The U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Adolph (Spike) Dubs, was killed yesterday when Afghan police stormed the Kabul hotel room where he was being held by terrorist gunmen who had kidnaped him a few hours earlier.
His death, the apparent result of the crossfire between police and the kidnapers, drew harsh criticism from the State Department, which said Afghan authorities had ignored official U.S. pleas for restraint in their efforts to free Dubs.
The kidnapers were believed to be conservative Moslem opponents of the Soviet-aligned government in Afghanistan. Reports from Kabul said the gunmen were believed to be seeking the release of three recently imprisoned Moslem religious leaders.
State Department spokesman Hodding Carter said: "Our embassy repeatedly urged the Afghan government to exercise patience and to secure the ambassador's release without recourse to force. The Afghan authorities disregarded this advice, which we conveyed in the strongest possible language."
Carter added that, under instructions from Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul later protested "in the strongest possible terms" to the Afghan government about its actions.
Adding a complication with potentially serious foreign policy implications were reports that Soviet advisers were present and may have helped to direct the police attack on the hotel room. Since a coup last spring, Afghianstan has moved into increasingly closer alliance with the Soviet Union.
Last night Warren Christopher, acting secretary of state while Vance accompanies Carter to Mexico, met with Soviet ambassador Dobrynin to "express in strongest terms" U.S. shock at the Soviet actions while advising police in Kabul, a state department statement said.
Although Christopher did not accuse the Soviet advisers with responsibility for Dubs' death, the statement said he did "charge them [the Soviets,] with failure to heed repeated requests by U.S. embassy officials that the assault not be undertaken."
Refusal by the Soviet advisers on the spot to consult with U.S. officials "is impossible to justify given the fact that the life of the American ambassador was in jeopardy," Christopher said according to the statement. He asked Dobrynin for a full report of the actions taken by the Soviets.
U.S. officials who asked not to be identified said three Soviet advisers were involved and a security officer from the Soviet Embassy was also on the scene.
Dubs, 58, was abducted early yesterday morning when his chauffeurdriven car stopped for a red light on a Kabul street. Conflicting reports said three or four gunmen, dressed in police uniforms, forced their way into the car and took Dubs to the Hotel Kabul.
They then held him hostage in a room there for four hours while they negotiated with Afghan authorities.
Finally, the police shot their way into the room. Dubs -- the fifth U.S. ambassador to be murdered in little more than a decade -- died as a result of the shootout, although U.S. officials were not immediately able to say whether the fatal bullets were fired by police or his abductors.
There was confusion as to whether Dubs died immediately. U.S. sources said he was found dead in the hotel, but Radio Kabul said he was alive and removed to the U.S. Embassy dispensary where he died.
Also undear was the fate of the kidnapers. Some reports from Kabul said all were killed in the shootout. However, George Sherman, a State Department spokesman, said Washington had information that three gunmen were removed from the room -- one dead, one unconscious and probably dead and one injured but alive.
It was unclear why Dubs was the target of the kidnapers, although there was speculation that the kidnapers considered the capture of the U.S. envoy to be a certain way to draw attention to their cause in the world media and to place the maximum pressure on the government.
The apparent presence of large number of Soviet advisers underscored the dramatic shift that has taken place in Afghanistan since last April's coup that overthrew President Mohammed Daoud.
From a country loosely linked to both East and West, Kabul has aligned itself closely with Moscow and Soviet advisers have moved into all levels of Afghanistan's military and government. In line with their close links to Moscow, Afghan Prime Minister Nur Mohammed Taraki and his colleagues have pressed a wide range of reforms on the country's feudal society, sparking opposition from tribalbased regions and religious parties.
There have been widespread reports in recent weeks of sharp clashes between government forces and tribalreligious groups in the region near the Pakistan border and close to the capital.
Jamiat-i-Islami, one of the two Afghan religious parties fielding opposition forces, has reported a number of air raids against villages sympathetic to rebel forces.
Afghans under the banner of Hizb-i-Islam, a fundamentalist Afghan Islamic party, claim that large numbers of refugees are being trained for guerrilla warfare at camps in Pakistan, although the Pakistani government vociferously denies it is permitting such activities.
Against this backdrop, observers speculated that the Afghan government and its Soviet advisers may have been anxious to move quickly against the group holding Dubs to show their firmness against opposition elements.
The abduction of Dubs, coupled with the temporary seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, brought Vance to the State Department shortly before 1 a.m. to temporarily take charge of efforts to track the two crisis situations.
Vance, who had to leave for Mexico with President Carter later in the day, issued a statement saying: "This brutal act of violence has taken the life of a dedicated public servant and a valued colleague. Throughout his career, Spike Dubs demonstrated the highest standards of the Foreign Service."
White House spokesmen said that the president and his wife, Rosalynn, called Dubs' widow from Air Force One while enroute to Mexico. A statement issued on Carter's behalf said: "The act of brutality which took his life has deprived our nation of one of its most able public servants."
Prior to Dubs' death, four other U.S. ambassadors had been murdered by terrorists since 1968. They were John Gordon Mein in Guatemala in 1968, Cleo Moore in the Sudan in 1973, Rodger Davies in Cyprus in 1974 and Francis Meloy in Lebanon in 1976.
Since the upsurge of terrorist activity against diplomats began in the late 1960s, the United States has evolved a policy the main points of which are to "make no concessions to terrorist blackmail because to do so would merely invite further demands" and, in cases where Americans are kidnaped abroad, to depend on the host government to use its best judgment in deciding how to seek their safe release.
State Department sources said yesterday that U.S. appeals to the Afghan government to use restraint in dealing with Dubs' abductors did not represent a departure from that policy. Instead, they said, it reflected the view -- generally shared by experts in combatting terrorism -- that the best chance of getting hostages released safely rests in patience and negotiation rather than precipitate action.
The coup that overthrew Daoud last April 27 and its immediate identification with Soviet interests has stirred more than the usual amount of concern in the West because of Afghanistan's location in an area of the world already highly unstable because of the trouble that was then brewing in Tehran and political unease in Pakistan to the south.
The tribes in Afghanistan and their cousins across the border in Pakistan and Iran have been fiercely independent for centuries, never hesitating to resort to arms to fight off any vestige of central control.
The British in colonial days and the succeeding Afghan government were careful to keep at arms length from tribal leaders. The zeal of the Taraki government to implement wideranging reforms had led them to seek a degree of control over the tribes.