How many people were killed in Jalalabad?

How many people were killed in Jalalabad?

General Mohammed Asif Delawar, the Afghan Army Chief of Staff, arrived at Jalalabad during the morning (March 7, 1989) and, for the beginning, gathered information from officers and soldiers, forwarding them to the Afghan Ministry of Defense in Kabul. According to his report, who arrived on the desk of President Najibullah, the orders to retreat from the previously occupied positions (ten fortifications and bases that held the front line – from south of Za Khail/ Zahel – south of Qatraghay – north-west of Surkh Dewal) during the evening of March 6, caused the disaster.

The troops that were installed in the new positions failed to accommodate them and use them efficiently in that short time – and were annihilated. He describes the situation that took place at 8 o’clock that morning of March 7, when a subunit of the army that had just settled in an outpost overnight, after being hit by shells and missiles, was stormed and occupied by insurgents, and his garrison was largely wiped out.

An intervention detachment moved immediately in that area, an infantry company on armored personnel carriers (56 men on 6 wheeled armored personnel carriers BTR-60PB), but it’s counterattack was expected by the rebels, and was hit hard by artillery, mortars and missile launchers and, after a heavy fight, was completely destroyed. In the next hour, other two neighboring outposts fell to the rebels, the losses of government forces in that sector rising to about 70 soldiers killed and wounded and another 180 soldiers taken prisoner.

After 10 o’clock in the morning, more than 800 rebel fighters, led by Sajjid Mohammed Pahlaman from the Gailani party, moved quickly towards the Samar Khail military base, defended by up to 500 men, including a motorized infantry battalion, a howitzer battalion, a reconnaissance company and the HQ company of the 11th Division (General Mohammad Ehsan was there, coordinating the defense).

To avoid vigorous resistance, the mujahideen attacked the base with artillery, mortars and rockets for about an hour. When the rebels entered the base, attacking the 11th Division HQ, immediately after 11 o’clock, the opposition they faced was much reduced, and, after a short time, the entire command of the division left the base (including General Mohammad Ehsan) with part of the other subunits, while the few remaining government troops surrendered.

The proportions of the disaster for the government forces can be understood only if we mention that General Barakzai – Commander of the ANA 1st Central Army Corps – was killed at noon, while trying to organize the defense east and south-east of Jalalabad city, and General Jabbar Khel – Commander of Sarandoy (militarized gendarmerie) troops from Nangarhar province – was seriously injured and had to be evacuated, while a large part of the units of the 66th and 71st  (Motorized) Infantry Brigades, 91st Artillery Regiment, 10th  Engineer-Sapper Regiment, 1st Border Guard Brigade had substantial losses in both men and military equipment, especially during their retreat.

Media sources close to the rebels, taking over the information given by the AIG CC (Afghan Interim Government Command Center) from Ghazi Abad state farms, in March 10, stated that in the Samar Khail military base area and in its neighboring areas (Surkh Dewal, Naghlo, Saracha) would have been captured 38 medium tanks T-54(M)/-54A(M) and T-55/-55(M), 2 light amphibious tanks PT-76B, 3 tracked armored repair and recovery vehicles BTS-4A, 6 tracked infantry fighting vehicles BMP-1, 25 wheeled armored personnel carriers BTR-60PB/PBK (8×8) (18 vehicles) and BTR-152E/V/K (6×6) (7 vehicles), 9 wheeled armored reconnaissance vehicles BRDM-2 (4×4), 181 medium and heavy trucks, 17 x M-43 120mm. towed mortars, 23 x M-30 and D-30 122mm towed howitzers, 2 x BM-21 ꞌGradꞌ(40 x 122mm.) and 6 x BM-14MM (16 x 140mm.) multiple rocket launching systems, so a true arsenal.

The base also included an important part of the heavy engineering equipment belonging to the ANA 10th Engineer-Sapper Regiment, which would also have fallen into the hands of the rebels. Of course, the information provided by the rebel Command cannot be taken for granted, but, what is certain, is that the military base from Samar Khail was pretty big, it housed, until the summer of 1988, the soldiers of the Soviet 66th Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade.

Contrary to the generally deplorable situation of the combat equipment of the Afghan National Army until late 1987, the situation improved substantially in the second half of 1988 and the beginning of 1989, thanks to Soviet support. The degree of operability of the armored and artillery equipment was pretty high in the units of the ANA 1st  Central Army Corps (including those in the Nangarhar Province) in late February 1989 – over 85%, and for the cars, vans, trucks and buses, just over 70%. So it is safe to assume that a large part of the captured equipment was in working condition, although, it is clear that some of it was damaged in previous battles or had various technical problems or waiting for spare parts.

