Washington's view: Soviets digging in and no sign of withdrawal
Washington — On the anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Washington sees the situation as one of increasing danger to regional stability and limited options for the United States.
Despite recent speculation, there are no real signs of any Soviet willingness to withdraw, officials here say. On the contrary, the Soviet presence in Afghanistan is greater than ever. At the same time, thanks in part to outside aid, the Afghan resistance movement remains firmly entrenched.
The result, say Pentagon and State Department sources, is likely to be a long , drawn-out affair. And for the US, this means increasing reliance on an important ally in the area that has its own serious political problems.
''We view Pakistan as the key to Afghanistan,'' says an administration official.
It is generally felt that Pakistani President Muhammad Zia ul-Haq made a favorable impression on his recent visit to Washington. The key to his usefulness as a stabilizing influence in South Asia, in the official view, rests largely with beefed-up US military - including jetfighter F-16s - and economic aid, totaling $3.2 billion. But Congress, concerned about continued martial law and possibile development of nuclear weapons in Pakistan, remains skeptical about administration-sought increases.
To make its case for such aid, administration officials point to the increased Soviet military presence in Afghanistan during 1982. The number of Soviet troops increased by 25 percent to about 105,000, with many Muslim soldiers being replaced by more reliable ethnic Russians. Many young Afghans are being sent to the Soviet Union for training and indoctrination.
There are recent reports that troops from Soviet satellite countries (Cuba, Vietnam, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, and East Germany) are now in Afghanistan. And Soviet forces are adding to a more permanent infrastructure with military possibilities - roads, depots, pipelines, and airfields.
''This improves their access to Afghanistan and by extension to the Gulf,'' says a Pentagon official.
''They're obviously in there for the long haul,'' adds another administration source.
On the other hand, American officials see the Afghan resistance as strengthening its position during the third year of Soviet occupation.
''The guerrillas are doing as well or better than a year ago. They are better armed. I don't sense any dimming of their fervor to fight. Their leaders are tactically effective,'' observes a US military officer. The Soviets ''don't have security even in Kabul (the capital of Afghanistan).''
Most guerrilla armament has come from captured Soviet and Afghan government stock, but it is recognized here that this source of weapons eventually will dry up and that supplies from outside the country may increasingly become necessary. American officials refuse to elaborate in any detail on persistant reports that the US (along with China, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan) is helping the Afghan resistance, although they do not deny that such aid is being provided.
''I'm not sure that more help from the West would be needed at this point,'' says one US official. ''It's at a certain level and unlikely to change for now.''
As an indicator of increased US resolve to prevent further Soviet advancement in the region, the Pentagon recently announced formation of a new unified command for Southwest Asia. On Jan. 1 this will replace the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force, which has increased in size to include 230,000 US servicemen. The time for such a force to respond from its home base in the US has dropped significantly in the past two years, and US officials hope eventually to have a forward command headquarters within the region.
''We do anticipate the Soviets will recognize that this is a further step that indicates how serious we are about Southwest Asia,'' a Pentagon official said in announcing the new command. US officials also note the continued presence of a aircraft carrier battle group in the Indian Ocean, the prepositioning of supplies on the island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, and regional military exercises with other countries.
As for East-West relations, the role of China vis-a-vis the US and the Soviet Union, and the likelihood of how a Soviet withdrawal might take place, US officials have more questions than answers at this point.
''Afghanistan could be the start of a new Soviet-Sino-US construct,'' speculates an American official. ''But it would have to start with the Soviet Union.''