Soviets strike at Afghan villages

Soviet troops in Afghanistan have attacked up to 60 villages during the past two weeks in an apparent change of the tactics against Afghan antigovernment insurgents, diplomatic sources said Monday. The sources quoted witnesses to some of the raids, which they said were launched in retaliation for rebel attacks against Soviet troops.

Reports circulating in Kabul among non-Communist diplomats spoke of thousands of casualties, the sources said, adding that Soviet forces were conducting search-and-destroy operations rather than engaging insurgents in protracted battles.

The sources and travelers arriving here Monday from Kabul said that in the past four days there had been a sharp increase in arrivals of Soviet transport planes bringing in some troops, but mainly equipment.

The Soviet Union said last month it was pulling out 108 tanks and several thousand troops from Afghanistan in a partial withdrawal of "nonessential" units. One Western source said it appears the Soviet Union has sent replacements who are older, more experienced antiguerrilla fighters.

Western estimates put Soviet troops in Afghanistan at 80,000 to 100,000.

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