According to an ANA officer, later sided with the rebels, between March 6 and March 10, so in first five days of the offensive on Jalalabad, the government troops would have lost 396 soldiers killed, 802 soldiers wounded, about 500 soldiers fallen prisoners (800 if those captured in March 5 included) and over 1.300 missing (most likely fugitives). The given numbers might be exaggerated, but it is sure that the losses were very large.

The rebels attacked on the morning of March 7, along three pincers:

(1) A significant fraction of their forces, comprising about 4.000-strong battle group, formed by part of HIA (Gulbuddin Hekmatyar), HIA (Mohammad Yunus Khalis) and NIFA (Ahmed Gailani) mujahideen groups, concentrated on Samar Khail village and military base, with Naghlo – Saracha villages line to the west and Hazrati – Spen Kalay villages line to the east, the area where government forces will not be eliminated as originally stated, they will fight hard for another three to four days. It is also important to note that a significant part of the government forces, in the above mentioned area, will escape to the west, not being entirely encircled and destroyed, as was intended by the rebels.

(2) The main attack group, approximately 6.000-strong, went for the airport on the Jalalabad city’s outskirts. And despite the news published all over the world (even by the usually reliable BBC) announcing the fall of the airport, it was still in government hands on that day. But, it is true, the installations had suffered heavy damage.

(3) The rest of the attackers (over 2.000 fighters) split into groups and attempted to infiltrate the city’s outer defenses, especially south of the city. Among them were Arab volunteers (Fourth Attack Group) who advanced from their previously occupied position near the Mano Khalay village, along the Chaparhar Road, only to find themselves greeted with fire from a government outpost, after only one kilometer of advancing. This outpost will be occupied in a couple of hours, and his garrison destroyed, but it won’t be the only one…  Progress will be slow and difficult, and the resistance of government troops will increase as rebels approach Jalalabad city.

After taking the Samar Khail base, the government troops prisoners were to be taken to Peshawar (in Pakistan) on eight trucks. The first seven passed the roadblocks, the eight were stopped by the fighters of red-bearded Mohammad Yunus Khalis, the chief of Hezb-i-islami: they shot 25 soldiers, and threw the bodies beside the street in the grass. The effect will be immediate among the defenders, strengthening their belief that the propaganda of the Kabul authorities is, in this case, real, being a risk for every soldier who would intend to surrender.

If the different mujahideen factions who occupied the base initially agreed to act in a disciplined manner and to share their captured goods and equipment, in reality, HIA (Gulbuddin Hekmatyar) fighters – a significant part of them recruited from refugee camps in Pakistan – indulged in a robbery and widespread destruction and an unimaginable riot – which will predict what will happen soon on the battlefield near Jalalabad. It took the harsh intervention of several military commanders (with the administration of corporal punishment) and the establishment of a “law enforcement force” of 80 men, to stop the robberies and distruction inside the occupied base. However, HIA (Gulbuddin Hekmatyar) fighters will be the ones to take over most of the heavy weapons, having the advantage of being supported by the Pakistanis, who had trained about 100 of their fighters, to drive and fight in tanks and armored vehicles.

According to a NIFA (Ahmed Gailani) rebel commander at least 6 tanks and 3 infantry fighting vehicles were taken out of the captured base, joining the 1.200 fighters which launched an attack on Samar Khail village, 2 km. north of the captured military base and another outpost in that area. Here, an unknown number of government soldiers, who possessed a small number of medium tanks, armored personnel carriers and reconnaissance armored cars, mortars, recoilless rifles and field guns, gathered from abandoned fortifications and outposts in the mountain area, attempted to retreat to the city of Jalalabad, but found that they had no chance of advancing westward, being trapped there by the mujahideens. Their numbers will decrease every day, as small groups of them will cross the Kabul River to the north, especially during the night.

No less than 11 attacks were carried out by the mujahideens in three days (March 7, 8 and 9, 1989) on the Samar Khel village and a nearby barracks, the barracks being finally conquered in the afternoon of March 9 and the village in the morning of March 10. Few details are known about these battles, except that they were very fierce and that armored equipment and artillery were used by both sides.

The village of Samar Khail, with about 1.200 households, 2 km. north of the captured military base, was taken by the rebels in the early morning of March 10, 1989. A rebel commander later said that the village had actually been evacuated by regime troops during the previous night, with very few soldiers remaining unable to resist the assault in the next morning. Unfortunately, the violence and robberies unleashed after the conquest of the military base were repeated, the mujahideen exercised violence without hesitation.

The villagers who lived in the neighborhood of barracks and bunkers and cannons, lived peacefully in the middle of the war alongside Soviet occupation forces and, later, the Afghan army; the traders traded with the “just” and the “unjust”. Until the fall of Samar Khail, until the “righteous” plundered and raged the village as if they had conquered enemy territory. They all stole carpets, ice boxes, TVs, whatever they found attractive.

