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What happened in the battle of Jalalabad?

What happened in the battle of Jalalabad?

The Battle of Jalalabad 

General considerations

The battle of Jalalabad was the first attempt by the mujahideen to fight in a conventional battle, in unit formation, with the goal of seizing and holding territory. The operation was formulated in Pakistan by the Pakistani ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence – the premier intelligence agency of Pakistan, operationally responsible for gathering, processing, and analyzing national security information from around the world) according to many publicists and journalists. These authors stated that general Hamid Gul (53 years old in 1989) – the Director-General of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency – commitment to jihad – to an Islamic revolution transcending national boundaries, was such that he dreamed one day the “green Islamic flag” would flutter not just over Pakistan and Afghanistan, but also over territories represented by the (former Soviet Union) Central Asian republics.

After the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, Hamid Gul as the director-general of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) directorate, saw the opportunity he had been waiting for years to take the first big step towards overthrowing the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. He then ordered an assault, using non-state actors, on Jalalabad, the first major urban center across the Khyber Pass from Pakistan, with the aim of capturing it and declaring it as the seat of the new administration.

The Pakistani plan called for the “Peshawar Seven,” which included the seven groups of mujahideen based in Pakistan, having as commanders Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (40 years old in 1989), Burhanuddin Rabbani (49 years old in 1989), Ahmad Shah Massoud (36 years old in 1989), Mohammad Nabi Mohammadi (69 years old in 1989), Mohammad Yunus Khalis (70 years old in 1989), Abdul Rasul Sayyaf (43 years old in 1989) and (Pir) Ahmed Gailani (57 years old in 1989), to capture Jalalabad (a city with about 170.000 inhabitants, including many refugees, situated 161 km. east of Kabul), and use it as a staging ground to launch further military operations into Kabul. The Peshawar Seven assembled approximately 10.000 – 12.000 fighters in preparation for the siege of Jalalabad. 

But, before analyzing the battle, it is necessary to understand the context in which it took place. 

Between Scylla and Charybdis

In the period of time between the withdrawal of the last Soviet troops from Afghanistan in February 1989 and the removal of President Mohammed Najibullah from power in April 1992, the mujahideen (the guerrilla-type militant groups led by the Islamist Afghan fighters in the Soviet–Afghan War, fought between December 1979 and February 1989) made little progress toward establishing a new government, and foreign influences played a major role in affecting developments within Afghanistan. This period must be understood as a continuation of an already long and brutal war, so a brief consideration of the legacy left by the war against the Soviets is necessary. 

Even after the Soviets left Afghanistan in 1989, however, they still continued to support Najibullah’s government heavily. Likewise, the United States and other countries continued their support for the mujahideen. In addition, Pakistan, which was host to seven important mujahideen political parties, was active throughout this period trying to influence the eventual outcome of the war in Afghanistan, to the detriment of the Afghans. Only once the Soviet Union ceased to exist in late 1991, and the flow of weapons into Afghanistan from foreign patrons was largely reduced, did international conditions change such that the mujahideen could make an attempt at governing Afghanistan. 

At the time of the Soviet withdrawal, the government of President Mohammed Najibullah was in power in Kabul. Mohammed Najibullah Ahmadzai (42 years old in 1989), commonly known as Najibullah or Dr. Najib, was an ethnic Pashtun, a graduate of Kabul University, who previously held different careers under the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) (appreciated as a left-wing, socialist party, with a clear pro-Soviet Union orientation). He formally replaced Babrak Karmal as president of Afghanistan in September 1987, by which time Karmal had fallen out of favor with Moscow. During Karmal’s rule, Najibullah became head of the KHAD, the hated Government Intelligence Agency, the Afghan equivalent of the Soviet KGB. KHAD’s record for brutality was well-known among Afghans, and prisoners were routinely tortured.

Najibullah had a reputation for being very pro-Soviet and was an effective head of the secret police. During Najibullah’s tenure as KHAD head, it became one of the most brutally efficient governmental organs. Because of this, he gained the attention of several leading Soviet officials, such as Yuri Andropov, Dmitriy Ustinov and Boris Ponomarev. In 1981, Najibullah was appointed to the PDPA Politburo. In 1985 Najibullah stepped down as state security minister to focus on PDPA politics; he had been appointed to the PDPA Secretariat. Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, was able to get Karmal to step down as PDPA General Secretary in 1986, and replace him with Najibullah. For a number of months Najibullah was locked in a power struggle against Karmal, who still retained his post of Chairman of the Revolutionary Council. Najibullah accused Karmal of trying to wreck his policy of National Reconciliation, which was a series of efforts by Najibullah to end the conflict. 

Throughout his tenure, Najibullah tried to build support for his government via the National Reconciliation reforms by distancing from socialism in favor of Afghan nationalism, abolishing the one-party state and letting non-communists join the government. He remained open to dialogue with the mujahideen and other groups, made Islam an official religion, and invited exiled businessmen back to re-take their properties. In the 1990 constitution all references to communism were removed and Islam became the state religion. These changes, coupled with others, did not win Najibullah any significant support due to his role at KHAD. 

A State of Emergency was declared on 19 February 1989 and a Military Council headed by President Najibullah was announced. On the next day, on 20 February 1989 the 20-men ꞌSupreme Military Council for the Defense of the Homelandꞌ took over full control of economic, political and military policy, while the Prime Minister Dr. Mohammed Hasan Sharq resigned.   

On 23 February 1989 Afghan rebels, the “Peshawar Seven”, meeting in Islamabad, elected Sibghatullah Mojaddedi (64 years old in 1989) as President of an interim government in exile. They planned to soon gain a city, in which to establish a temporary capital, until they succeeded in conquering the capital Kabul.   

One constant from Karmal to Najibullah was steady Soviet support in the form of advisors, troops, and military equipment. Ostensibly, the reason for the Soviets’ involvement in Afghanistan throughout the 1980s was to support a fellow communist government that had requested Soviet aid and could not otherwise support itself. The Afghan communist government managed to survive for over three years after the Red Army withdrew. However, it does seem clear that the survival of Najibullah’s government was dependent to a large degree on continued Soviet aid, in one form or another. Apart from being only dubiously self sufficient, Najibullah’s government in Kabul had only limited control over Afghanistan’s territory. In 1989, generally speaking, the government was in control only of Afghanistan’s major cities, as it had been throughout the war. 

Rural Afghanistan in 1989 lay largely outside the control of the government. The mujahideen had first risen up in 1978 in response to the program of reforms that the radical Afghan communist government under Hafizullah Amin had initiated. This program encompassed agricultural reform, the promotion of literacy, and the strengthening of the central government. It is difficult to appreciate, leaving room for everyone’s interpretation if it was the content of the reforms initiated or the heavy-handed and sometimes brutal manner in which the government tried to implement them that sparked what would become a nationwide rebellion. In any case, the discontent that first arose in the countryside had by spring of 1979 led to major revolts against the government, first in the western city of Herat, then in Jalalabad. Because of the Afghan resistance fighters’ dependence on villagers for food and shelter, the Afghan government forces, and later the Soviet army, developed a strategy of brutality in the countryside intended to erode support for the rebels. Of the villagers, a number of journalists who came to know the situation on the ground stated that, “The mujahedin are their husbands, sons, fathers, brothers. The resistance and the civilian population are inextricably entwined.” So the situation remained in 1989. While Najibullah’s government could do little to undermine support for the mujahideen in the countryside, neither had the mujahideen been able to gain control of any significant Afghan cities. 

