After a major two-week operation, Soviet and Afghan government forces once again control Kandahar, Afghanistan's second-largest city, according to refugees arriving recently in Pakistan.
Fighting in and around the city was said to have been particularly heavy, but has for the most part died down, according to these reports. Several Soviet units deployed in the offensive are said to have withdrawn to their bases.
The reports come from refugees arriving in the city of Quetta, in southwest Pakistan, from Kandahar and nearby villages in the last two days. Similar reports have come to Afghan insurgent sources in Peshawar, who said they got them from partisan messengers coming out of Afghanistan.
Reliable confirmation of such reports from Afghanistan, with no independent sources available there, is virtually impossible.But the variety of sources lends credence to this information.
Although Soviet and Afghan troops, supported by tanks and armored vehicles, are still said to be present in large numbers in Kandahar, they are said in these reports to have pulled out of most surrounding villages where their offensive began.
The withdrawal of Soviet forces from the surrounding countryside to their base near the airport reportedly has allowed rebel groups to return to the villages, and in some instances to the outskirts of Kandahar.
The offensive got under way two weeks ago at a time when the Islamic rebels controlled large segments of the city and were able to act seemingly at will, according to the accounts.
Soviet units in T62 tanks and armored personnel carriers, aided by MI24 helicopter gunships, reportedly were dispatched in the first instance into nearby villages. Residents were warned in leaflets distributed by the helicopters to keep off the streets. Anyone found riding a bicycle, motorbike or driving a car would, the leaflets threatened, be shot on sight.
According to refugees arriving in Pakistan last week, these threats were carried out on a number of occasions.
As Soviet forces, which make up the brunt of the attacking force, neared the center of the city, Mig jets and helicopter gunships launched the heaviest bombardment the city has seen to drive out the rebels, the refugees said.