In August 1984, I went for the third time into Afghanistan with the mujaheddin, Islamic guerrillas fighting to rid their country of its Soviet occupiers. I had started out, more than a year earlier, to observe firsthand the various Third World anti-Soviet guerrilla movements—in Central America, Africa, southeast Asia, and Afghanistan. My first and second trips inside Afghanistan with the mujaheddin had been in the late summer of 1983, and now, a year later, I was making my third trip with the Afghan guerrillas.
I traveled with the legendary commander Qari Baba from the country's southern border with Pakistan all the way up into the central Hazarajat mountains, then down to Ghazni, Afghanistan's fourth-largest city.
Qari Baba leads more than 9,000 mujaheddin, who love, fear, and revere him as if he were their own grandfather—and, indeed, the honorific Baba is an Afghan term of affection. (Qari, also spelled "Qali," is an Islamic title signifying one who has committed the entire Koran to memory.) A powerfully built man with a flowing black beard, medicine-ball stomach, and a huge bullet-shaped shaved skull, he looks like a cross between Genghis Khan and Buddha. Qari Baba has immense stature among the mujaheddin for having killed more Soviet soldiers than any other Afghan.
When we reached Ghazni, Qari Baba called in his principal commanders operating throughout the entire area to meet me. Early the next morning, Qari Baba, his personal bodyguard, and I sat on the floor of a home half bombed to rubble by Soviet MiGs. One by one, the field commanders arrived.
Each of these men had several hundred mujaheddin under his command, and they were all renowned as great fighters in their own right. All looked as if they had stepped out of an Errol Flynn movie, with their dark beards, turbans, flashing knives in scabbards of tooled leather, bandoliers full of gleaming brass cartridges, and their rifles—ranging from ancient Lee Enfield bolt-action carbines to modern Soviet Kalashnikov machine guns—intricately decorated with colorful beadwork. Each would take off his sandals and lay down his weapon as he entered the room. They would shake my hand—Afghans love to shake hands—then sit down and fix their hawk-like eyes on me, sizing me up.
Tea was served, green tea from Chinese Turkestan, into which was heaped massive amounts of sugar. As always, when I asked that mine be sheen trake, without sugar, my hosts registered surprise. The talk was quiet and expectant as we waited for the last commanders to arrive. There was a stir at the door, and everyone stood up to warmly embrace a man introduced to me as Adam Khan.
As he sat down across from me and looked into my eyes, I recognized that even among this group, here was somebody special. His eyes were a fiery blue-green. His dark brown hair was unlike any Afghan's I'd ever seen, flowing and spilling down over his shoulders. An impish, devil-may-care grin was hidden under an enormous handlebar mustache. He carried himself with a graceful swagger that emanated confidence, power, and energy—the epitome of Afghan guerrilla charisma, just overflowing with it. As I looked back at him we both broke out into a big smile, taking an instant liking to each other.
I decided to tell Adam Khan and the others a story. "In my country, America," I told them through a local interpreter, Hakim, "there are stories and legends told about famous men who lived 100 years ago in western America. These men were called gunfighters, who fought duels with six-guns on their belts, who fought outlaws and bandits and savage Indians. Many books have been written about them, many motion pictures in Hollywood have been made about them. They are among the great legendary heroes of my country, and they had names like Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, Bat Masterson, and John Wesley Hardin. But the most famous of all, the most legendary and heroic, the greatest American gunfighter of all of them was…Wild Bill Hickok.
"And you"—I turned and pointed at Adam Khan—"look just like Wild Bill Hickok!" Adam Khan instantly stood up and threw his arms around me. I had made a friend.
Each commander wanted to show me his area of operations, but Adam Khan clamored the loudest, and soon I was sitting behind him on his Yamaha dirt bike—the mujaheddin are becoming more motorized now—charging off to his village in the hills above Ghazni. We passed a number of villages on the valley floor that had been destroyed by Shuravi (Afghan for Soviet) tanks, jets, and helicopter gunships. Fields had been napalmed and cratered with 500-pound bombs. Wells, dikes, and irrigation canals lay demolished by pinpoint, low-level bombing runs, with the surrounding hundreds of formerly irrigated acres now returning to desert.
But for every destroyed village there was another being rebuilt, in which people were still living, still struggling to keep their home and traditional way of life. In adjacent fields, villagers were desperately trying to get in whatever harvest was left, threshing the grain with oxen or camels, pitchforking piles of it into the air to separate the chaff. Against such unarmed villagers, Soviet MiGs could fly at tree-top level and with impunity bomb anywhere they wanted to in the valley. Flying so low, they can't be heard until they are right on top of you.
