday that he was ``inclined to accept'' a Western estimate of 12,000 to 15,000 Soviet dead during Moscow's nine-year intervention in Afghanistan. The official, Eduard Rozental of the Novosti News Agency, said that more precise figures would be released soon. Mr. Rozental's comment was the first time a Soviet official has offered any estimate of the Soviet dead. Soviet veterans of the Afghan conflict speak of extremely high casualties among the elite units that have carried the brunt of offensive operations. These include the Soviet airborne forces, and the smaller special forces, the Spetsnaz.

Rozental made his disclosure at a Novosti-organized press conference on Afghanistan.

Another participant, Nodari Simoniya of the Institute for Oriental Studies, said that the Kabul government was in severe danger of being overthrown on the eve of the Soviet intervention. He cited statistics that estimated the strength of the government-armed forces at about 80,000 and antigovernment guerrillas at 150,000. Government troops at the time were ``not in very good shape,'' Mr. Simoniya added.

The figures reinforce the conclusion of some Soviet observers who have commented in recent months that the Soviet intervention in 1979 saved the Afghan revolution, but aggravated the country's civil war. The Afghan government appealed for Soviet help 16 times before Moscow finally responded, Simoniya said.

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