Successful Afghan guerrilla leader disputes bleak reports

Western media reports suggest the Soviet forces are gaining the upper hand in their war against the guerrillas in Afghanistan. But in an interview in November in Takhar, Ahmed Shah Massoud, widely regarded as the most successful guerrilla commander fighting the Soviet and Afghan government forces, dismissed the reports.

``Although our fighters have been subjected to a number of heavy attacks this year, we have been able to cope. Our area of operation has expanded so that we are now coordinating our activities in five provinces of the north: Parwan, Kapisa, Baghlan, Takhar, and Kunduz. Areas of Badakhshan and Kabul province are also receiving our attention.

``A practical example of how successful this coordination has been took place in the summer when the government garrison at Fakhar fell to our combined forces from five different valleys. This was a major achievement and follows on from a coordinated attack on the main air base and surrounding posts in Kunduz,'' Mr. Massoud said.

Two weeks after the interview the major garrison at Nahrin in Baghlan also fell to Massoud's men.

Large quantities of weapons are often captured in these operations, which Massoud believes reduce the guerrillas' reliance on outside help. However, with United States government officials disclosing that the Reagan administration is sending $400 million in covert military aid to the guerrillas this year, including Stinger antiaircraft missiles, was Massoud receiving outside help?

``To date, no Stinger missiles have been sent. As for the quantity of weapons we have received, the amount is small and mostly in the form of light weapons. The reason for this is because they are supplied through the Pakistanis, and the Pakistani generals take the good new weapons.''

Moreover, the Pakistan military has long had ties with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, leader of the rival Hezb-i-Islami party. It therefore seems unlikely that Massoud will be the recipient of any of the US Stinger missiles.

What supplies Massoud does receive are carried in over the long and tortuous route through the mountains of the Hindu Kush. Apart from the natural difficulties of the journey during the short season it is open, Soviet jets thunder overhead virtually every day. Bomb craters and the debris of torn metal scar the trail.

Massoud admits that if the resistance hopes to tip the balance of the war, they will have to start taking Soviet targets.

``Our strategy involves first establishing a stronghold in the mountains, organizing the resistance, and increasing the level of fighting. But we are not at the stage where we are able to attack these more strategic targets. This will take time. The level of our attacks is higher than any previous year and our work at coordination is better than ever before.''

But civilians are paying a high price for Massoud's efforts. His critics point to the Panjshair Valley as an example of an area made into a ``no-man's land'' by heavy Soviet retaliation.

Lines of refugees fleeing to Pakistan and the numerous cave shelters of those remaining testify to the severity of the Soviet campaign.

``Recently we hear that [Soviet leader Mikhail] Gorbachev was pulling 7,000 of his troops out of Afghanistan. This move means nothing. It does not indicate an intention to withdraw all his troops. These heavy attacks on our people indicate the true Soviet intention.''

When asked about the Reagan administration's involvement in the issue, Massoud was firm. ``Reagan should be made aware that Afghanistan should not be treated as a political pawn. The plight of our country should be the concern of everybody in the West.''

``Even if all aid ceased, even if the border were closed, we would continue to fight,'' Massoud said.

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