Soviet publication paints bleak picture of war in Afghanistan

The war in Afghanistan is being depicted in stark terms in a series of articles published by the Soviet weekly Ogonyok. A long article in the latest issue of the magazine, which has a circulation of 1.5 million, speaks of poor morale and desertion among some Afghan units, describes tough fighting between elite Soviet troops and Afghan guerrillas, and implies that large areas of Afghanistan are under guerrilla control. The article accuses the Afghan insurgents of involvement in the heroin trade, and also describes changes in Soviet helicopter tactics since the US and other Western countries started to supply the guerrillas with Stinger and other ground-to-air missiles. But the article's author, Artem Borovik, - whose father heads the Soviet Peace Committee, and is a writer specializing in US affairs and Western intelligence - also quotes Afghans as saying that a Soviet withdrawal would lead to nationwide internecine warfare.

The article, the second in a series, begins with an interview with the commander of the security police - the Afghan counterpart of the KGB - for Kunduz Province, which borders the Soviet Union. Guerrillas from the province attacked Soviet border villages last March, and the earlier Ogonyok article had described the hunt for the guerrilla leader. The security commander notes that the insurgent chief had probably escaped a Soviet-Afghan sweep by bribing his way through an Afghan security police checkpoint.

The commander complains of the low political consciousness of many new recruits to the Afghan communist forces. Mr. Borovik adds that there are problems of desertion among the Afghan troops, and that ``not every soldier can explain what he is fighting for.''

The Afghan political chief for Kunduz is quoted by Borovik as saying that the process of ``national reconciliation'' - proclaimed along with a cease-fire last January by Afghan leader Najib - was meeting difficulties. Guerrilla attacks had intensified since the cease-fire, which was extended for another six months last week. The Kabul authorities controlled just 290 of 433 villages in the province.

The article provides graphic descriptions of Soviet helicopter pilots and airborne troops in combat with the guerrillas. Extracts from a helicopter pilot's journal describe the sight and smell of colleagues' charred bodies, and imply that helicopter losses are high. Borovik describes a change in helicopter tactics over last year. Soviet MI-8s used to fly close to their maximum altitude of around 6,000 meters, he says. Since Stinger missiles appeared, the helicopters ``fly five meters above the ground at 250 kilometers [155 miles] an hour, hiding in the folds of the terrain and between hills, keeping three km [the effective range of a machine gun] away from Afghan villages.''

Much of the money for sophisticated weaponry like Stinger missiles, Borovik alleges, comes from the drug trade. He describes flying over fields of poppies which, he says, are eventually transformed into heroin, much of it for the American market. He also describes Afghans offering ``in pure Russian'' to sell him dope - apparently a broad hint that drug use is common among Russian troops in Afghanistan.

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