Due to the abandonment of the fortifications and support points of the second defensive ring outside Jalalabad, located along the Kaidahgar (Qaedahbar) river (located 8 km. away from the city limits), due to disorganization and large losses suffered in the Samar Khail area, the mujahideen were able to directly attack the first line of defense located immediately in the vicinity of the Jalalabad city. Although this first line of defense – the outer defensive ring of the city – had been prepared for a long time and in the last three weeks it had been intensely fortified, the unexpected collapse of the defensive positions in the Samar Khail area and the very large losses of the government forces in that area, created a gap difficult to fill quickly.

The bases and fortifications around the city were permanently covered by only three WAD (Ministry of State Security) battalions and one Sarandoy (Gendarmerie) battalion, i.e. about 1.360 men, were completely insufficient even for the minimum defense requirements. However, a number of the 1st Border Guard Brigade soldiers managed to recover from their withdrawal in disarray, they were used to strengthen the defensive line in the Khush Gumbad sector and on the Torkham – Jalalabad Highway. The 81st (Motorized) Infantry Brigade and a howitzer division (battalion) and two MRL batteries of the 91st Artillery Regiment (component units of the 11th Division), were unaffected by the previous fighting; they were concentrated in the Hadda base (10 km. south of Jalalabad), location that has become the key defense system south and south-east of Jalalabad city. The surviving subunits of the 66th and 71st (Motorized) Infantry Brigades (from the 11thDivision), who escaped from encirclement, and also a mechanized battalion (equipped with BMP-1 tracked infantry fighting vehicles) from the 11thDivision reserve, were brought to the base Command of the 1st Central Army Corps, while the airport came to be defended by units brought from different areas – from the north, south and west of the city – with the inevitable weakening of defense in those areas.

So the Command of the 1st Central Army Corps managed to assemble, progressively, between March 7 and 10, 1989, five battalions of various specialties (infantry, armor, artillery, engineer, a.o.), belonging also to three different ministries – Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Interior and Ministry of State Security. It’s known to have been involved in the defense battles of the Jalalabad Airport – one battalion from the 8th Border Guard Brigade (unit normally based in Behsud District), one battalion from the 7th (Sarandoy) Operative Regiment (unit deployed south in Chaparhar District), one battalion of the 10th Engineer-Sapper Regiment (battalion that was not in the Samar Khail base when it was besieged by the rebels), one separate tank battalion (unit deployed in the Bagrami area, Surkhrod District) and one separate mixed antiaircraft artillery-missile battalion (unit that actually defended its own base, in the airport area), the directly separate tank battalion and mixed antiaircraft artillery-missile battalion directly subordinated to the 11th Division Command.

The rebels attack the eastern outskirts of Jalalabad

On the main direction of attack, the rebels commenced their assault on Jalalabad city with a fierce rocket and artillery barrage of government positions ringing Jalalabad. This bombardment was quite accurate when targeting the Airport and 1st  Central Army Corps areas, which led Afghan officers and generals to claim that their opponents were Pakistani military specialists and not Mujahideen fighters. Immediately after that, 6.000 Mujahideen fighters, grouped in nine detachments, attacked the city from the east, on three main directions:

(1) Jalalabad Airport – five detachments with about 3.300 fighters (mainly HIA -Gulbuddin Hekmatyar) using 11 tanks T-54M/-54AM, 3 infantry fighting vehicles BMP-1, 2 armored personnel carriers BTR-60PB and 2 armored light reconnaissance vehicles BRDM-2, supported by 12 guns and howitzers, 55 mortars and 79 rocket launchers;

(2) Banda – Khush Gumbad (north of Torkham – Jalalabad Highway to the Kabul River) – one detachment with 800 Arab fighters;

(3) Saracha – Nahr Shahi, Saracha Arabeya – Karaiz Kabir, Naghlo – Sor Garak – Jowi Yazdah (southeast from the airport) – three detachments with 1.900 fighters (HIA (Mohammad Yunus Khalis), NIFA (Ahmed Gailani) and NLF (Sibghatullah Mujaddidi)), supported by 5 guns and howitzers, 14 mortars and 20 rocket launchers.

One of the Mujahideen commanders expressed his perplexity to a British reporter: “I saw many hundred young men heading to Jalalabad airport after the fall of the Samarkhil military base.” I didn’t know who the majority were, who they belonged to and where they came from. I once thought that maybe there were Ghazi Abad farm workers on the fields where olive trees grow, but I found out that it wasn’t.