Once, we stopped to fix the motorcycle just outside a village perched on a slight rise overlooking Ghazni. The airport was a few kilometers away, and we could see a swarm of helicopters returning from their morning forays. Hunched over the bike and concentrating on tightening the sprocket chain, I thought I heard something. I looked up to see two MiGs coming in directly above us. They cleared the ridge by not more than 100 feet, with every detail of their undercarriages clearly visible. By the time I got my camera out and focused, they were beyond us, off on a bombing run upon a village nearby. If the village we were in had been their target and they had been firing their cannons as they approached, the bullets would have hit us before we had any inkling at all that they were there.
In the face of such massive terrorism being inflicted upon them, the heroism of the Afghan people—the mujaheddin guerrillas, the farmers and villagers—is overwhelming, particularly when you experience it firsthand. These courageous people and others throughout the Third World who are willing to fight for their freedom—be they Afghan, Ethiopian, Nicaraguan, Angolan, Mozambican, Cambodian, Laotian, or Vietnamese—are on the cutting edge of a geopolitical development that is of extraordinary historical significance: armed popular resistance against Soviet colonialism. Yet so far, this has eluded the mental grasp of both the media and academia.
Take a look for a moment at a map of the world, a political map with the various countries' borders outlined. What has caused more changes in the map you are looking at, more than any other factor, is not so much an increased desire for individual freedom as a form of tribal or collective freedom: nationalism. For 30 years following the end of World War II, the target of Third World nationalist aspirations was Western colonialism. One by one, dozens of Third World colonies gained their political independence from West European imperial powers—India and Pakistan from England, for example; Indonesia from Holland; Laos, Cambodia, and North and South Vietnam from France; the Belgian Congo (renamed Zaire) from Belgium; Angola and Mozambique from Portugal.
Today, the era of Western colonialism is over and only vestigial remnants of the great West European imperial empires remain, such as Gibraltar and French Polynesia. But while these empires vanished, one other—the last 19th-century colonial power left—had risen like a hideously deformed phoenix from revolutionary ashes and resumed its imperialist march once again.
World War II was supposedly fought, as was World War I in Woodrow Wilson's words, to make the world "safe for democracy." The result, however, was to make the world safe for Soviet imperialism. From 1939 to 1946, the Soviet Union expanded its official borders by over a quarter of a million square miles, 69,000 from Poland alone, and violently subjugated into colonies the whole of Eastern Europe.
Stalin's heirs have since tried to expand throughout what became known as the "Third World" by manipulating those movements and peoples trying to gain political independence from the West. On January 6, 1961, Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev announced the Soviet government's formal support of "national liberation wars" in Africa, Asia, and Latin America as the means to achieve a communist (that is, Soviet) victory over the forces of capitalism (the United States). It was not until the 1970s, however, that this strategy really bore abundant fruit.
On the very last day of 1969, Brazzaville-Congo declared itself Africa's first Marxist-Leninist "People's Republic." Soviet-backed revolutionaries subsequently led Marxist-Leninist coups in South Yemen (1971), Benin (1972), Ethiopia (1977), the Seychelles (1977), Grenada (1979), and Surinam (1980). Cuban troops enabled the MPLA (Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola) to seize power in Angola in 1975 and in 1979 did the same for the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. The coup in Portugal in 1974 allowed FRELIMO (Mozambique Liberation Front) to take over Mozambique without further struggle a year later. Also in 1975 the North Vietnamese army conquered South Vietnam in the name of the Viet Cong, and did the same for the communist group the Pathet Lao in Laos. (In the same year the China-backed Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia.) To close out the decade, the Soviet-armed Vietnamese army invaded Cambodia, chasing the genocidal Khmer Rouge into the jungles and installing a puppet regime, while the Red Army of the Soviet Union itself invaded Afghanistan. That's 14 countries added to the Red Empire in little more than 10 years—a record of imperialist expansion unmatched by any 19th-century colonial power in its heyday.
That expansion, however, has come to an end. In this decade, the Soviets have not acquired a single new colony. Soviet influence throughout Africa has seriously eroded, sharply so in such client or quasi-client states as Guinea, Malagasay (Madagascar), and Congo.
Why the halt in Soviet expansion? Because the Soviet Union, being not an economic superpower at all but merely the world's biggest banana republic, cannot back its empire up economically. Soviet Marxism, for every country that has embraced it, has become not a path to a glorious future but a one-way ticket to oppression and poverty. All the Soviets can offer, and what they have perfected, is what I call the Kremlin's "Franchise for Totalitarianism"—a modular formula applicable to any location whereby a small clique, even with no popular power base whatever, can gain and maintain a ruthless tyranny.