Afghanistan’s Foreign Patrons

Both the Soviet Union and the United States continued to fund their respective proxies in Afghanistan following the Soviet exodus. To understand the situation on the ground, we must say that the negotiations between the two big powers began in 1982, and the eventual 1988 settlement, known as the Geneva Accords, actually ended by a draw, not a victory. A critical aspect of the Geneva Accords was the issue of “positive symmetry.” “Symmetry” in this case refers to the circumstances under which the United States and the Soviet Union would cut off funding to their respective clients in the Afghan conflict. Out of a desire to reach a final agreement, the U.S. secretly agreed with the Soviets that Washington could continue arming the mujahideen as long as Moscow continued to arm Najibullah (i.e., “positive symmetry”). 

Diego Cordovez was appointed in 1982 to be the U.N. Secretary General’s personal representative to Afghanistan, and he was the chief U.N. negotiator of the Geneva Accords. In his judgment, «The chaos that followed Najibullah’s ouster was foreordained by the American and Soviet attitude toward the key military aid provisions of the Geneva Accords.» After an interval in which the accords were respected, both sides blatantly violated the central philosophy and intention of the settlement: that once concluded it should lead to international disengagement from Afghanistan in all essential respects. 

Thus, although the Geneva Accords were successful in bringing about a Soviet withdrawal, they were in the end no guarantee of peace for Afghanistan.  

The Soviets continued to fund Najibullah’s regime almost until the very dissolution of the U.S.S.R., and the U.S. continued funding the mujahideen even longer. The Soviet Union’s support took numerous forms. Military hardware was airlifted to Kabul, including new technologies such as a number of BMP-2 tracked amphibious infantry fighting vehicles, BTR-70 wheeled armored personnel carriers, SAU-122 /2S1 ꞌGvozdikaꞌ tracked self-propelled howitzers, 9P117 launcher vehicles and a large number of R-17 Elbrus (a.k.a. SCUD) ballistic missiles, while numerous Soviet personnel (technicians and advisors) remained in the country, and the Soviets still provided some air support to the Afghan government. The monetary value of this ongoing Soviet aid is estimated to have been up to 3 billion USD a year. 

On the other side, the U.S. offered two packages of economic assistance and military sales to support Pakistan’s role in the war against the Soviet troops in Afghanistan. The first six-year assistance package (1981–87) amounted to 3,2 billion USD, equally divided between economic assistance and military sales. The second six-year assistance package (1987–93) amounted to 4,2 billion USD. Out of this, 2,28 billion USD were allocated for economic assistance in the form of grants or loans that carried an interest rate of 2–3 per cent. The rest of the allocation (1,74 billion USD) was in the form of credit for military purchases. More than 20 billion USD in U.S. funds were funneled into the country to train and arm the Afghan resistance groups. 

The program funding was increased yearly due to lobbying by prominent U.S. politicians and government officials, such as Charles Wilson, Gordon Humphrey, Fred Ikle, and William Casey. Under the Reagan administration, U.S. support for the Afghan mujahideen evolved into a centerpiece of U.S. foreign policy, called the Reagan Doctrine, in which the U.S. provided military and other support to anti-communist resistance movements in Afghanistan, Angola, and Nicaragua. 

In addition to the United States and the Soviet Union, several other countries had important roles in influencing events within Afghanistan from 1989 to 1992. At the time of the 1979 invasion, many of Afghanistan’s neighbors were alarmed at what appeared to be the absorption of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union. Accordingly, many regional countries cooperated with the United States, or worked on their own, to aid the mujahideen and force a Soviet withdrawal. Saudi Arabia, for example, agreed with the Carter administration to match U.S. contributions to the mujahideen dollar for dollar. 

Iran, although it did not cooperate with the United States in its program of support for the mujahideen, had a natural interest in events within Afghanistan because of the two countries’ shared border and the hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees that had spilled across it into Iranian territory. A number of political parties emerged among the Afghan refugees in Iran, which merged together into one organization, Hezb-i-Wahdat (Unity Party), at the behest of the Iranian government in 1989. Tehran held some sway over the actions and ability of this organization to operate. 

By far the most important regional player during the war against the Soviets and in the post-Soviet period, however, was Pakistan.

Pakistan, Peshawar, and the big internal problems

As a matter of necessity, the weapons and other supplies provided by the United States and its partners to the Afghan mujahideen were funneled through Pakistan. The Islamic revolution in Iran and the Soviet army’s sealing of the Sino-Afghan border left Pakistan as the only coterminous country through which supplies could be moved on the ground into Afghanistan. Although the United States and other countries such as Saudi Arabia provided the bulk of the funds and weapons that went through Pakistan, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI) was the organization really responsible for  managing the Afghan program on a day to day basis. The important corollary of this fact is that it was the ISI that largely determined the levels of material support the various mujahideen factions would receive over the course of the war.

Apart from its role of managing the covert program of support to the mujahideen, Pakistan was also important because by February 1989, it was host not only to several million Afghan refugees, but also to several political parties formed by Afghans that had fled their home country. As early as 1973 there were Afghan political parties based in Peshawar, in Pakistan’s Northwest Frontier Province. The number of parties grew as increasing numbers of Afghans fled to Pakistan as refugees in the wake of the Saur Revolution and the Soviet invasion. Belonging to some sort of organized group became a prerequisite to receiving material support once Pakistan began arming the mujahideen. 

By the time of the Soviet withdrawal in 1989, the leaders of the seven Pakistan-based parties agreed upon a model for an interim government, known as the Afghan Interim Government (AIG), that would take over in Kabul once Najibullah was removed from power. However, the particular arrangements of the AIG are not as important as its membership. Although Najibullah would outlive the AIG, it was the AIG’s leaders who were the main political actors in the attempt to establish a government in Kabul in 1992. 

The seven officially-recognized Afghan political parties are typically grouped under the headings of either “Islamist” or “traditionalist.” The orientations of the parties in each camp differed in that the Islamists sought a reorientation of Afghanistan as an Islamic state, whereas the traditionalists sought only the liberation of Afghanistan from Soviet occupation and communist rule. The Islamist parties were Hezb-i-Islami (Islamic Party), led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, another Hezb-i-Islami, led by Yunis Khalis, Jamiat-i-Islami (Islamic Society), led by Burhanuddin Rabbani, and Ittihad-i-Islami Bara-i Azadi Afghanistan (Islamic Union for the Freedom of Afghanistan), led by Abdal-Rab al Rasul Sayyaf. The traditionalist parties consisted of Harakat-e-Inqilab-e-Islami (Islamic Revolution Movement), led by Maulvi Nabi Mohammedi, Mahaz-e-Milli-Islami (National Islamic Front), led by Sayyid Ahmad Gailani, and Jabha-i-Nejat-i-Melli (National Liberation Front), led by Sebghatullah Mujadidi. It is worth reiterating here that there were resistance parties based in Iran as well, but the Peshawar parties received more support from the international community and were better equipped to try to establish a state following the Soviet withdrawal. 

Pakistan’s policies toward the various mujahideen parties contributed in part to their lack of cohesion. The seeming inability of the different mujahideen factions to work together for any significant period of time proved to be one of the most considerable obstacles to the establishment of an Afghan government by the mujahideen. 

Pakistan had leverage over the Peshawar-based parties by virtue of the parties’ members being, first, refugees on Pakistani soil, and second, dependent on Pakistan for material aid in the form of weapons and other military supplies. The Pakistani government’s choice to recognize only seven specific mujahideen parties out of the myriad that had developed is a clear example of Pakistan’s ability to organize the Afghan rebel parties according to its own interests. Of these Pakistani interests, Zalmay Khalilzad writes, Even though it acted as something of a consolidating force by taking steps to reduce the number of parties, Pakistan did not want a strong and united Afghan resistance leadership on its territory. It worried that the rest of the world would seek to deal directly with the Afghans and thereby diminish its own role as the channel for distributing assistance.

Because it was the parties that served as the avenues for mujahideen commanders’ access to weapons, divisions among the mujahideen politically engendered a lack of cohesion in the mujahideen’s military actions. Clearly, this was detrimental to the mujahideen’s ability to overthrow the regime of Najibullah, the action that was the necessary first step on the road to establishing a new government.