At first I was happy to see these motivated and disciplined people and I thought they were my Mujahideen. I told myself I was wrong to say that only 3.000 mujahideen were under my command. If I said that one day 30.000 mujahideen were under my command, I would not have spoken far from the truth. But then it turned out that the vast majority of them were not mujahideen but volunteers from Pakistan who enthusiastically joined the promise to attack, occupy and plunder Jalalabad. “

The data provided by both sides during the fighting for the airport is contradictory, the government forces and rebels both claiming that they managed to maintain control/ they occupied the airport area, moreover, there were commanders who made statements to some reporters contrary to those of their own leaders… so I turned to the sources which seem most likely accurate in relation to the evolution of the situation on the ground.

The battle for Jalalabad airport

The first massive attack on the airport took place on March 7 at noon, and, although it benefited from the surprise effect, the numerical superiority of the rebels and the support of artillery and missiles, was ultimately stopped. The personal intervention of General Barakzai – Commander of the ANA 1st Central Army Corps – he organized the troops who were in disarray and from various military specialties and gave them confidence, was decisive, all sources (government and rebels) speak about that. But immediately after, the general was killed, some sources say a rebel commando, other sources say a rocket exploded near him.

A new attack would take place immediately after 1 p.m., it was massively supported by armor – 11 tanks T-54(M)/-54A(M ), 3 infantry fighting vehicles BMP-1, 2 armored personnel carriers BTR-60PB and 2 armored light reconnaissance vehicles BRDM-2 – and artillery and missile hits, and had the desired effect – Jalalabad Airport was fully occupied, both the control tower, the terminal control, the hangars for the planes and other airport facilities. The rebels claim to have captured a battery of M-46 field guns called. 130mm. (4 guns captured intact and other 2 damaged in battle), a BTR-60PU-2 wheeled command armored vehicle (also damaged) and 15 light utility vehicles, off-road vans and trucks, and have destroyed 3 tanks T-54(M), 2 armored personnel carriers BTR-152V and a armored light reconnaissance vehicle BRDM-2. Government sources confirmed large human and material losses in this surprise attack, but denied the loss of the Airport.

If we are to believe the rebels, the Mujahideen, feeling the opportunity,  continued their attack towards the next target – the Command of the ANA 1st Central Army Corps – located 2 km north-west of the airport terminal control. Fortunately for the Afghan government troops, at that time, General Muhammad Asif Delawar – Afghan National Army Chief of Staff, had just arrived from Kabul, and took command of all the forces in the area. According to sources close to the Kabul government, four senior Pakistani officers coordinated the rebel detachments that took part in this attack which went very well, the 1.200 insurgent fighters occupying the Qasaba neighborhood, and reaching the outer fence of the military base which housed the 1st Central Army Corps Command.

Yet, at the last moment, when the insurgent fighters had entered the base, a counterattack launched from the Khush Gumbad area (located on the right flank and behind the attacking force) by one mechanized battalion (400 men, 31 tracked infantry fighting vehicles BMP-1/-1K, 32 portable anti-tank grenade launchers RPG-7, 6 mortars M-120 cal. 120mm.) kept in reserve by the 11th Division, and one battalion of the 7th  (Sarandoy) Operative Regiment (250 men with 3 BRDM-2 4×4 wheeled armored reconnaissance vehicles and 14 trucks), radically changed the situation. After an hour of fierce fighting, the insurgents were beaten and forced to retreat, and the Qasaba neighborhood area was cleared during the late evening. Sources close to the rebels admitted the loss of about 170 -180 fighters killed and another 200 wounded in the fighting in this area alone, the insurgents also losing three medium tanks T-54(M)) and one infantry fighting vehicle BMP-1.

The detachment of Arab volunteers (led, apparently, by Osama bin Laden in person) whose mission was to immobilize the 7th  (Sarandoy) Operative Regiment, was considered indirectly responsible for this failure, although the Arab fighters made all the efforts to attract in the fight as many subunits of the regiment as possible. The losses of both sides were heavy, both in men and in military equipment.

During the evening, in Kabul, a meeting took place at the Headquarter of the Armed Forces Supreme Commandership, held under the leadership of the President Mohammad Najibullah. The Supreme Commandership was informed about the significant military events in the last two days and the current situation, anticipating that the purpose of the military actions is the occupation of the city and the neighboring area, in order to ensure a provisional capital for the “government of the 7 pakistani parties” (a.k.a. Afghan Interim Government).

The report prepared by Major – General Mohammad Asif Delawar accused of direct participation in fighting – a Pakistani army regiment, Pakistani artillery and missile specialists and also Pakistani staff officers, who coordinated some of the rebels’ military actions. Among the proposed measures was to send to the Jalalabad area – a commando brigade, a motorized guard brigade, a battalion of rocket launchers, massive aviation intervention was required, and even the urgent request for air support from the Soviet Union.

