As Soviet forces in Afghanistan near their fourth year of occupation, they continue to hammer away mercilessly at popular Afghan resistance.
And yet despite apparently successful counterattacks by the mujahideen (freedom fighters) it appears the resistance is beginning to reel from the effect of Soviet havoc on civilian morale.
The often overwhelming communist retaliatory raids have caused immeasurable suffering among the civilian populations in resistance-held areas, roughly 90 percent of Afghanistan, by destroying homes, farms, and food supplies.
Even so, the status quo between the Soviet-backed Kabul regime and Afghan guerrillas remains basically unchanged. According to recently returned French and British sources, partisan groups have increased their pressure on the combined Soviet-Afghan forces but have failed to take advantage of their military gains.
Foreign observers have noted a striking surge during recent months in resistance activities in and around the Afghan capital. Whereas a year ago the mujahideen rarely penetrated beyond the string of government checkpoints on the city's outskirts, guerrilla raids including daylight assaults have become a common occurence.
Aernout Van Lynden, an Anglo-Dutch journalist reporting for the BBC, recently accompanied a 37-man partisan unit on an attack to within a mile of the city center. Led by Abdul Zabit Halim, considered one of the country's most able resistance commanders in charge of more than 300 urban mujahideen, the guerrillas killed or wounded 30 Soviet and Afghan troops, destroyed 42 trucks and gasoline tankers, a gas station, and a small military post. The explosions sent huge balls of fire into the evening sky of the Kartenau district of eastern Kabul.
Van Lynden pointed out that although the mujahideen were still not capable of engaging any sizable Soviet forces, the attack exposed the ''weakness, gross undermanning, and demoralization of the Afghan Army.''
It also highlighted the continued reluctance of Soviet commanders, he said, ''to deploy their forces in confrontations dictated by the insurgents rather than by themselves.'' A few days later, Abdul Halim was killed in a Soviet ambush, denying the resistance the sort of guerrilla leadership it can ill-afford to lose.
''The Soviets have succeeded in shattering the economic and social base of certain strong resistance areas by applying constant pressure,'' said Jean-Jose Puig, president of the Paris-based Friends of Afghanistan Association on his return late October from a 10-week tour of eight Afghan provinces.
Northern Afghanistan's resilient Panjshir Valley for example, managed to stave off two major Russian offensives this summer inflicting serious troop and equipment losses. Highly mobile guerrilla units reportedly killed an estimated 400 Soviet infantrymen in early September as they tried to take the strategic 15 ,000 foot-high ridges surrounding the valley. But the assaults have severely strained local resources and worried resistance leaders are now expecting a third attack (the seventh since December 1979) before winter.
In the wake of the Panjshir's most recent offensive, Ahmad Shah Massoud, the region's guerrilla commander, called for urgent humanitarian aid to help ward off impending catastrophe. Apart from limited funds channeled in by Afghan resistance organizations based in Pakistan and a small handful of French relief organizations such as Afrane or Aide Medicale International, outside help has been meagre. Next: Aid-givers fail to respond to the plight of Afghans inside their own country.