Afghan guerrilla leader: Soviets have made significant changes in tactics
Peshawar, Pakistan — From the first scattered revolts against the Kabul communist regime in 1978 to the nationwide uprising against the Soviet occupation since 1979, Afghanistan's resistance war has been carried out by a vast patchwork of guerrilla fronts. As part of a fighting force representing different tribal and ethnic groups, many fronts have political ties with Afghan parties based here in Peshawar. The guerrillas' effectiveness, however, varies widely and depends on the leadership of local or regional commanders. As many observers who have traveled with the guerrillas say, it is among the commanders of the ``interior'' that the true heart and soul of Afghanistan's resistance leadership lies.
Over the past few years, the mujahideen (holy warriors) have lost many experienced commanders, seriously affecting resistance performance in some areas. But this is only one of numerous difficulties facing the Afghan resistance.
While in Peshawar, this reporter talked about the war with Abdul Haq, considered one of the mujahideen's best commanders. Only in his mid-20s, Mr. Haq has been fighting against the communists since well before the Soviet invasion on Dec. 27, 1979. Now operating mainly in the Kabul region, this robust, bearded Pushtun is affiliated with one of the seven parties in Peshawar, where he spends a few months gathering supplies for his regular military sorties into Afghanistan. Haq has few illusions about the prolonged war he has been waging against Soviet troops and the Soviet-supported Kabul regime. Following are some excerpts from an interview:
How do you view recent major changes in the Soviet tactics against mujahideen?
The Soviets have been changing their tactics and program ever since the beginning of the invasion . . . depopulating the countryside by destroying our villages and agricultural systems, killing our families and children. This remains the basic Soviet strategy. But over the past year or two, the changes have been significant.
Before, the Soviets used to launch big-scale operations using tanks and many soldiers. But they were slow, and used only conscripts. Then they . . . brought in paratrooopers and airborne troops. Now they . . . have introduced spetznaz [Soviet special forces].
The Soviets are still running big operations but also many small, quick spetznaz attacks. They are also depending more on helicopters . . . to attack or to transport soldiers and supplies. Another change is that the Soviets are trying harder to cut off our supply routes by ambushing caravans and planting mines along trails and mountain passes.
How effective are the Soviets' stepped-up ambushes in border provinces?
The Soviets began ambushing in earnest 18 to 20 months ago. They can spot our caravans from the air. Or they can spot chaikhana [tea shops] where mujahideen stop for food and rest. Then they call in the helicopters to bomb. But they also use guerrilla tactics to ambush. First they gather information from spies or reconnaissance aircraft. Then the helicopters drop spetznaz, usually at least 40 or 50 men, who work at night and then set up ambushes along the trails. They are well-equipped with AK-74s [assault rifles], silencers, light mortars, and an RPG [rocket-propelled grenade] team. If the fighting gets hard, they call in helicopters and tanks . . . then have the helicopters lift them out. They never try and stay.
How good are the spetznaz?
It depends on the terrain [and] the ability of the mujahideen in that particular area. But the spetznaz are professional soldiers . . . they are better trained and of course have better equipment. That gives them a psychological advantage. . . . We mujahideen know that if we run out of ammunition, we have no choice but to die.
But you yourself recently ambushed a spetznaz group near Kabul. . . .
Yes, despite all these problems, we are coping. We have set up dummy caravans. Reconnaissance planes spot them and then send in the spetznaz teams. We watch to see where the helicopters put them down, how many men there are, and the equipment they have brought. Then we ambush their ambush positions.
Some observers say the mujahideen are receiving more and better weapons through an American-funded pipeline. Others disagree. Has your weaponry improved?
Not really. The only significant change in the past two or three years is that we are now receiving more 107-mm [Chinese] rockets. They're better than nothing, but not very accurate. What we need are light, accurate weapons, capable of piercing tanks or shooting down helicopters, but which allow us to move around fast in small, self-sufficient groups.
Many guerrilla fronts have not developed with the war and the Soviets seem to have taken the initiative in the past year. Why?
This past year has been hard for both sides. But the war is like a graph going up and down. Sometimes we do well, sometimes the Soviets do. Nevertheless, we recognize that the Soviets have made progress. We've also lost some good commanders, and it takes years to train more. . . . If we are to survive, we need to concentrate on a real guerrilla war . . . to hit more specific economic and military targets. We also need better intelligence to keep an eye on Soviet movements and stop them from ambushing ou r caravans.
Is there more cooperation today among the resistance?
We often fight together on large operations. But for small ones, it is not necessary. For security reasons it is better to keep your plans to yourself. We know that the Soviets are trying to subvert the mujahideen, to make trouble [rivlalry] between the commanders, and there are some groups that have such problems.
Do you think the seven parties in Peshawar that have formed a resistance alliance are serious about unity?
They have only just started . . . we must wait and see.
Third of six parts. Next: Changes in Peshawar.