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Victory the Afghan Way - With Baksheesh And Bullets

July 9, 1991

LALADHAR, Afghanistan (AP) _ In the shade of an ancient tree beside the cool, clear waters of the Kabul River, the generals munched cucumbers and recalled their victory over the guerrillas who once used this region to rain rockets on the capital.

According to President Najibullah’s government, it was a disciplined operation, a month of land and air assaults in which 405 of the U.S.-supported mujahedeen rebels were killed and only 35 government soldiers died.

But other sources, both Afghan and foreign, say it was a victory purchased primarily with hard cash, bales of the nearly worthless Afghani currency and a license to loot for fighters who switched sides.

These sources, asking not to be identified further, say there was indeed a military operation, evident from the increase in rocket and artillery fire, the helicopter gunships clattering over the hills and the dust-caked jeeps and armored vehicles returning the 20 miles to Kabul over a potholed highway.

But they say financial gain, not military might, is the key to the government’s success in broadening its security belt around the capital, besieged for 13 years by the mujahedeen, or Islamic holy warriors.

Since the government operation into Wardak Province west started June 6 - the generals reject the word ″offensive″ - there has been a near-absence of rockets fired on Kabul from the west and south.

The rockets which still come - some days four or five, other days none - are mostly from the northeast, where the guerrillas are dug in 25 miles away.

The combined strategy of baksheesh and bullets is succeeding, at least in limited area, where sheer firepower failed during the nine years of all-out combat directed and dominated by the Soviet Union.

Baksheesh impolitely means a bribe, and at best means appreciation for services rendered.

The last of the Red Army’s 115,000 troops quit Afghanistan in February 1989, leaving what was once a superpower proxy war to their onetime proteges, the Afghan armed forces commanded by President Najibullah, and to the mujahedeen, whose American support is cooling.

The government troops, estimated by Kabul observers to number at least 220,000, consist largely of reluctant conscripts paid as little as 500 afghanis a month, or 55 cents.

Since the Soviet troops left, the war has reverted to the centuries-old Afghan way of doing battle: make deals, hang onto the capital of Kabul and keep shooting.

Nobody wins, nobody loses and the people keep dying throughout the country.

But here in Laladhar, salting their cucumber slices, Lt. Gen. Abdul Razak and Brig. Gen. Abdul Halim Hamidi said civilian casualties were nonexistent in the recaptured chunk of land 12 miles long and six miles wide.

They said all 6,000 residents of the 50 villages in this 72-square-mile area heeded government warnings to evacuate before the fighting started.

″When we were sure they left, we started our combative operations,″ Abdul Razak said. The mujahdeen rejected offers to negotiate, he said.

But most of the landscape seen during a six-hour tour of the reclaimed area did not look sufficiently scarred for a month-long battle waged only by military power.

The government’s capture of the Pol-e-Sorkh, or Red Bridge, over the Kabul River was a strategic victory, a scene of fierce fighting, Absul Razak said.

Pol-e-Sorkh, about four miles west of Laladhar, was flanked by mud-brick houses which he said had been mujahedeen headquarters.

One house had a hole in its walls which could have been made by a rocket, but the bridge itself was unmarked.

So were the nearly ripe field of wheat to the east and the neatly weeded and freshly irrigated vegetable patch to the west.

Between Pol-e-Sorkh and Laladhar, the generals showed Western reporters a half-dozen villages which they said had been held by mujahedeen and evacuated by civilians.

While there was evidence of recent mujahedeen presence, such as ammunition crates and 50-caliber casings, there was no sign in the villages of a recent civilian presence.

Most orchards and fields appeared to have been long untended, since civilians would have fled long ago to avoid government shells invited by a guerrilla presence.

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