The measures that President Najibullah will order were the following:

(1) appointment of Major General Mohammad Asif Delawar – the Chief of Staff of the Afghan National Army – as the Commander-in-Chief of the “Eastern Front” – which will have its headquartered in Jalalabad;

(2) the immediate sending to the Jalalabad area of the 1st (Motorized) Infantry Brigade from the National Guard Forces, the 37th Commando Brigade, the 88thHeavy Artillery Regiment;

(3) General M.A. Delawar was tasked to strengthen the defensive line by 1 km. west and 3 km. south of the Jalalabad Airport; he must initiate a counterattack to reoccupy the airport when conditions are more favorable;

(4) the cities of Kabul and Jalalabad will be the main priority of the country’s entire air traffic supply; the 377th Helicopter Regiment (Kabul IA) and the 355th Fighter-Bomber Aviation Regiment (Bagram AB) must prepare crews for missions in the Jalalabad area within the next 24 hours;

(5) in the afternoon and evening of the next day, March 8, the area east of Jalalabad must be hit by at least ten R-17 (R-300) ‘Scud’ missiles, the 99th Operative-Tactical Missile Brigade (Kabul-based unit) being ordered to make all the necessary preparations;

(6) the 61stHeavy Artillery Regiment (Kabul-based unit) had to prepare the ammunition, fuel, oil and spare parts and load them in the convoys that will be ready to leave for Jalalabad;

(7) the entire media must immediately expose the offensive action on Jalalabad as one initiated and supported by Pakistan and the United States of America, and the participation of Arab volunteers as an interference by Saudi Arabia.

During the night of 7/8 March, Major General Mohammad Asif Delawar, Afghan National Army Chief of Staff, organized the entire defense in the area of the Command of the 1st Central Army Corps and the Airport, and also prepared an urgent defense line 500-600 meters south of the airport, with one battalion of the 8th Border Guard Brigade.

The next morning, in 8 March, the rebels resumed their attacks in the Khush Gumbad area, near the Jalalabad Airport, towards Hadda, on the Baggaikhsar river valley, along the Chaparhar Road, northward towards Jalalabad, their actions being seconded by a powerful artillery and missile bombardment. During this day, more than 5.000 projectiles and missiles were fired by the rebels at the city and the neighboring areas. But the artillery of government troops was also very active, especially in the areas where ground attacks were carried out.

For the first time on this day, the aviation of government troops made its presence felt, being attacked – on five occasions – the roads east of the capital along which the rebels were advancing. During the late afternoon and evening, ground-to-ground missile attacks began, hitting areas east of the capital – in the Sriracha, Karaiz Kabir, Naghlo and Paetow, casualties among the rebels were small, however, the psychological effect was much greater.

Tough fighting ensued during this day in the Naqelin Jowi Dahi area, 2,5 km. south-west of the Jalalabad Airport, area attacked by the rebels accompanied by tanks and with strong artillery support. Despite the very difficult situation, the government soldiers resisted (one border guard battalion of the 8th Brigade and one separate mixed antiaircraft artillery-missile battalion), with the support of the artillery (140mm. rocket launchers, 122mm. field howitzers, 120mm. mortars) from a fire support base located in the vicinity, south of the Nangarhar irrigation canal.

To get an image of the extreme violence of the fighting in the area adjacent to the Jalalabad Airport on March 8, 1989, I mention the notes of General Mohammed Nabi Azimi who comments on the violent battle fought that day, saying that government forces would have lost at least 249 soldiers – 71 killed, 122 wounded and 56 missing. Obviously the figures must be taken with caution, it is advisable to assume his bias in favor of the troops of the Najibullah regime.

But the situation was changing and, in the late evening, several battalions were brought to the areas adjacent to the airport, as reinforcement for the Government troops who were under attack. Two battalions and two companies strengthened the existing defensive positions south of the Jalalabad Airport, and prepared a counterattack for the next day. So, the 1st  Central Army Corps Reconnaissance Battalion, with 250 men, 3 T-55 tanks, 4 BMP-1 infantry fighting vehicles, 2 BTR-60PB 8×8 armored personnel carriers and 6 BRDM-2 4×4 armored reconnaissance/patrol vehicles, 2 BTR-60PU-2 8×8 and 1 BRDM-2U 4×4 armored command post vehicles, and the 1st Battalion of the 37thCommando Brigade, with 420 men, 4 airborne tracked infantry fighting vehicles BMD-1P/-1PK, 6 airborne tracked armored personnel carriers BTR-D/-DG (3 with ZU-23-2/2A13, 23mm. anti-aircraft twin-barreled autocannons mounted on top), 4 mountain guns cal. 76mm. GP (M-99) md.1958, 9 light mortars cal. 82mm.

