USSR: cost at home

There are only rumors and sketchy reports drifting around Moscow, magnified by word of mouth, never confirmed officially: A mother has draped the frame around a picture of her soldier son in black after receiving a telegram that he had been killed "on international duty. . . ."

A sealed coffin was delivered to a village not far from Moscow with strict orders to the parents of the soldier inside not to follow Russian orthodox tradition and open the coffin for the funeral. The village was struck with grief, and curiosity: The death must have been a violent one.

Losses in Afghanistan have reached alarming proportions, with 15 to 20 percent of at least one unit killed or injured so far. One source reportedly saw a number of wounded men at a military hospital in Tashkent, not far from the Afghan border in Central Asia. Rumors fly that wounded must be flown north to find hospital beds.

None of this adds up to anything remotely resembling an antiwar movement, or indeed even to a significant expression of public opinion. Grief is limited to individual families. Total casualties are said to be below the 15,000 range, including killed and wounded -- and this tells Western analysts here that Soviet troops are not engaged in protracted hand-to-hand fighting.

"The area around Herat is less secure now than it was last December," says one Western source here. "The rebels have better arms. They are fighting hard. But the Soviet troops are there to stay."

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