The manner in which Pakistan allocated arms to the mujahideen parties fostered an atmosphere of competition among the Afghan groups, preventing cooperation. 

Mohammad Yousaf was the head of the ISI’s Afghan program, and was the closest Pakistani official to the mujahideen. As he describes the international arms pipeline, «As soon as the arms arrived in Pakistan the CIA’s responsibility ended. From then on it was our pipeline, our organization, that moved, allocated and distributed every bullet that the CIA procured.» Although Yousaf says the parties themselves chose which specific rebel commanders would receive weapons, Pakistan had total freedom in deciding which parties to supply arms to. The Pakistani criteria used in the allocation of arms, according to Yousaf, were based on battlefield competence, the ability to control illicit activities (e.g., the illegal sale of arms), and the general efficiency of the structure of each party. 

The United States in particular charged, however, that Pakistan was clearly biased towards supplying fundamentalist parties over their traditionalist counterparts. Selig Harrison asserts that, «Islamabad made a conscious effort beginning in 1978 to keep the resistance divided and to favor fundamentalist groups in the allocation of aid. Rabbani, Hekmatyar, and another fundamentalist leader, Abdul Rasool Sayyaf, received the largest share of aid.» Yousaf himself does not deny that Pakistan favored the fundamentalists. Yet as he tells it, «In 1987 the broad percentages allocated to the Parties were Hekmatyar 18-20 per cent, Rabbani 18-19 per cent, Sayaf 17-18 per cent, Khalis 13-15 per cent, Nabi 13-15 per cent, Gailani 10-11 per cent, and Mujaddidi trailing with 3-5 per cent.» Certainly the Fundamentalists came out on top with 67-73 per cent, much to the CIA’s chagrin, but using strict military criteria it could not be otherwise. Regardless of whether Harrison’s or Yousaf’s portrayal of the situation hits closer to the truth, a similar result obtains in either case: hostility and animosity within the Afghan resistance. If Pakistan favored the fundamentalists out of some preference for their ideology, resentment would be bred among the traditionalist parties towards both Pakistan and the fundamentalist Afghans. Alternatively, if as Yousaf suggests, strict military considerations were driving the allocation of arms, a given mujahideen party could only gain a greater share of supplies by improving its performance relative to the other parties. Thus each party had an interest in securing successes for itself individually, and not necessarily as a part of a larger community with common interests.

Intelligence and propaganda operations

After the withdrawal of Soviet troops, US intelligence sources thought that Najibullah’s government would fall within the next three to six months. Therefore, in the secret meeting of the US National Security Council on February 9, 1989, US President George W. Bush was advised to continue US assistance to the Afghan Mujahideen. At the same time, the left-wing regime in Afghanistan, despite continued financial and military support from the Soviet Union, was in the unpleasant position to handle himself the difficult fight with the numerous Mujahideen groups, in their turn benefiting from military and logistical aid from United States, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and many other countries. Surprisingly but the biggest difficulty encountered in early to mid February 1989 by the regime forces (Afghan National Army, Afghan National Guard, Ministry of Interior, Ministry of State Security) was from the militias of the ‘Tehran Eight’ (eight major Shia Mujahideen groups) united in the ‘Islamic Coalition Council of Afghanistan’, who carried out several deep raids from the mountain area from the west to just inside Kabul, putting in great difficulty the Najibullah regime. But, already by the end of February, the units of the ANA 1st ꞌCentral Army Corpsꞌ defending the Capital that proved to be unreliable were replaced from that area, and the situation stabilized, all the attacks from the west being repulsed. But, it is equally true, that the call for common action released by the Shia Mujahideen ‘Islamic Coalition Council of Afghanistan’, to jointly plan and execute an action of attack on the Capital Kabul was rejected by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, in the name of the Afghan Interim Government (AIG) from Peshawar (Pakistan). Hekmatyar’s response and his statements to reporters were offensive, the Shia Mujahideens being assimilated to the unbelieving Soviets, but his extremist views were no longer a secret. It is also interesting to note that the Shia Mujahideen informed the Afghan Interim Government, formed by the “Peshawar Seven” (or ‘Islamic Unity of Afghanistan Mujahideen’), of the formation of three ground-to-ground 9K72 ꞌElbrus-Mꞌ (a.k.a. “SS-1C SCUD-B”) tactical missile battalions near Kabul (part of the 99th Operative-Tactical Missile Brigade stationed in Afshar base, west of Kabul), which will be widely used in striking mujahideen positions surrounding Jalalabad during the offensive operation. 

Najibullah’s government sought to compensate for the difficult situation his forces were in, by pursuing a complex policy (National Reconciliation), rather than protocols and agreements with local commanders as the Soviets previously did. To implement this policy, until the second half of 1988, he had to counter Pakistan’s predictable strategy to storm several important cities (Kandahar, Jalalabad, Khost) and finally the Capital Kabul, the key being to gain the loyalty of some mujahideen groups presenting it as a success to his own forces, whose loyalty was questionable. The advice received from the Soviets, to set up a reserve of well-trained and equipped units for intervention in crisis areas, was followed, but the weight was placed on solving the situations with the help of the local commanders, who could handle the situation better than the Army High Command in Kabul. Interestingly, this strategy countered the Pakistani one, which concentrated on creating false crisis outbreaks which aimed to attract the best army units to other areas, thus preventing their possibility to intervene in the area where the main effort of the mujahideen was focused. 

A controversy arose in the summer –autumn of 1989, after the battle for Jalalabad, following accusations by several mujahideen military commanders that Pakistan and the United States had forced this battle because they saw the success (limited though) of the National Reconciliation policy of the Najubullah government in determining some insurgent leaders and their men to temporarily or permanently give up the fight. Indeed starting with the spring of 1989 but more accentuated in the summer and autumn of this year, large groups of jihadist insurgents had surrendered to the government or signed temporary peace protocols with the Kabul government. At that time, about 10.000 insurgents joined the National Reconciliation movement, and more than 10.000 others were negotiating with the government, which, apparently, was one of the reasons for the attack on Jalalabad to prevent the continuation of this process (joining the peace negotiations with the pro-Soviet government). But experts and journalists familiar with the situation on the ground, however, contradict this story saying that, on the one hand, the insurgent groups that accepted the negotiations or made peace with the government were few in number (no more than 1/7 of the total) compared to the great mass of the mujahideen, and, on the other hand, this phenomenon was accentuated even by the failure of the offensive, and was insignificant before it was launched.

Prior to combat operations, intelligence gathering, large-scale operational measures, including disinformation and infiltration operations took place, starting in February 1989. According to data later provided by some Mujahideen commanders, ISI agents had entered the state power structures of Jalalabad and offered to several administrative and military officials, money, promises of material benefits, guarantees that they would be protected from revenge by the mujahideen after the overthrow of the regime. The propaganda operations will be very active starting with February 1989, among the most effective means will be the rumors, focused on the issue, as if the President Najibullah had agreed with the Afghan Interim Government (AIG) from Peshawar to hand over Jalalabad city and Nangarhar Province to them. They presented the withdrawal of the units of the Afghan National Army 9th  Infantry Division, 10th Border Guard Brigade and the 12th  Sarandon Mountain Battalion from the Kunar Province, in November 1988, as part of the same agreement. The spread of such rumors has permeated mindsets and had negative effects on the performance of government leaders, but also for the desire to fight, already reducing many government army units.