If you "buy" the franchise, the Kremlin will first supply you with massive amounts of military arms. For instance, when the Israelis invaded southern Lebanon in 1981 and captured Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) arms caches stored there, they trucked out 4,700 truckloads of Soviet weaponry. Jonas Savimbi's anti-Marxist resistance movement in Angola, UNITA, is well-armed thanks substantially to South Africa's turning over to Savimbi the vast Soviet arms caches it captured in raids on encampments of the Soviet-sponsored South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO) in southwest Angola.
The instant you negotiate or seize a portion of governmental authority in the capital city, you request "fraternal assistance" to eliminate "counterrevolutionary elements." Within days, Soviet troop-transport planes will start bringing in Soviet-proxy troops, a service provided by the Cubans, for example, for the MPLA in Angola and the Sandinistas in Nicaragua.
Once any opposition to total government control is neutralized, then the franchise is set up in earnest. The Soviets supply administrative personnel and "advisors" to each minister. The East Germans provide a palace guard and set up an internal spy and informer network of true Orwellian proportions. Terrorizing everyone from trusting any other fellow citizen—even brother and sister, parent and child—is the key to snuffing the development of any opposition and maintaining power.
The Cubans supply the military manpower both to suppress any armed resistance and to prevent any rebellion from the military, as they do in Nicaragua, Angola, Ethiopia, and Mozambique (along with Tanzanian troops, who provide the same service in the Seychelles). The North Vietnamese play this role in South Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos (although there's a report of Cuban pilots flying in the Laotian air force), while the Soviets do it themselves in Afghanistan.
Contingents of North Koreans, Libyans, and PLO Palestinians provide military training for both the army and the secret police, while various East Blockers, mostly Czechs and Bulgarians, are the technicians for a few development projects. (The 20 Czechs captured and held hostage by UNITA whom I interviewed in Angola in 1983 during a visit to Jonas Savimbi's forces were wood-pulp engineers. The irrigation pipe set up at UNITA's agricultural center near Likua was from the Bulgarian-built agricultural center at the town of Maivinga, overrun by Savimbi's men.)
The entire society is mobilized, militarized, and made to swim in a sea of Marxist propaganda. All those who object are branded as "counterrevolutionary," subject to the loss of their job or food-ration card, to harassment, being beat up, jailed, tortured, or shot.
So far, the franchise has proven quite successful and tenacious in perpetuating Soviet colonial rule. To this day, no Soviet-backed Marxist-Leninist government that has "bought" the franchise has been removed from power from within. Anwar Sadat's throwing the Soviets out of Egypt (after Nasser's death)—and perhaps even Desire Bouterse's doing the same in Surinam—may come close. (Reagan's invasion of Grenada from without, however, does not count.) But if a genuine popular rebellion from within a Soviet colony succeeds in overthrowing the ruling clique, ejecting all Soviet and Soviet-proxy personnel from the country, and establishing a democratic form of government, the doctrine of the historical inevitability of Marxism-Leninism will have been shattered.
This is why the guerrilla wars being waged now in eight Soviet colonies on three continents represent a geopolitical phenomenon of immense historical significance. Just as the Third World rejected Western colonialism in the 1950s and '60s, so it is rejecting Soviet colonialism in the 1980s. And it is using the Soviet strategy of armed guerrilla resistance—"wars of liberation"—to do so.
This new phenomenon of anti-Soviet liberation movements means that one should not look at a world map and see each struggle piecemeal, but rather as all related parts of a historical momentum opposed to imperialism—the "second stage" of post-World War II nationalist movements, now aimed at Soviet Marxist imperialism.
It is, of course, an almost fantastic oversimplification to speak of the Third World as an "it," as a single entity. Nonetheless, one can argue that the pendulum of history has swung away from Soviet Marxism as a model for a great many countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, and towards democracy and a market economy. In Latin America, for example, Argentina, Uruguay, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Colombia, Panama, Costa Rica, and Honduras are all functioning democracies, with Brazil on the way.
There is, then, a "window of opportunity" right now for freedom and democracy in the world. The Soviet Union has overexpanded and is now on the defensive. If this opportunity is not taken advantage of, the Kremlin will use this period to digest and consolidate its gains, soon to be on the imperialist march again.
