Western travelers say they have seen more than 100 wounded Soviet soldiers in the Central Asian city of Tashkent, apparently casualties of the fighting in Afghanistan.
The reports provided the first reliable indications that Soviet forces had suffered casualties in Afghanistan. No mention has been made of any Soviet casualities by the government-controlled news media.
The travelers said they also saw dazed-looking, disheveled soldiers in unkempt uniforms passing through Tashkent, a staging area for the Soviet military force in Afghanistan, apparently returning to their home units after service across the border to the south.
The foreign travelers said several military hospitals in the city appear to be crammed with wounded soldiers. They said they saw more than 100 shaven-headed young men with bandaged limbs, torsos and faces in the hospitals, recovering from their wounds.Some were lying in traction.
These reports, which cannot be verified, are considered reliable by Western sources here. They are among the first such reports from within the Soviet Union of the battlefield toll in Afghanistan, where an estimated 90,000 Soviet troops are seeking to preserve the pro-Marxist regime of Babrak Karmel against a widespread Moslem rebellion.
Previous casualty reports were limited to rumors of letters that had been sent to families of soldiers killed in action. The letters, however, reportedly contained no specific reference to Afghanistan.
The Western travelers also said they encountered other troops, whom they described as clearly suffering from battle fatigue, with vacant expressions and fixed gazes, inthe Tashkent railroad station, apparently heading to their home units after Afghanistan service. These soldiers were said to be wearing muddy, unkempt uniforms and to be virtually oblivious to the crowds in the station.
Many of the wounded were said to be Central Asians, while a number of replacement troops in the railroad station were described as apparent transfer from Eastern European units. They were dressed in fresh uniforms and -- unusual in the Soviet Union -- were wearing web belts holding sheathed bayonets and leather pouches for ammunition and for first aid supplies.
Washington has estimated the Soviets have suffered more than 2,000 casualties since the Dec. 27 invasion. But Moscow and its controlled media so far have never admitted losing a single rifleman or armored soldier in the military operation. Mechanized infantry, supported by helicopter gunships and jet fighter-bombers, are pitted against tribal insurgents and the Afghanistan action has brought Soviet-American relations to their lowest point since the Cold War.
The travelers assert that in such major Central Asian cities as Tashkent, Bukhara and Samarkand, all within a few hundred miles of the Afghan border, Soviet citizens blame President Carter and "Chinese spies" for aggression against Afghanistan that the Soviet Union is duty-bound to repulse. This feeling is mirrored here in Moscow, far from the fighting and undoubtedly reflects the views of millions of Soviets who conceptions of Kremlin policies are almost wholly shaped by the state-controlled media.
The media has described the intervention as limited, and last week the official Tass news agency reported that the Kremlin and Babrak had agreed upon the terms of the Soviet military presence, but it did not disclose those terms.
Aside from scattered reports of angered and distraught mothers and wives who have lost their young men in combat, most Soviets seem to believe the intervention is not only just, but sure to be short-lived.
"It won't go mugh longer, we are too powerful," a Muscovite said in a typical comment today. "But what is wrong with your Carter? Why is he playing with the Chinese provocateurs?"
There have unconfirmed reports that many severaly wounded soldiers have been flown to leningrad, East Germany, and other centers of sophisticated medical treatment for burns and bad wounds. But it is a measure of the success of Soviet secrecy in its military matters that no reliabale reports have surfaced here of precise casualties or losses in Afghanistan.
In another development, Tass reported from Kabul today that the Afghan government is encouraging the enlistment of high school boys in the Army to counter "reactionary intrigues" against the country.
It said the afghan Defense Mininstry had announded "the voluntary enlistment of Afghan secondary school boys who have passed their education certificates." after six month's duty, Tass said, the recruits could opt to serve with the Army reserve.