The defensive positions of government forces in the area of Nangarhar province and Jalalabad city

At that time, Nangarhar province (with its capital Jalalabad) was led by a five-member defense council, each with its own members: Province Governor Mohammad Azam, secretary of the provincial council of the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) – Sarfaraz Momand, Commander of the Afghan National Army (ANA) 1st  Central Army Corps – General Mohammad Omar Moallem, chief of WAD (Ministry of State Security) – General Dolati, Commander of the Border Guard Command – General Nobahari and the Commander of the Sarandoy (militarized gendarmerie) General Jabbar Khel. After the beginning of the offensive, the information appeared according to which an officer – a close adviser to the General Nobahari – provided detailed information to the Mujahideens on the structure, personnel, military equipment and positions occupied by Border Guard troops and not only, where border guards troops cooperated in mixed formations with other military units. 

It is known that at their disposal were forces belonging to several military and paramilitary structures from the Ministry of Defense, Ministry of Interior and State Security. The units that have been identified and that will participate in the combat actions were the ANA 9th  and 11th  Infantry Divisions and also the 10th Engineer-Sapper Regiment, Border Guard Command with the 1st  and 10th  Border Guard Brigades, Ministry of Interior 7th  (Sarandoy) Operative Regiment and 12th  (Sarandoy) Mountain Battalion and possible several militia detachments (of the so-called ꞌRevolution Defense Groupsꞌ). Of course, I don’t mention here the units that will intervene later, after the start of the offensive, but only the units that were initially tasked with defense missions of the Nangarhar province and Jalalabad city. 

Regarding the number of government forces servicemen, most sources – which seem to have the most serious data – speak of a maximum of 13.300 officers, non-commissioned officers and soldiers, of which about 11.300 of the Army, 1.200 of the Border Guard Command and 800 of the Ministry of Interior. Of course, these figures are the initial ones, they will be reduced immediately after the start of the offensive due to losses and desertions, although the desertions were substantially lower compared to those during the Soviet occupation, following the news about the killing of some surrendered Border Guard soldiers in November 1988 in Torkham border area.     

Since the most numerous and powerful units were those of the ANA (Afghan National Army) we will lean a little on them, to figure out what their value was in a large combat operation.

The 11th Infantry Division included, in early 1988, three infantry brigades (66th , 71st and 81st), one divisional artillery regiment (91st), one separate tank battalion, one separate mixed antiaircraft artillery-missile battalion, one (armored) reconnaissance battalion, one engineer-sapper battalion, one motor transport battalion, one separate communications battalion, one separate equipment maintenance and recovery battalion and one separate motorized infantry company. The 11th Division had, as heavy weapons, 94 medium tanks T-54B(M) and T-55(M), 3 light amphibious tanks PT-76B, 10 tracked infantry fighting vehicles BMP-1, 77 wheeled armored personnel carriers BTR-60PB/PBK/PU (8×8) and BTR-152E/V/K (6×6), 20 wheeled armored reconnaissance vehicles BRDM-1A/U (4×4) and BRDM-2 (4×4), 245 medium and heavy trucks, 108 x M-43 120mm. towed mortars, 36 x M-30 and D-30 122mm towed howitzers, 6 x BM-21 ꞌGradꞌ (40 x 122mm.) and 12 x BM-14MM (16 x 140mm.) multiple rocket launching systems, and, as military personnel with just over 4.500 men (normal reinforced motorized infantry brigade strength). According to information gathered by several mujahideen groups, during summer and autumn of 1988 the division units were strengthened, being constituted several subunits with “new” material (most likely received from the retreating Soviet Army units). Thus it is known that three new battalions were formed: (1) one mechanized battalion (equipped with BMP-1 tracked infantry fighting vehicles), (2) one light anti-aircraft gun battalion (equipped with ZU-23-2/2A13, 23mm. anti-aircraft twin-barreled autocannons, all truck mounted) and (3) one tactical ballistic missile battalion (equipped with 9K52 ꞌLuna-Mꞌ systems a.k.a. FROG-7). At the same time, it seems that the existing equipment has been supplemented with a number of wheeled armored personnel carriers BTR-70 and tracked multi-purpose armored transport vehicle MT-LB (17 such armored vehicles were later identified, it is not known if these were all) probably from those previously used by the retreating Soviet troops. 

The normal defensive tasks of the 11th Division were the defense of the Nangarhar province and the main city of Jalalabad. Other important military bases that were defended were those from the Torkham border area (74 km. south-east of Jalalabad), Hadda base (10 km. south of Jalalabad), Ghani Khel base (38 km. north-west of Jalalabad). But by late January 1989, both bases situated west of Torkham border post and near the Ghani Khel village were abandoned (following the frequent attacks of the mujahideen), the troops were redeployed instead at new bases near the Sash Khel Village (35 km. south-east of Jalalabad) and near the Surkhakan Village (27 km. north-west of Jalalabad).       

The 9th Infantry Division included, in early 1988, three infantry brigades (31st, 55th  and 69th), one divisional artillery regiment (46th), one separate mixed antiaircraft artillery-missile battalion, one (armored) reconnaissance battalion, one engineer-sapper battalion, one motor transport battalion, one separate communications battalion and one separate equipment maintenance and recovery battalion. The 9th Division had, as heavy weapons, 63 medium tanks T-54B(M) and T-55(M), 19 tracked infantry fighting vehicles (for airborne units) BMD-1 and (for mechanized units) BMP-1, 73 wheeled armored personnel carriers BTR-60PB/PBK/PU (8×8) and BTR-152E/V/K (6×6), 31 wheeled armored reconnaissance vehicles BTR-40A/B, BRDM-1A/U and BRDM-2 (all 4×4), 390 medium and heavy trucks (150 received from the soviet troops in 1988), 108 x M-43 120mm. towed mortars, 36 x M-30 122mm towed howitzers and 12 x BM-14MM 140mm multiple rocket launching systems, and, as military personnel with just over 3.900 men (normal motorized infantry brigade strength).  

The normal defensive tasks of the 9th Division were the defense of the Kunar province and the main city of Asadabad. Other important military bases that had to be defended were those from Asmar settlement and Barikot border settlement. But starting in October and ending in November 1988, all government forces were withdrawn from this province, and during the retreat army units will lose up to 1/4 of their equipment and soldiers, according to several sources (US and Pakistani). The 9th  Division units will be redeployed in the Nangarhar province especially in the area north (Sheva village, Kuz Kunar district) and east (Daruntah village) of Jalalabad city. 

At the beginning of February 1989, it is estimated that the two ANA divisions (9th  and 11th) had about 10.100 men together (the mujahideen estimated that up to 6.600 men were in the 11th  Division and around 3.500 men in the 9th  Division), and in terms of heavy combat equipment up to 138 medium tanks, 2 light tanks, 154 wheeled armored personnel carriers, 40 tracked infantry fighting vehicles, 45 wheeled armored reconnaissance vehicles, 538 medium and heavy trucks, 192 x 120mm. towed mortars, 66 x 122mm. towed howitzers and 28 x 122mm. and 140mm. multiple rocket launching systems. This detailed information came from the mujahideen, and was found in the ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) summaries, which appeared in the Pakistani press in 2000. 

The 10th Engineer-Sapper Regiment had, in early 1989, one engineer construction battalion, one road and bridge battalion and one obstacle clearing battalion, with about  1.200 officers, non-commissioned officers and soldiers. The regiment had in its inventory MTU-20 armored vehicle-launched bridge (AVLB) tanks, BAT-M heavy tracked engineering clearing vehicles, BTM-3 heavy tracked vehicle for fast laying of ditches and trenches, MDK-2m heavy tracked digging machine, D-144 mounted road graders, KhTZ T-150KD general-purpose wheeled tractor with bulldozer equipment, MoAZ-546P (or 8T26) wheeled heavy semi-trailer cranes, EOV-4421 wheeled military excavators (on KrAZ-255 chassis), PTS-M tracked amphibious transport vehicles with its companion vehicle, the PKP, a boat-like amphibious two-wheeled trailer, PMP-60 mobile pontoon bridge (ribbon bridge) set on KrAZ-255B 6×6 heavy trucks, with accompanying BMK-130 tug motorboats, and other types of vehicles. In late 1988 and early 1989 the regiment was strengthened by receiving new categories of heavy weapons like BMR-2 tracked mine clearance armored vehicles, GMZ-2 tracked mine-laying armored vehicles, IMR-1 tracked engineering demolition armored vehicles, BTS-4A/G tracked armored repair and recovery vehicles, all from Soviet Union, most likely used vehicles, who served the withdrawn Soviet units in Afghanistan. The regiment will play a key role in expanding the existing fortification system around the city of Jalalabad, but also in some combat actions as we will see.       

