Arm the Afghan freedom fighters

Over a year ago, the Russians began their invasion of Afghanistan. They apparently hoped to move in just enough troops to oust the regime in power, replace it with a puppet government, and then leave. The Russians miscalculated , for the Afghans have never peacefully welcomed the invaders. Soviet troops have failed to crush the "mujahideen" (freedom fighters) and now find themselves in an increasingly expensive stalemate.

The usual guerrilla war has developed: the mujahideen control much of the countryside while the Russian regular forces (and what is left of the Afghan military, down from 110,000 to about 30,000) hold the main urban centers, even though violence erupts occasionally in the cities.

Soviet tactics appear to involve two interlocking processes: the "rubble-ization" of the villages and "migratory genocide." The much-vaunted MI- 24 armored helicopter gunships roam up valleys with impunity, turning villages into mud-brick rubble with bombs, rockets, and cannonfire.

Apparently the object is to drive Afghans into Pakistan and Iran, not to kill them. Currently the 1.5 million Afghans in potentially volatile Pakistan and 300,000 to 400,000 in unstable Iran are more valuable to the Soviet Union alive than dead in Afghanistan. The Soviets have usually been able to fish successfully in such troubled waters.

Previously, lack of unity between the guerrilla factions has been used as a convenient excuse for not making effective weapons (SAM-7s, for example) available to the mujahideen. But unity among the diverse Afghan ethnic groups has never been the normal pattern.

Now, however, the fact that entire valleys have been denuded of people has worked against the Russians, and new patterns are emerging in the countryside. Guerrilla leaders, their villages destroyed, have settled their families in Pakistan and returned to their home areas to continue the fight. Because they no longer have to worry about the safety of their families or the sanctity of their homes, groups can coalesce into larger units and range more widely over expanded zones of responsibility.

As links are forged between regional groups, a national liberation movement will evolve, but it must be permitted to emerge naturally and not force-fed by outside, non-Afghan elements. (The process is reminiscent of the World War II Yugoslav partisan movements.)

With the signing of more liberal intelligence guidelines by President Carter, the new administration has much more flexibility, many more options to respond to the Soviet aggression in Afghanistan. And the important fact must not be forgotten that the invasion of Afghanistan is the first Soviet aggression since World War II on a piece of virgin, independent, nonaligned real estate.

President Carter called the Russian move into Afghanistan "aggression" and "the greatest threat to peace since World War II." I believe this assessment to be correct, but countering aggressive action requires two reactions. Stop it. Roll it back. If the Americans (and their allies) have the will, capability --and credibility -- the aggression can be stopped at the boundaries of Pakistan and Iran, no matter what types of internal governments survive in these two countries. And with adequate weapons, the mujahideen may ultimately force the Soviets to the negotiating table.

The question naturally arises: to whom should the weapons be made available? I would suggest to any and all groups fighting insidem Afghanistan. An American hang-up has always been the desire to put all the eggs in one friendly, controllable basket. That's not possible in this case. Simply make weapons available to anyone who will point them in the right direction; i.e., the Russians. If the Russians ever leave Afghanistan, a civil war will probably develop, a logical struggle for power which the superpowers should watch and stay out of. Let the Afghans decide which best man --

For their part, the Afghan freedom fighters have made it abundantly clear that they do not want -- nor do they need -- foreign troops or mercenaries. Probably the only way to force the Russians to the negotiating table is to make their aggression costly in lives and armaments. Therefore, the time has come for interested nations to make adequate weapons available to the mujahideen.

Many responsible Afghans in Europe, the US, and elsewhere can guarantee delivery of weapons to the freedom fighters. No non-Afghans need be involved in any of the operational aspects; no military advisers or instructors should be sent. Former Afghan army officers now fighting with the mujahideen are available to handle training and logistics inside Afghanistan. Foreign personnel would only fuel the inflated Soviet charges of extensive outside interference.

The Afghan freedom fighters do not lack courage and they are, within their own cultural patterns, achieving unity. But they do lack weapons. The Americans and others have the weapons, but do they have the courage?

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