M-43 mortars, 9 recoilless guns cal. 73mm. SPG-9D, 43 light trucks 4×4 GAZ-66, were brought to the area, placed near the three bridges over the Nangarhar irrigation canal, from that area, together with one tank company (32 men, 10 medium tanks T-54(M)) and one combat engineer company (65 men, 1 wheeled armored personnel carrier BTR-60PB, 2 engineer tanks IMR-1/T-55 based ). Simultaneously, in the western and north-western area of the Jalalabad Airport, other two battalions and one company were brought during the late evening and at night: 11thDivision Independent Tank Battalion with 120 men, 18 medium tanks T-54A(M), 2 tracked armored command post vehicles BTR-50 PUM and the 904th  Battalion WAD (Ministry of State Security) with 350 men, 36 portable anti-tank grenade launchers RPG-7, 6 light mortars cal. 82mm. M-43, 27 light trucks 4×4 GAZ-66 and medium trucks 6×6 ZIL-131. Clearly these were not the only forces deployed in that area, they were added to those who were already engaged in combat.

It is worth mentioning that the military decisions regarding the battle at the gates of Jalalabad were taken by the President Najibullah in person, both General Shah Navaz Tanai – the Minister of Defence and his deputy, General Mohammed Nabi Azimi, Garrison Commander of the Capital Kabul, claimed that the Soviet Chief Advisor of Afghanistan, General Gareev, M.A., was seldom consulted and his advice was often disregarded.  I found the same statement in the book written by the Soviet Army General Gareev, M.A. – «My last war (Afghanistan without Soviet troops)» that the 30 + Soviet military advisers present in capital Kabul, in the spring and summer of 1989,  was treated with restraint and in very official terms by President Najibullah and by some of his close associates.

March 9, 1989, will be a very significant day for developments in the Jalalabad theater of military operations: on the one hand, the insurgents managed to completely annihilate the government forces that continued to fight (since March 6) in various points (fire support bases, outposts, villages) in the Samar Khail area, but, on the other hand, they will be repulsed from the outskirts of the city and from the airport area.

The morning began with heavy artillery and missile bombardment by government forces on the rebel-held airport area. Among others, about 16  9M21F (2,4ton) artillery rockets were launched by the 11th  Tactical Ballistic Missile Battalion (part of the 11th Division), equipped with four 9K52 ꞌLuna-Mꞌ artillery rocket systems (a.k.a. FROG-7). Opinions of what happened next are divided, but it is known that at least 300 – 400 rebel fighters have left the area, with some 1.100 – 1.200 rebel fighters remaining to defend the Airport area.

They had, in terms of armored combat vehicles, 8 medium tanks T-54(M), 2 tracked infantry fighting vehicles BMP-1, 2 wheeled armored personnel carriers BTR-60PB and 2 wheeled armored reconnaissance/patrol vehicles BRDM-2. They also had a number of 9 captured artillery pieces (76mm. ZiS-3 field guns and 122mm. howitzers), 18 mortars (60mm., 82mm. and 120mm.) and 8 multiple rocket launchers (captured self-propelled BM-14MM cal. 140mm. and Chinese towed Type-63-I cal.107mm.).

On the other side, the attacking government forces were estimated at 2.000 men, armed with 31 tanks, 8 infantry and airborne fighting vehicles, 21 armored personnel carriers, armored reconnaissance/patrol vehicles and armored command post vehicles, and also a number of field guns, mountain guns, light and medium mortars, recoilless anti-tank guns, portable anti-tank grenade launchers and heavy machine guns. The attacks were launched from three directions: Shinwari Abad, Naqelin Jowi Dahi and Qasaba areas, so from the south, south-west and north-west of the airport.

But the attack launched from the Qasaba area was soon stopped, the rebels using in battle the five T-54(M) tanks they had in that area, while their four previously captured D-30A 122mm. Howitzers  hit continuously, along with their mortars and rocket launchers the attacking government units, wreaking havoc among the attackers. The losses of the government forces were estimated at over 75 soldiers killed and wounded, 5 tanks destroyed and other 2 damaged. Instead, the attacks launched from the south (Naqelin Jowi Dahi) and south-west (Shinwari Abad) were much more dangerous, the government troops soon approaching at a distance of less then 1 kilometer from the airport runway, and, despite fierce resistance from the mujahideens, continued to advance.