The situation of the combat equipment of the Border Guards and Gendarmerie (Sarandoy) units was not known before the launch of the offensive, but from the subsequent information it was established to be: (1) for the Sarandoy Regiment: 7 BRDM-2 4×4 wheeled armored reconnaissance vehicles, 3 BTR-152E 6×6 wheeled armored anti-aircraft vehicles (with with a double (ZPTU-2) KPVT 14,5mm. anti-aircraft heavy machine guns), 3 x 82mm. B-10 recoilless rifles, 3 x 82mm. BM-43 mortars and 3 x 140mm. RPU-14 towed multiple rocket launchers; (2) for the two Border Guard Brigades: no heavy weapons, only light utility vehicles, light trucks and off-road vans and their individual weapons. 

Keeping the Kabul-Jalalabad highway under control for government forces was one of the preconditions for their victory. To this end, a task force, made up of military intelligence at Surobi (a city situated about 60 kilometers east of Kabul, along the highway) under General Safflower(?), was tasked with reopening the highway, a mission for which 60th  and 9th  Infantry Divisions were assigned. The Kabul-Surobi section of the highway was assigned to the 60th Infantry Division under the command of General Faqir Mohammad. This section included the strategically important Tang-e Gharo gorge and mountain pass in the Hindu Kush mountain range. The Kabul River passes through the gorge, flowing eastward. The Kabul–Jalalabad Road runs through the gorge, parallel to the river. Keeping it under control was a long-term challenge to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, but now the task has returned to the incomparably weaker Afghan National Army. However, it appears that the newly formed (in late 1988) 60th  Infantry Division was constituted on the basis of several Sarandoy (Gendarmerie) units with experience gained in many previous operations, who were also fiercely loyal to the regime. The highway from Surobi to Daruntah and Jalalabad were to be protected by the 9th Infantry Division under General Zaman command, who had been brought there from the Kunar province, as I previously mentioned. 

Twenty kilometers from the city, the existing defensive lines were extended and fortified by communication ditches, fire trenches, sandbagged fire positions above ground, sites were built for tanks, artillery pieces and mortars, barbed wire barriers and engineering reinforcements, and attempted pier towers. For three weeks before the offensive began (the works starting immediately after the reoccupation of the Torkham border post by mujahideens on 11 February 1989), hundreds of civilians from the city and neighborhoods and most of the soldiers were mobilized (other than those of the 10th  Engineer-Sapper Regiment deployed in the Jalalabad area) to perform these engineering works. Anti-aircraft autocannons and light field gun positions could be seen near the Jalalabad airfield, while inside the terminal control machine gun locations were also visible, one of the launching vehicles of the 9K52 Luna-M tactical ballistic rocket system was near the airfield. The defenders of Jalalabad used many heavy weapons inside their defensive perimeter, eyewitnesses describing many artillery guns, mortars, tanks, tracked and wheeled armored vehicles, multiple rocket launchers cal. 140mm. BM-14 and cal.122mm. BM-21. In defense of Jalalabad, the people of the city, from party members, soldiers of the different military and paramilitary structures, government employees, factory workers, to the professors and university students, made a very active contribution to the defensive works that were carried out, whether this contribution was intentional or imposed. 

The outer defensive position of the Jalalabad city was placed on Samarkhil Village (11 km. from the outskirts of the city), and advanced positions (small garrisons) were moved to the east of Shinwari (31 km. from the outskirts of the city), Ghaziabad, Zazakian and south of Amarkhel Villages. Other units were placed in the airfield area, where a strong defensive position was established. The Nangarhar University campus (8 km. west from the outskirts of the city) was defended by army units. Ministry of Interior troops were in the Sarkhrud area, and a number of government security units had established a position between Sarkhrud and Kantar Ghi, the area of responsibility of the 11th  Infantry Division extending from Kantar Ghi to the north of Kameh.  

The offensive preparations of the mujahideen forces in the area of the North-West Frontier Province of Pakistan

Several journalists, political -military analysts and historians consider the consensus on the Afghan Interim Government (AIG) that emerged in early 1989 to have been at least partially a product of Pakistani influence. In their view, 

“The next step in the strategy of Pakistan’s military establishment was to attempt to boost the credibility of the interim government, and particularly its own clients, by securing a city within Afghanistan from which the interim government could operate, and consequently gain international recognition.”

Pakistan perhaps cannot be proven to have been the primary instigator of the mujahideen attack on Jalalabad, however, the attitudes of hostility among the various mujahideen parties fostered by Pakistani policies did prove detrimental to the attack’s eventual outcome. Another author wrote in early 1990, 

“The mujahedin had been neither equipped nor trained for the kind of war required to seize a town from the Kabul regime, and they have been slow to develop the tactics and the degree of coordination that had not been so necessary when they were engaged in a guerrilla war of harassment.”

The inability to coordinate has clear roots in the tactics the diverse mujahideen groups developed over the years of operating independently of one another in order to secure the maximum proportion of foreign arms aid possible for themselves. 

While at least eight mujahideen groups were involved in the battle, their human strength thrown into battle was estimated to have been: 

(1) the forces of Hekmatyar’s “Hezb-i Islami” – up to 3.000 fighters; 

(2) Khalis’s “Hezb-e Islami” – up to 1.700 fighters; 

(3) Abdul Rasul Sayyaf’s “Ittihad-i Islami” – up to 1.300 fighters; 

(4) Mohammed Nabi Mohammedi’s “Harakat-i-Enqelab-i-Islami” – up to 1.500 fighters;  

(5) Pir Sayed Ahmed Gailani’s “Mahaz-i Milli-yi Islami-yi Afghanistan” – up to 1.700 fighters; 

(6) Sibghatullah Mujaddidi’s “Jabha-i-Nejat-i-Melli” – up to 1.300 fighters; 

(7) Burhanuddin Rabbani’s “Jamiat-e-Islami” – around 500 fighters;  

(8) Arab volunteers – up to 1.300 fighters (from those up to 800 fighters were led by (the famous) Osama bin Laden, being part of his transnational extremist Salafist militant organization Al-Qaeda), altogether about 12.300 fighters. Naturally, the figures range from a minimum of 10.000 fighters to a maximum of 15.000 fighters, depending on the sources. It is necessary to specify the fact that the number of fighters given by one or other of the mujahideen parties, does not reflect their human potential, therefore the number of followers and mobilizable men, but rather their political and military interest shown to this military action. 