United States foreign policy has long been limited to containment and defensive reaction—a genuinely reactionary policy that has also included propping up corrupt autocrats such as Mobutu Sese Seko in Zaire and Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines. If the United States is to reorient its perspective from a strategic defense to a strategic offense, it must be through the development of an activist, forward-looking foreign policy with the clear-cut strategic goal of destabilizing the Soviet Union through an energetic and orchestrated exploitation of its vulnerabilities, forcefully persuading it to disarm and democratize.
Those anti-Soviet guerrillas whom I've visited and talked to—be they Nicaraguan, Afghan, Angolan, Cambodian, Laotian, Vietnamese, Mozambican, or Ethiopian—do not want US soldiers to fight for them. They want to fight for their, and their country's, own freedom. They only ask for material, diplomatic, and moral help. Given that, they will do the rest. They are handing America and the West an opportunity for permanently reducing Soviet power and influence in the world.
That opportunity is larger and more promising in some areas than in others. By taking a brief look at each area separately, you can get an idea of just how large and promising it is:
• Nicaragua. It's necessary to realize what is at stake here. If the Sandinistas consolidate their rule, they, along with Moscow and Havana, will likely expand their sponsorship of Central American Marxist guerrillas, from El Salvador to Honduras and Costa Rica, then Panama, with the seizure of the Panama Canal as the primary goal. Fidel Castro's power and influence would be immeasurably strengthened, and the destabilization of Mexico would likely follow. If, instead, the Sandinistas are overthrown, Castro and the Kremlin may be finished in Central America.
Since the US Congress cut off aid to the anti-Sandinista forces—the Contras—in 1984, money and supplies must now come from private sources (see sidebar, page 44). With sufficient resources, the Contras could quadruple the size of their fighting force to over 50,000 within a year—volunteers are pouring in and disenchantment with the regime is growing that fast.
• Angola. What Jonas Savimbi and his 50,000-guerrilla-strong UNITA movement need right now is US diplomatic support. At present, Chester Crocker, US undersecretary of state for African affairs, is doing his best to reach an accommodation—excluding Savimbi—with the Marxist-Leninist regime of Eduardo dos Santos, instead of demanding face-to-face negotiations between dos Santos and Savimbi to negotiate a cease-fire, the formation of a transition government, and the holding of genuine democratic elections.
Of critical importance to the dos Santos regime are the royalties that Gulf Oil pays the regime for oil it takes from Angolan wells. Every time you buy gas at a Gulf station, some of your money goes to Fidel Castro—the Angolan government uses the royalties to pay Castro hundreds of millions of US dollars a year for Cuban mercenaries to prop up its regime. Meanwhile, as Gulf helps fund a Soviet colony to protect itself from anti-Marxist guerrillas, it lobbies against Savimbi in the corridors of Washington.
• Mozambique. Of all the various insurgencies being waged now within Soviet colonies, in my opinion the closest to outright military victory is Renamo—Resistencia Nacional de Mocambicana, the Mozambique National Resistance (also called MNR). According to my sources, as of this writing more than 20,000 Renamo guerrillas have fully liberated northern Gaza, eastern Inhambane and eastern Tete provinces, and almost all of Manica, Sofala, and Zambezia provinces. They operate effectively throughout the rest of the country. Recently, Renamo has been vigorously attacking all the roads leading into the capital of Maputo and should soon carry the war into the capital itself.
In southern Africa last September, I interviewed by radio Afonso Dhlakama, Renamo's president and chief military commander. I asked Dhlakama what exactly he was fighting for.
"First," came the reply over the crackle and static of the bush radio, "is to free ourselves from Soviet colonialism. The Soviet Union is the world's curse. The Soviets practice more exploitation than any capitalist. Just as in Angola, their fishing fleets are taking everything out of our coastal waters. In a short time they will destroy the fishing industry in Mozambique.
"Second is to free ourselves from the tyranny of Marxism. There are no freedoms of any kind in Mozambique—of religion, of speech, of the press, of assembly—none. The penalty for smuggling is execution—yet people can only survive in Mozambique today by trading on the black market.
"What we are fighting for, then, is freedom—freedom for our country and freedom for ourselves as individuals. What we want is a democracy like you have in America, where each Mozambican can peacefully conduct his life as he sees fit and earn his living as he sees fit—instead of being told his purpose in life is to work for the benefit of the state and of Samora Machel [Mozambique's dictator]."
US undersecretary of state Chester Crocker at least puts on the facade of talking occasionally to Savimbi, but he refuses to have anything to do with Dhlakama. I asked Dhlakama why.
