Major Soviet offensive reported in Afghanistan

Soviet troops have started a major offensive in Afghanistan, fighting pitched battles with antigovernment rebels in at least 12 of the country's 28 provinces, diplomatic sources said. Operations were conducted over the past two weeks in about 20 provinces where rebels had attacked convoys and military installations.

The sources estimated that the Afghan Army, depleted by desertions and purges , was down to 30,000 men, from a strength of about 80,000 before Marxist rule was established in Kabul in April 1978. They said Soviet troops control only major highways and big cities. About 2,000 more Soviet troops arrived recently, they said, estimating that the Soviet Union now had between 85,000 to 88,000 troops in Afghanistan.

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