Although the detailed organization of each fighting group sent by the seven mujahideen parties is not known, it is known, however, that Hekmatyar, Khalis and Sayyaf organized their troops in twelve battalion-sized formations (six being Hekmatyar’s), commanded by their most experienced men, the heavy weapons at their disposal being distributed equally to each formation. They apparently used a total number of 79 rocket launchers, mostly Chinese and Egyptian towed models, and, in much smaller numbers, captured Soviet and Afghani MRLs. Among these, there were 51 MRL cal. 107mm. (Chinese single-round missile launchers Type 85 cal. 107mm. and twelve-rounds missile launchers Type-63-I) and 24 MRL cal. 122mm. (all Egyptian missile launchers Saqr-10 in two versions PRL-111 – single-round launcher mounted on a tripod and PRL-113 – four-round launcher mounted on a tripod) and 4 captured Soviet/Afghan self-propelled multiple rocket launchers, both cal. 122mm. BM-21 ꞌGradꞌ with 40 firing tubes and cal. 140mm. BM-14MM with 16 firing tubes. As for the artillery pieces, it is known, from the Pakistani sources, that Hekmatyar, Khalis and Sayyaf Mujahideens used 12 captured Soviet/Afghan towed guns and howitzers from the models ZiS-3 cal. 76mm., D-44 cal. 85mm., M-30 and D-30/A cal. 122mm. and 55 mortars cal. 60mm. Chinese Type 63-1, Egyptian Helwan M-67 and cal. 82mm. Chinese Type 67, Egyptian Helwan M-69 and Soviet BM-43.  Regarding their heavy armor, it is claimed that only 12 armored combat vehicles were initially engaged in the offensive action with Hekmatyar, Khalis and Sayyaf fighters, these being 6 medium tanks T-54B/BM and T-55, 2 tracked infantry fighting vehicles BMP-1, 3 wheeled armored personnel carriers BTR-60PB and BTR-152V and 1 wheeled armored reconnaissance vehicle BRDM-2, all previously captured. To these, new heavy weapons were added later, after two ANA bases / defense positions were occupied by the Mujahideens. Hekmatyar, Khalis and Sayyaf Mujahideens had also an unspecified number of French anti-tank guided missile launchers MILAN-2, Chinese HJ-73B, Soviet (captured) 9M14M Malyutka-M and 9M14P Malyutka-P, Soviet (captured) man-portable disposable rocket launcher (with thermobaric or incendiary warhead) RPO-A ꞌShmelꞌ, American man-portable air-defense system (MANPADS) FIM-92B ꞌStingerꞌ POST, Pakistani ꞌAnzaꞌ Mk-I, Chinese HN-5A (both seemingly slightly improved copies of the soviet 9K32M ꞌStrela-2Mꞌ), Egyptian ꞌAyn al Saqrꞌ and Soviet (captured) 9K32M ꞌStrela-2Mꞌ, recoilless rifles cal. 73mm. SPG-9/M (Soviet model, captured) and cal. 82mm. B-10 (Soviet, captured),  Type 65 and 78 (Chinese, copies of B-10) and other lighter armaments.  

It is likely that the other forces of Mohammedi, Pir Gailani, Mujaddidi and Rabbani had also heavy weapons, but the quantities were not known, the Pakistanis, however, said that those would have been lower quantities compared to those possessed by Hekmatyar, Khalis and Sayyaf’s troops. 

Apparently, all Mujahideen forces were placed under a single command, that of General Abdul Rahim Wardak (44 years old in 1989), who was a commander in the Pir Sayyed Ahmad Gailani party. In reality, however, the mujahideens did not really listen to the given orders (until after the confirmation of each order from the direct commanders of each group), the situation becoming more and more problematic after the stabilization of the front. If we add the fact that neither of them had any experience of attacking in this way, in such large numbers and in a conventional battle, we already have the elements for the big problems that were to arise.    

Prelude and launch of the offensive operation

In the Pakistani-Afghan border area, near the Torkham city (on the Pakistani side), a Pakistani source mentions a situation that Mujahideen commanders omit altogether. According to this source, in the first days of February 1989 a detachment of Afghan border guards would have occupied positions, after, for three months, any presence of forces loyal to the government in Kabul had been eliminated from that area by the mujahideen. Let me remind you that in November 1988, allegedly 74 afghan border guards were captured by mujahideen of the Hezb-i-Islami party (led by Yunis Khalis), and were all killed in a brutal way. Western news reporters were allowed to visit the area in January 1989 and confirmed that they had seen a large number of corpses of Afghan government soldiers in a deplorable state. The Kabul authorities obviously took advantage of the situation and launched an entire mass-media campaign in this regard.

On February 7, the mujahideen reappeared in the border area, initially in small numbers, and sporadic clashes took place with Afghan border guards. Afghan border guards allegedly left the area in order, on the night of February 10/11, and on February 11, the Kabul government accused Pakistan of blatant military aggression, with Pakistani troops allegedly supporting insurgent guerrillas crossing the border. The Afghan authorities claimed that Pakistani military units had crossed the border along with the mujahideen, and took control of the whole Torkham border area inside Afghanistan. 

From the same day (February 11, 1989) the works of consolidation and extension of the fortifications around the city of Jalalabad began. 

In the first days of March, government troops (estimated at one battalion strength) took positions in the Denk Khiri Vand area (21 km. from the outskirts of Jalalabad city), deployed on Dabrikab – Tamrooneh road (located right on the limits between Rodat and Bati Kot districts) and further to the north on the Karde Kaj road line. The position initially occupied in the Shinwari (31 km. from the outskirts of the city), Ghaziabad, Zazakian and south of Amarkhel Villages area had been changed for tactical reasons, as there were not enough soldiers who could put up minimal resistance on such a wide front, and the characteristics of the terrain does not offered an advantage to the defenders. 

It seems that the troops in the area were reinforced in the following days, so that at the start of the offensive about 700 soldiers occupied this advanced defense sector. General Mohammad Ehsan – newly appointed commander of the ANA 11th (Motorized) Infantry Division (since February 27th, 1989) – later stated that this was a screening force, as Jalalabad main forces forward the security echelon.

On the day of the offensive, on March 5, these troops had, in terms of armored equipment, 10 medium tanks T-54A/B(M) and T-55/(M), 3 tracked infantry fighting vehicles BMP-1, 4 wheeled armored personnel carriers 8×8 BTR-60PB/PBK and 4 wheeled light armored scout cars 4×4 BRDM-2. In terms of artillery the troops had 8 towed mortars cal. 82mm. BM-43 and cal. 107mm. GVPM-38, 5 light towed field guns cal. 76mm. ZiS-3, 2 towed howitzers cal. 122mm. D-30A and 2 self-propelled multiple rocket launchers cal. 16 x 140mm. BM-14MM (2B2R). 

The defensive sector of the government troops in the Rodat District area stretched for a length of about 9,4 km.. In reality, however, the troops were only stationed on a 3,2 km. defensive line, the other 6,2 km. located in the north (near the Ghazi Abad village) was guarded only by small patrols. Obviously such a stretched line was closer to a surveillance line than one of defense, the manpower and material were therefore forced to concentrate in only three sectors: (1) blocking the Torkham – Jalalabad highway and (2) the Barikab Bridge (4 km. south from the highway) and (3) the Nahr-e-Khairi Road to Baru village.

An avant-garde force, appreciated by government forces to be about 2.600 fighters strong (composed of Arabs and Pakistanis), followed by 6.000 Mujahideens from Hekmatyar, Khalis and Sayyaf groups, set in motion in the early morning of March, 5th, from the Torkham border area, arriving in the government troops security zone (the portion of the battlefield forward of the main defensive area) immediately after 9 o’clock in the morning, thanks to the transport vehicles they benefited from, unlike the large mass of mujahideen who had to travel on foot.  

Government troops opened fire on the enemy column, which, they said, comprised about 80 vehicles, including a dozen tanks and armored vehicles. Surprisingly, the Afghan Air Force did not make its presence felt on this day, thus allowing the insurgents to deploy unhindered for battle. 