"My opinion," he said, "is that there is a clique in your State Department that has a fantasy of wooing away a communist dictator from the Soviets through their great diplomatic skills and foreign-aid bribes. This is a very foolish and naive dream. But we guerrillas spoil the fantasy and get in the way of their drawing-room negotiations. Thus your State Department has demonstrated nothing but unrelieved hostility towards us—much worse than under Carter."
Since I talked to Dhlakama last fall, the State Department has announced that it intends to provide "military assistance and training" to the Mozambique government—evidence of the extent to which the reactionary, elitist element at the department still controls US foreign policy. It is this element that equates cynicism with sophistication in foreign policy, and "peace and stability" (Crocker's oft-stated goal) with the consolidation of Marxist tyranny. But what Crocker and his ilk fail to realize is that—the morally repugnant spectacle of America aiding a murderous communist dictator battling professedly pro-Western democratic liberation forces aside—in terms of hard-headed Realpolitik they are backing a loser. Instead of seizing the opportunity to demand the democratization of Mozambique, they frantically try to prop up Machel when he is on his last legs.
• Ethiopia. Just as Stalin starved millions of rebellious Ukrainians and Russian peasants ("kulaks") either to death or into submission, and just as his heirs are attempting the same in Afghanistan today, so are Moscow's proxies doing now in Ethiopia. The provinces worst hit by drought and famine are Eritrea and Tigre—both substantially controlled (upwards of 85 percent) by the Eritrean and the Tigrean liberation movements.
The regime of Mengistu Mariam in Addis Ababa refuses to negotiate a cease-fire with the guerrillas and allow effective distribution of food aid throughout the area. According to my friend journalist Edward Girardet, who recently observed the relief operation, foreigners (relief organization personnel, journalists, etc.) are allowed to go to only five of the 256 distribution centers that the government claims exist. The rest are off limits, and most may not exist at all.
Before the media's discovery of the famine last October, most international food aid was used to feed the 300,000 soldiers in the Ethiopian army (up from about 30,000 before Mengistu and by far the largest in Africa), and much of it still is. A solution would be to channel such aid through the Eritrean and Tigrean Relief Associations operating in Sudan. They would work with the Eritrean and Tigrean guerrillas in carrying it across the border and distribute it throughout the areas beyond the government's control.
• Cambodia. Last December, Cambodia's Vietnamese occupiers mounted an offensive against the three insurgent groups—the pro-Western Khmer People's National Liberation Front (KPNLF), the Marxist-Leninist Khmer Rouge, and followers of former Cambodian ruler Prince Norodom Sihanouk (ANS). The Viets overran most guerrilla positions on the Thai border, including those of the well-armed Khmer Rouge. Consequently, the Thai government has reaped the bitter reward of its policy of forcing Cambodian refugees into camps just across the border inside Cambodia, which forced the KPNLF into using the majority of its men in static defensive positions obliged to protect the camps. The Thai army is now right up against the Vietnamese army at the border, with Vietnamese incursions into Thailand occurring almost daily. All the refugees have fled back onto Thai soil, their flourishing camps destroyed. For example, the camp at Rithysen, which had impressed me greatly when I visited it in July 1984 (REASON, Feb.), has been ground under Vietnamese tank treads.
Although China did provide an arms shipment to the KPNLF in October, China still gives one weapon to the KPNLF to every nine it gives to the Khmer Rouge. The Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) has called for material support for the guerrillas from the West. The US House Foreign Affairs Committee recently voted $5 million in military assistance to "the noncommunist resistance in Cambodia" (that is, the KPNLF and Norodom Sihanouk's ANS, but specifically not the Khmer Rouge).
• Laos and Vietnam. The insurgencies here are just beginning, but they are growing. Old players like Phoumi Nosivom and Vang Pao are pretending to have something inside Laos, but it's just phony propaganda. The same applies to Champassak in southern Laos. In central Laos, however, guerrilla leaders Boua Lien and Kham Bou do have a few hundred men—no more—in the field. The most serious fighting is in the north, where several thousand Lao-theung and Hmong tribesmen, led by Chan Souk and Pa Kao Her, have been trained and armed by China. There is no Marxist context to their training whatever—just Laotian nationalism against Vietnamese imperialism.
In Vietnam, there are a couple of thousand Montagnard tribesmen in the Central Highlands—armed, again, by China—who call their insurgency Dega Phulro. People in France have helped one Le Quoc Thuy infiltrate insurgents into the Mekong Delta. According to my sources, there is an amalgam of some 12 small groups collectively called Phuc Quoc (Restoration), which is reportedly increasingly active in the Saigon area. They recently claimed to have blown up a main section of the Bien Hoa Bridge near Saigon. And, I have learned, members of the large Vietnamese community in Orange County, California, are presently developing a network of subversive cells throughout Vietnam.