The opposition forces were able to temporarily block the attacks south of the airport, on a line located at a distance of only 200 – 400 meters from the airport runway. In the afternoon, the attack of the government troops from the south was resumed, succeeding, after heavy fighting, to break the defense on a 1 km. wide sector, that led to the destruction of a group of 155 opposition fighters (45 killed, 54 wounded, 56 captured) according to the Kabul authorities. This penetration is indirectly confirmed by some mujahideen commanders who confirm that, at noon, they fought at a distance of less than 200 meters from the airport runway. But the decisive attack started from the west in the early afternoon, the 1stBattalion of the 37th Commando Brigade being withdrawn from its previous operation area from the south and moved in this new sector. Acting in cooperation with 904th WAD Battalion and being supported by 11 medium tanks T-54A(M) and a sustained fire of artillery and mortars, the ‘commandos’ managed to break the insurgents’ defense, entering the airport area and storming the heavily damaged terminal control building. Until the evening, the entire area of the airport was under the control of government forces, the insurgents retreating at a distance of 200-300 meters east of the airport perimeter.

According to rebel sources in Thursday’s battles in and around the airport, they would have lost about 300 fighters (from which 100 killed) and three medium tanks T-54(M) and two armored personnel carriers BTR-60PB.  Superficially analyzed, the battle for the airport did not seem to have made much sense, since, after its recapture, it was in a deplorable state. The rebel fighters have destroyed the only hangar; their attacks left the control tower a shell, with nothing where controllers and radar equipment used to be but an array of battered tables used by lookouts, protected now by camouflage netting instead of window glass. Rocket holes in the runway were so numerous that, even after repair, it will be many weeks before it can be used again. However, unknown to the rebels, there is a large underground facility (command center) under the control tower, which will be used very soon by the “Eastern Front” command, constituted by General Mohammad Asif Delawar.

Other events with an impact on the battle of Jalalabad

Although details are not known, apparently the road between the capital Kabul and Jalalabad city, was briefly cut in a major rebel attack on this day, Thursday, March 9th, most likely in the Surobi district of Kabul province. This had an impact on the battle that was being fought near Jalalabad, but not a major one, since some of the units and ammunition sent to Jalalabad had already arrived there the night before. The supply of the city was made, during the day, only by Mi-8T and Mi-17 helicopters of the Kabul-based the 377th Helicopter Regiment, which carried out from 8 to 12 flights daily (which is about 10 tons of cargo), at a smaller civilian airport close to Jalalabad.

During the late evening and night of March 9 to 10, troops and military equipment of the 10thBorder Guard Brigade were evacuated across the Kabul River, from Gardi Kas village (located 12 km. east of Samar Khail, in the Behsud District) to Kama (Kama district), being supported by the soldiers and engineer equipment from two amphibious companies (110 men, 2 BRDM-2 4×4 armored reconnaissance/patrol vehicle, 12 tracked amphibious transporters K-61 and 2 tracked self-propelled amphibious ferries GSP-55) from the 10th Engineer-Sapper Regiment.

In the next morning, Friday, March 10th, 1989, the rebels resumed their intense artillery and missile bombardment on the city and, now, also on the airport area, subsequently launching a massive ground attack, in which 3 T-54(M) medium tanks and 2 BMP-1 infantry fighting vehicles also took part. This attack was repulsed with heavy losses for the rebels, including all their armored vehicles. This did not discourage them from launching two more attacks, one at noon and one in the afternoon, both repulsed with apparently large losses.

But another important event was triggered on this day: the offensive launched from the north on the city of Jalalabad. It is now known that about 3.000 fighters belonging mainly to the HIA -Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and JDQS (a Salafi movement) – Mawlawi Muhammad Hussain (a.k.a. Jamil al-Rahman) (50 years old in 1989) parties advanced south on the Jalalabad-Kunar Road and on the Kunar –Bajaur Road, placed on the right and left bank of the Kunar river. As I mentioned previously, Kunar province was abandoned by government forces (liberated by Mujahideen groups) in November 1988, and has since been under the unbridled control of the rebels.

Surprisingly, the Kunar local power sent troops to join the attack on Jalalabad only on the fifth day after the start of offensive on the city, presumably those internal rivalries (between Jamil al-Rahman and his JDQS followers and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar HIS followers) were already occupying the scene of local power. Most of the rebel detachments advanced on foot, on three columns (two on the right bank and one on the left bank of the Kunar river), together with 12 armored vehicles (6 medium tanks, 4 wheeled armored personnel carriers and 2 armored reconnaissance/patrol vehicles) and 20 soft-skinned transport vehicles, their advance being stopped at 10,30 o’clock in the BeniGa village area, of a strong resistance behind fortified positions.

This allowed the troops of the 10th Border Guard Brigade who were in retreat from Kama (Kama district) to the west, toward Jalalabad, to cross the Kunar river on the western bank. The border guard troops were extremely close to being isolated and surrounded on the eastern bank of the Kunar river, but they were evacuated at the last moment, thanks to the resistance of the troops in the Beni Ga village area. The border guard units will be deployed north of Jalalabad city, in the Dobela village area.