According to government sources in Kabul, this vanguard force was actually made up of Pakistani soldiers, the presence of soldiers of the ꞌKhyber Riflesꞌ (Regiment) of the Pakistani Army being identified among the insurgents. The ꞌKhyber Riflesꞌ Regiment was a para-military force forming part of the modern Pakistani paramilitary’s ‘Frontier Corps’. The regiment had his command at Landi Kotal, 11 km. from the Torkham border post with Afghanistan. The ꞌKhyber Riflesꞌ was, in reality, a brigade-size formation, with 6 wings (battalion-size units) and about 2.500 men, back then in early 1989. Western sources and independent media did not exclude nor certify this involvement, journalists present in the field said that the ʺinvolvement of Pakistani military advisers among the insurgents was almost certainʺ, but ʺa direct implication of the Pakistani military units less likelyʺ. According to a number of Mujahideen fighters and commanders, this vanguard force was led by Commander Nasir Khan, but it was mostly made up of Arabs and Pakistanis. 

After 9.30 in the morning, the bombardment of the Afghan National Army positions began, which lasted about 30 minutes. This was followed by a first ground attack along the Torkham – Jalalabad highway, and in the northern sector, on the slope of Choragalaigar Mountain. Thus the main attack took place along the road, executed by “two battalions of the Pakistani Army”, according to Afghan government sources, with “about 800 men, 6 T-54 tanks, 2 BMPs and 2 BTRs”, troops heavily supported by artillery and missile launchers. In defense, in that area, 400 government soldiers using 5 T-54 tanks, 2 BMPs, 1 BTR and 1 BRDM, hold ground. Despite numerical superiority and massive artillery and missile strikes, the Torkham – Jalalabad highway area remained under the control of government troops, the insurgent attacks were ultimately repelled. The rebels suffered the loss of 25 fighters killed and wounded, a T-54 tank and a BTR armored personnel carrier destroyed. However, in the northern sector – on the slope of Choragalaigar Hill – where the Arab fighters operated (800 fighters of Osama bin Laden), the success was total, the government forces reportedly lost 50 soldiers killed and wounded and one BRDM light armored scout car. The Arabs thus had the opportunity to advance behind the positions defended by government troops and, after a 3 km march, they reached the Torkham – Jalalabad Highway, 4,3 km behind the defensive position of the government troops (at about 11 o’clock). They will soon attack government troops from behind, in order to destroy them completely.  

At the same time from the south, another insurgent group (400 men strong) enveloped the positions occupied by government troops at the Barikab Bridge, attacking them in two directions, from the southeast and from the southwest. The government forces from this area (220 men, 3 T-55 tanks, 1 BMP-1, 1 BTR-60PB, 1 BRDM-2, 7 trucks and 2 light utility vehicles, 2 guns cal. 76mm., 2 mortars cal. 107mm. and 2 recoilless rifles cal. 82mm.), although putting up a sustained resistance, failed to stop the enemy, so they started retreating to the north, on the Dabrikab – Tamrooneh road, toward the Torkham – Jalalabad highway. Moving to the highway, they found themselves under a rain of projectiles and rockets, being forced to halt their advance, and change direction to southeast, on the Chahar river valley, towards Sangar village.  

In the meantime, on the Torkham – Jalalabad Highway, the main group of the government forces retreated in relative order, although they had to endure intense artillery and mortar fire from the mujahideen, but finding themselves trapped in retreat by Arab fighters, led apparently by Osama bin Laden. Under these conditions, the resistance melted in a short time, and by noon (12 o’clock) the whole group surrendered (about 300 men were taken prisoner, while a few others deserted and ran from the battlefield). 

The government forces group which reached the area of Sangar village, intended to retreat further south-west to Baru village, but the mujahideen were already advancing inside it, so they crossed the river north of Sangar village and then, after using several agricultural roads, they covered a distance of almost 7 kilometers to Rodat Road (Rodat District Center Road – an extremely important road in the area) and, from there, other 4 kilometers to the the Torkham – Jalalabad Highway. Through this maneuver they managed to evade encirclement and destruction, retreating in order with the entire staff and weapons to the west, something very rarely achieved in the Afghan army at that time. One might argue that, by doing this, they have abandoned their comrades who were trying to break the encirclement, but, objectively speaking, their chances of success were minimal at the time. 

The result of this first action was the loss of about 500 soldiers by government forces (40 killed, 100 wounded, 300 captured (400 with the wounded included) and 50 missing) and 130 insurgents killed and wounded. Regarding the heavy weapons, the government forces lost 7 tanks T-54B/BM, 2 BMP-1s, 3 BTR-60PB/PBKs, 3 BDRM-2s, 6 mortars cal. 82mm. BM-43, 3 field guns cal. 76mm. ZiS-3, 2 howitzers cal. 122mm. D-30A and 2 (SP) MRLs cal. 16 x 140mm. BM-14MM (2B2R), destroyed and captured, while the rebels lost 1 T-54 tank, 1 BTR-152 armored personnel carrier and 3 trucks destroyed, and 2 armored vehicles (1 BMP-1 and 1 BTR-60PB) and 4 – 5 other soft-skinned vehicles damaged (trucks, buses, vans). 

After the insurgent attack group reorganized and resumed the advance, after 1 p.m., they advanced only 7 kilometers before being hit by government troops, artillery and tanks. Preparing an attack supported by artillery, they realized that the enemy force which blocked their advance was not the detachment that escaped destruction, but a much bigger and stronger force. Indeed, on the orders of the General M. Ehsan (ANA 11th (Motorized) Infantry Division Commander), at noon, units of the 66th (Motorized) Infantry Brigade, reinforced with other subunits, began to unfold in positions south and south-east of Surkh Dewal village (15 km. south-east of Jalalabad). From the data later published, 2.300 men were installed on the previously prepared positions (more than one third of the 11th (Motorized) Infantry Division forces), including the 200 + men who escaped encirclement earlier. These troops sat down in positions with 24 medium tanks, 8 tracked infantry fighting vehicles, 16 wheeled armored personnel carriers, 11 wheeled reconnaissance armored cars, 4 command post and communication signal wheeled armored vehicles, 6 toed light anti tank guns cal. 57mm., 14 recoilless rifles cal. 82mm., 32 towed mortars cal. 82mm., 107mm. and 120mm., 17 towed light field guns cal. 76mm., 9 towed howitzers cal. 122mm. and 3 self-propelled multiple rocket launchers cal. 122mm. with 40 barrels. Their positions blocked the advance to Jalalabad In a very favorable area for defense, including extra fortifications especially for infantry (sangars, trenches), armor and artillery.   

Commander Nasir Khan, the commander of the insurgents vanguard force, after receiving the needed information from his scouts and some local guides, has prepared plans for a southern encirclement action, which supposed a march on Rodat Road through Sarshahi village, then over the hills to Qatraghay village and from there, on a road which ran on the valley of a dry river, up to Naghlo village area, a 23 km. long drive. The key to his whole plan, if successful, was the entering of his forces in the Kareei-Kabir – Sriracha – Samarkheil villages area, thus cutting the supply and withdrawal routes of government forces southwest of Jalalabad city. He also hoped to get it in that big pocket – which would have formed southwest of Jalalabad – the main forces of the ANA 11th (Motorized) Infantry Division, leaving the city practically defenseless to an assault. But General Mohammad Yousaf (52 years old in 1989) – chief of operations of the (Pakistani) ISI covert “Afghan Bureau”– apparently ordered the postponement of this bold offensive action, according to some Mujahideen leaders, waiting for some answers for his proposals, all this being part of his last-minute”shadow arrangements” with some Afghan high-ranking officers. 