• Afghanistan. As I see it, there are several key requirements for a Soviet defeat in Afghanistan. For one, accountability must be enforced for all CIA money disappearing into pockets in Islamabad and Peshawar, from where it supposedly is distributed among the mujaheddin forces. (There is a reliable report that Pir Gailani, leader of the Mohaz party and a major figure in distributing US aid to the mujaheddin, just bought a home for one million pounds in London—meanwhile, his commander Amin Wardak hasn't got boots for his men.) Directly delivering cash, arms, and supplies to the principal regional commanders operating inside Afghanistan would bypass Islamabad and Peshawar. Also needed is the emergence of an internal unity among these main commanders (such as Qari Baba in Ghazni, Amin Wardak in Wardak, Jalal-ud-din in Paktia, Abdul Haq in Kabul, Ahmad Shah Massoud in Pansjher, Mohammad Ismail in Herat, and Mohammad Shah Ghazi in Ferah), for the reality is that no unity can arise among the rival political arms of the mujaheddin, based in Peshawar, Pakistan. The most urgent supplies the mujaheddin need are reliable, shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles to combat the Soviets' deadly air power. And strategically, the mujaheddin must carry their war north into the USSR itself, among the 50 million fellow Moslem colonial subjects of Soviet Central Asia.
Although massive sums of US aid continue to leak through the pipeline—due to CIA incompetence and timidity—Congress's increased funding for the mujaheddin is beginning to show up on the battlefield. The best indication that not all the money is being wasted is the step-up in guerrilla activity in and around Kabul, the capital. Abdul Haq, the principal mujahed commander in the Kabul area, now has a few Chinese Kathusha rockets, with which he has been able to hit Soviet targets in the center of the city. The homes of Soviet officers and professors (teaching, or rather indoctrinating, at Kabul University) have been bombed. It is getting to be quite lethal for any Soviet to venture out onto Kabul streets after sunset.
For the mujaheddin, this is a positive development, one which other anti-Soviet insurgencies might do well to emulate. There are two styles of guerrilla warfare—the Chinese and the Russian, or alternatively described as the rural and the urban. The former, of which Mao was the master, concentrates on gaining control of the countryside, winning the support of the peasantry so the guerrillas can "swim like fish in the sea" of the rural population, slowly encircling and strangling the cities. The latter goes right for the cities, where the power is, and entails substantial urban terrorism. Savimbi in Angola, Dhlakama in Mozambique, Dien Del of the KPNLF in Cambodia, and Enrique Bermudez of the Contras in Nicaragua all fight on the Chinese model, and all have an abhorrence of PLO-style terror attacks on innocent city-dwellers.
But sooner or later, they must realize that victory will require fighting in the main cities. They must be extremely selective in their activities, targeting government and military personnel only, and primarily foreign occupiers, such as Soviets, Cubans, East Germans, North Koreans, or Libyans. The aim is to turn Soviet colonies into exceedingly dangerous places for any Soviet or Soviet-proxy personnel—and the targets to make it so are the cities. Last August I had an opportunity to observe firsthand the working of this strategy, when I accompanied Adam Khan and his men on an attack in the center of Ghazni.
We first walked into the city in the middle of the day, past tank positions manned by Karmali troops (Afghans of the Soviet-installed Babrak Karmal regime), to a bombed-out section of the city a short distance from the airport. A flock of Soviet helicopter gunships began arriving, and by sticking my head out of a hole in a collapsed roof I got pictures of them so close-up that the miniguns in the nose and the pilots are visible. I could make out people walking among the flight line of gunships on the tarmac. Then off we went to another part of Ghazni, where the mujaheddin pointed out to me a fortress perched above the city on a 300-foot-high rock.
"That is the famous fortress of Bala Hissar," Adam Khan (via Hakim, my interpreter) informed me. "It was originally built by the great Sultan Mahmud Ghaz-Nahvi in what you would call the 11th century. Today, it is the location of the Soviet High Command, the military and administrative headquarters for the Soviet occupational forces in Ghazni province. Some four to five hundred Soviet personnel live in its barracks."
We walked back to a village on the city outskirts to meet a group of Adam Khan's men. After a lunch of tea, yogurt, and nan (Afghan flat bread), and after getting my beard trimmed by the village barber ("Ah, now you look like a true Afghan!" Adam Khan proudly proclaimed), I was offered a choice.