In the next two days, Saturday 11 and Sunday 12 of March, inconclusive assaults were launched by mujahideen groups on government troops positions from south-east and east of the airport. However, the character of these assaults changed into local level actions, with the participation of usually no more than 100 to 130 fighters. Instead the islamist insurgents main effort has moved to the northern (Khush Gumbad) and southern (Hadda) sectors, but they will be lower in intensity then in the previous days, due to the temporary lack of ammunition needed. The rebels’ supply lines went as far as Peshawar in Pakistan, a road 115 km. long, which was now under fire from Afghan government aviation.

A Government account relayed by Kabul television said that rebel forces had suffered about 2.000 ”casualties” in the fighting during the five days (7 – 11 March) in the Jalalabad Airport area, but did not say how many of these were killed. The report said 765 rebels were “casualties” in fighting on Friday, March 10th, alone. On the other side, rebel commanders concede that their losses would have reached 1.000 fighters, half of whom were killed, during the six days (7 – 12 March) in the Jalalabad Airport area. They also claim to have killed twice that number, but the regime of Kabul has not issued public figures. The rebel representatives in Pakistan have disputed Government figures throughout the battle, and diplomats noted that each side in the war had a record of inflating figures.

Government troops losses in this period (5 to 12 March, 1989) although only estimates, they are still closer to reality if compared to those from the “official sources” of his regime in Kabul and the Afghan Interim Government (AIG) which usually greatly exaggerates the losses of their enemies and minimizes their own losses. So, in this first stage of the Jalalabad battle, the Government troops losses have probably exceeded 3.300 men – of whom over 400 men were killed, 800 men wounded, over 800 soldiers had fallen prisoners and over 1.300 were missing (most likely fugitives).

The losses in military equipment were at least as big as those in men, a large part of them being the tanks, armored vehicles, mortars, guns, howitzers and multiple rocket launchers that fell into the hands of their enemies. So, according to estimates, it seems that 59 (of 94) medium tanks T-54(M)/A(M) and T-55, all 3 light amphibious tanks PT-76B, 9 (of 40) tracked infantry fighting vehicles BMP-1, 39 (of 94) wheeled armored personnel carriers BTR-60PB/PBK/PU (8×8) and BTR-152E/V/K (6×6), 15 (of 20) wheeled armored reconnaissance vehicles BRDM-1A/U(4×4) and BRDM-2 (4×4), 101 (of 245) medium and heavy trucks, 20 (of 108) M-43 120mm. towed mortars, 25 (of 36) M-30 and D-30 122mm towed howitzers, 3 (of 6) BM-21 ꞌGradꞌ(40 x 122mm.) and 8 (of 12) BM-14MM(16 x 140mm.)

Multiple rocket-launching systems were lost during this first stage of the battle. These numbers are important because they show that the quantities available to the surviving units of the Afghan National Army 11th (Motorized) Infantry Division were totally insufficient to withstand a siege, as the situation foreshadowed. It can therefore be said, without making a too big mistake, that the bulk of the 11th (Motorized) Infantry Division had been destroyed in this first stage of the battle.

End of the first stage of the battle

If we are to divide the battle into stages, we can say that on March 12, 1989, the active, mobile stage of the military operations conducted by the opposition forces (AIG) ended. In this stage, the opposition forces largely had the initiative, including the chance to win the battle with a quick action, a lightning offensive, intended to make nonessential the superior fire power, the fortified positions and the number of soldiers that the government side could mobilize. Once the initial, large-scale attack of the opposition forces was stopped, once the front line was relatively stabilized, the advantages have passed on the government forces side, although local crisis situations will still occur, as we will see…

One Pentagon analyst, in contrast to the still optimistic CIA and ISI counterparts, already appreciated in March 12, that: “At this stage, the momentum that had carried the mujahideen forward was lost. Lack of coordination and of an efficient command structure, tactical shortcomings, inappropriate weapons for attacking fixed armor positions, covered by entrenched infantry, and lack of training in conventional warfare all contributed to halting the mujahideen advance. If the initial plan provided for the simultaneous attack on the Jalalabad city from three directions, south, east and north, in the event the attack only came from the eastern side. Considerable advances were indeed made in a short time, but the attack suffered because the operations from the south were slow, and from the north occurred later, only after March 10.”

Pakistan authorities, familiar with rebel planning, say, on March 12, that the Afghan guerrillas hoped that their attacks from the east and south would draw Government forces out of their defensive positions in the north, where the main attack was directed. The guerrilla attack was not well coordinated, and the attacks bogged down.

How many people were killed in Jalalabad?

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How many people were killed in Jalalabad?