"We would like to take you with us on an 'activity' tonight," Adam Khan told me. "What would you like to do? We can attack the airport and blow up some of the helicopters on the ground that you saw today, or we can attack the Soviet High Command at Bala Hissar."
I chose Bala Hissar.
Guerrillas work at night and sleep during the day, so in the afternoon we slept. At the end of the day, we had tea in an orchard of plum trees. The talk was quiet and relaxed, with everyone at ease and in good humor, the setting peaceful and serene. Spreading out their blankets, Adam Khan and his lieutenants said their sunset Islamic prayers, then went to meet their fellow mujaheddin who had gathered in the village courtyard.
There was a total of 55 men, armed with an 85-millimeter recoilless rifle (which they called a tope), six rocket launchers, two machine guns, and 40 Kalashnikov assault rifles—all captured from the Soviets in previous battles. At dusk, they drove off in a truck and a van, with Adam Khan and me on his Yamaha. Stopping by the roadside about a mile from the city, the guerrillas split up into several groups and headed for the Bala Hissar fortress in the deepening twilight.
Adam Khan has agents and informers throughout the city, and we went by the homes of three of them to get their latest reports. All the men met up at the ruins of a portion of the city turned to rubble by Soviet jets. On a slight rise, the ruins overlooked the city bazaar at the foot of the fortress, whose lights blinked at us some 200 yards away.
After a period of whispered conversations and directions, Adam Khan sent a group of 35 men led by Turan (captain) Kaiyum to stage the main attack and another group of 10 to create distraction. He and his remaining 10 men provided cover from our vantage point.
We waited in the darkness as Kaiyum sneaked through city alleys and got into position. Fluorescent pink tracer bullets flew in a variety of directions—some just over our heads—from Soviet machine guns: random fire from the fort to dissuade attack. Calls from Karmali watchmen could be heard, warning each other to be on guard. Brilliant green flares were constantly being fired up in the air, lighting up the areas below them. The night was sparkling clear, with the Milky Way a bright band across the sky, and Scorpio suspended above the city. Dogs began to bark throughout the bazaar.
Suddenly, Kaiyum's recoilless rifle went off with a whoosh, and the explosion lit up the entire hill. Machine guns started to chirp, and two rocket launchers flashed into action. The fort responded with massive bursts of machine-gun fire, pink showers of tracer bullets blanketing the sky. Soon there was a full-scale battle going on, with deafening blasts as shells landed. Flares, tracers, automatic rifles, and heavy machine guns were all going full tilt. The battle would die down momentarily as Kaiyum and his men left their immediate position and resume quickly as they took up a new one.
There was another whoosh of the recoilless rifle, and the military power station exploded in a spectacular array of fireworks, sending cascades of electric sparks spilling over the sides of the rock face. Bala Hissar was now plunged into darkness, as the mujaheddin concentrated their fire on the barracks of the Soviet officers. Several shells scored direct hits on one of the main buildings, causing it to collapse.
With this, Adam Khan signaled his men to withdraw, giving them the cover to do so by firing rockets at the fortress. This quickly gained the attention of the fort's Soviet defenders, whose response was overwhelming. Bringing their heavy guns into action, they began raining 105-millimeter artillery shells upon our position. We were now racing through the ruins. Shells were landing so close to us, sending up clouds of choking dust, that the concussion almost knocked us over. When one hit a building, the mud-adobe wall would collapse, once almost right onto us. But whenever we stopped to catch our breath, Adam Khan and I would look at each other and burst out laughing. Amidst all the explosions, the collapsing walls, the choking dust, we all were doubled over with laughter, tears streaming down our faces. It was the farthest thing from being terrified. Just like a sky-dive, when you're in the middle of it—no fear at all, just exhilaration. If someone were to be hurt, then of course the mood would instantly change from fun to serious. But the Soviets were missing us. The attack upon them had been successful, and they were responding in impotent fury.
The battle had lasted little more than half an hour. Retreating into the night, we looked back to see the silhouette of Bala Hissar in the distance, now dark and lightless. When Kaiyum and his men rejoined Adam Khan, the commander's first concern was for any wounded. There was only one casualty—a young boy of about 19 had suffered a flesh wound in his left thigh, his pant leg shredded and bloody. The next morning he was treated by a mujahed doctor and pronounced in good condition.
That same morning, Adam Khan received a report from a Karmali officer, whose task as an informer is to provide accurate information on Bala Hissar to the mujaheddin. The result of the "activity," independently verified by Qari Baba's own agents in the city: 25 Soviet officers killed and 7 injured when the barracks adjacent to the power station collapsed upon them.
"A good night's work," was Adam Khan's comment over morning tea. "The Shuravi must realize that we will not stop killing them until they leave our country." We raised our cups of tea. "Mordabad Shuravi (Death to the Soviets)," the guerrilla commander cried out. "Zindabad (Long live) Afghanistan!"
Jack Wheeler, a professional adventurer who also holds a Ph.D. in philosophy, is director of the Freedom Research Foundation in Malibu, California. This is the last in a series of REASON articles in which he has reported on anti-Soviet guerrillas in Angola (Apr. 1984), Nicaragua (June–July 1984). Afghanistan (Sept. 1984), and Cambodia (Feb. 1985). The series is a project of the Reason Foundation Investigative Journalism Fund.
With a Little Help from Friends
Third World anti-Soviet guerrillas significantly rely on, and can greatly benefit from, the aid of private organizations and individuals. I have here compiled some information, presented country by country, on a number of groups trying to raise aid. Those interested can further investigate these groups and their efforts.
• Nicaragua. The group in the United States that is probably doing the most to aid the Contras is the United States Council for World Freedom (Box 585, Tabernash, CO 80478), run by Maj. Gen. Jack Singlaub. Friends of the Americas (912 N. Foster Dr., Baton Rouge, LA 70806), run by Woody and Diane Jenkins, is urging concerned individuals to start up in their areas "Shoebox for Liberty" programs to get badly needed aid—especially basic medical supplies—to refugee families of Nicaragua's Miskito Indians.
The Nicaraguan Democratic Front, one of the main Contra groups, has launched the Nicaraguan Freedom Bond Project (Box 16-0593, Miami, FL 33116). By selling "freedom bonds" (perhaps soon available in denominations as small as $100), the project raises money for supplies to the Contras. No warranties are made, but should the Sandinistas be overthrown, the bonds are to be paid off through the sale of denationalized companies.
• Angola. Perhaps one of the most effective things an American citizen can do to help Jonas Savimbi's battle against Angola's Marxist regime is to boycott Gulf Oil: Gulf's royalties to the regime supply it with US dollars to pay the Cuban mercenaries who protect it from Savimbi's forces. My own Freedom Research Foundation (Malibu, California) and the Cuban-American National Foundation (1000 Thomas Jefferson St. NW, Suite 601, Washington, DC 20007) are organizing a Boycott Gulf Project, with the slogan, "Every time you buy gas at a Gulf station, some of your money goes to Fidel Castro." If enough people become incensed at this practice, perhaps Gulf will change its ways, thus giving Savimbi a fighting chance at success.
• Mozambique. Friends of Mozambique (2901 Broadway, Suite 114, New York, NY 10025) supports the efforts of guerrilla leader Afonso Dhlakama. The group's director, Dr. Vilankulu, has worked with Dhlakama for years.
• Ethiopia. Inquiries about aid here can be directed to two organizations: Eritrean Relief Association (Box 8129, Khartoum, Sudan, attention: Gebre Micael) and Relief Society of Tigre (Box 8177, Khartoum, Sudan, attention: Yemane Kidane).
• Cambodia. The Khmer People's National Liberation Front operates the "Sponsor a Freedom Fighter Project" (c/o Kok Sar, P.O. Box 22-25 Raminstra Post Office, Bangkok 10220 Thailand). The price of sponsorship is $44, or $11 a month for four months, which goes to supply a guerrilla with clothing and basic gear. The KPNLF also offers subscriptions to its monthly bulletin (often containing color-picture coverage of the war), for $30 a year.
• Vietnam. Those wanting to investigate aiding Vietnamese rebels could contact Cong Tran (Box 4048, Santa Ana, CA 92702).
• Afghanistan. There are several worthwhile organizations in the United States trying to help the mujaheddin. A prominent one is the Committee for a Free Afghanistan (214 Massachusetts Ave. NE, Suite 480, Washington, DC 20002). The Afghan Information Center (Prof. Sayd Majrooh, Afghan Information Center, P.O. Box 228, Peshawar, Pakistan) offers subscriptions to its monthly bulletin on the mujaheddin, at $50 for one year. And acting in behalf of a noble humanitarian cause, American physician Bob Simon, of the UCLA medical school, is sending teams of American physicians and paramedics inside Afghanistan to treat wounded mujaheddin and villagers (International Medical Corps, Box 49525, Los Angeles, CA 90049).
This article originally appeared in print under the headline "Fighting the Soviet Imperialists: The New Liberation Movements".