Instead, General Mohammad Yousaf, General Abdul Rahim Wardak, Commander Nasir Khan and all the main commanders of the mujahideen groups gathered in the Ghazi Abad village area, and planned the assault on the city of Jalalabad. A total of about 12.000 fighters were to take part in it, of which 8.000 fighters in the four initial attack groups, and other 4.000 fighters in the two exploitation groups. Therefore, the action plan foresaw attack four groups: (First Attack Group) – 3.300 men – Hekmatyar fighters and Pakistani ʺvolunteersʺ – on the main direction Torkham – Jalalabad Highway; (Second Attack Group) – 1.700 men – Khalis mujahideens – to advance on the direction  Barik Ab – Tonal Barik Ab – Markoh – mountain path – Samar Khail village, a 19 km. long distance; (Third Attack Group) – 1.700 men – Gailani mujahideens – from Sarshahi village, over the hills to Qatraghay village and from there, on a road which ran on the valley of a dry river, up to Naghlo village area, a 16 km. long distance. This direction of attack was identical to that originally planned by Commander Nasir Khan, and was considered extremely important for the annihilation of government forces south and southeast by the city of Jalalabad – particularly the 11th (Motorized) Infantry Division. These three attack groups were to be supported by massive use of artillery and missiles, as their actions were expected by the enemy.  

The Fourth Attack Group – 1.300 men – mainly Arab fighters – had to start the march in the early morning of March 6, 1989, from Sarshahi village, to advance over the hills towards Jologhan – Spin Masjid – north of Bandeh – Gamble and Kandibagh (in the Chaparhar district), where they were supposed to secure the bridge over the Baggaikhsar river, at noon, so to cover a 29 km. long distance. After arriving in the Sera Kala village, they had to attack from there along the Chaparhar Road, and arrive directly south of the city of Jalalabad. The action of this group was planned to be a surprise, but, according to several insurgent commanders, the tasks given to this group seemed far too difficult to accomplish…             

In the early morning of March 6, the offensive started with an intense bombardment of the outposts and positions of the government troops, with rockets, mortars, howitzers and recoilless weapons. The Jalalabad Airport also suffered many direct hits from this artillery bombardment, in which the air traffic control was destroyed, one Antonov An-26 transport plane was hit and damaged beyond repair, a hangar was severely damaged, the runway was damaged and two airport employees were killed. The government forces occupying positions in the areas next to the villages from Lacha Pura, Surkh Dewal, Samar Khail, Qatraghay and Za Khel were targeted, and, at about 9 o’clock in the morning, large movements of troops began towards their main positions. The known details about the attacks carried on in this day, although scarce, indicate an unexpected strong resistance of government forces, and few initial successes of the mujahideens in their attempt to dislodge their enemies from positions. Government sources said that in the Surkh Dewal area, on the main direction of attack of the rebel forces – the Torkham – Jalalabad Highway – about 80 fighters were reportedly taken out, being killed or wounded. Although the rebels had a number of 11 functional T-54 medium tanks (including the recently captured ones), they didn’t use them in these attacks, probably realizing that given the particular strength of the positions of government forces, they would lose the tanks quickly and painlessly… The well-directed artillery and tanks fire, especially in the Surkh Dewal area, combined with the relief very well used in defense and the numerous field fortifications were considered the key factors of the success of the government forces. Khalis mujahideens managed to move along the given route, crossing in the afternoon the Tangigar Mountains on a path, reaching east of Samar Khail, but were immediately blocked by a motorized infantry battalion from the 71st  (Motorized) Infantry Brigade.   

However, the situation would change during the evening, in favor of the attackers. Arab volunteers (Fourth Attack Group) manage to advance about 29 km. in the enemy territory – apparently without meeting numerically significant government units to oppose them – and occupy and secure a bridge over the Baggaikhsar river, near the Mano Khalay village, 10 km. south of their given objective. Despite this, it was a great success, because occupying this area meant the opening of two roads – both of operational importance – Chaparhar District Center Road and Khogyani Road – from where the city of Jalalabad could be attacked from the south and southwest. During the evening, the government forces (10th Border Guard Brigade) withdraw about 5 km. from their positions in the Lacha Pura area, along the narrow valley of the river Kabul, fearing that during the night, the mujahideen might climb the Choragalaigar Mountain and attack them from behind, also cutting off their withdrawal route. The 10. B.G.B. occupied positions in a valley, surrounded by the Choragalaigar and Tangigar Mountains, covering the access routes to Samar Khail, and further west to the city of Jalalabad. The only settlement in the area was Gardi Kas village, located 12 km. east of Samar Khail, in the Behsud District. Similarly, other army and border guard units – the reinforced 66th (Motorized) Infantry Brigade and the 1st  Border Guard Brigade – were withdrawn from their previously occupied positions in the Surkh Dewal and Qatraghay areas (positions from which they had withstood repeated attacks throughout the day) in the areas 0,7 km. north of Surkh Dewal village, respectively 2,5 km. south of Naghlo village, so a retreat over a distance of 4,5 km. respectively 8 km. behind their initial lines. This movement pursued both military and political considerations, shortening the front line of government forces, but also abandoning the Rodat District in the hands of the rebels. At the same time, it must be said, however, whether or not this move was approved by the ruling political and military circles in Kabul and Jalalabad, it will have a devastating effect in the coming day. Kabul officials will later accuse General Mohammad Ehsan –commander of the ANA 11th (Motorized) Infantry Division and General Nobahari –  commander of the Border Guard Command of Jalalabad District of treason and secret agreement with ISI officers, for non-combat the attacking mujahideen forces.    

On the night of March 6-7, 1989, there were some very interesting, but especially important events that could have led to a rapid fall of the city. During the night, unlike in any other operations, a vanguard force, which was said to have been composed of Pakistani soldiers, engaged in pursuit of the government retreating troops during the night, not engaging in combat, but being prepared to act as soon as she received the orders.  

The 373rd Air Transport Regiment from Kabul assigned three Antonov An-32 aircraft of the 12th  Squadron, the crews of which were prepared for operations at night and in difficult weather conditions. With the onset of darkness, airplanes with a load of ammunition, medicine, fuel and food (6,5 ton each) took off in Kabul and, unloading in Jalalabad, took the wounded on a return flight. Night flights to an airfield bounded by rocks were quite risky, there was no lighting equipment, and a truck with headlights turned on was used to illuminate the strip. Because of the threat of shelling, the headlights were switched on shortly before the landing of the aircraft and turned off immediately after touching, unloading and take-off were carried out in complete darkness. Such measures were justified and the mujahideen managed to hit only one Antonov An-32 with a FIM-92 ‘Stinger’ MANPADS (the incident occurred on March 6 to 7, 1989, due to the fact that the civilian crew turned on the side lights, two people died as a result of the emergency landing, military pilots did not make similar mistakes). At night, for each take-off aircraft, a fire of 2-3 DShKs and one memory was noted, but they were beaten at random.

In the early morning of the next day, March 7, 1989, at the Advisory Meeting of the Afghan Ministry of Defence, General Shahnawaz Tanai – the Minister of Defence – was informed that dramatic events are taking place in the area east of Jalalabad city, the main line of defense of the government forces is collapsing. The Defense Minister closed the meeting and gave the order to his deputy, General Mohammed Nabi Azimi, Garrison Commander of the Capital Kabul, to obtain as much information as possible and as detailed as possible regarding the situation in the Jalalabad area and the state of its own forces, and prepare the maps and a briefing for the President. General Nabi Azimi managed to find out that the Samar Khail village is being attacked by two large rebel groups from the south, along the highway, and from the east, from the mountains, and that another rebel group is advancing in the Naghlo area, threatening to cut off the withdrawal of all government forces from the Samar Khail area (the 66th and 71st (Motorized) Infantry Brigades of the 11th Division and the 10th Engineer-Sapper Regiment) and the 10th  Border Guard Brigade from the Gardi Kas area. These mentioned units are under constant firing of projectiles and missiles, with a falling morale, the Command of the 11th Division is under attack and the border guard units put up a low resistance and are retreating towards Jalalabad.  

The offensive reaches the gates of 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 that 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.

The siege of Jalalabad (from March 12, 1989)

Media sources close to the Afghan interim government (AIG) have confirmed that opposition forces stopped their advance on March 12, just two kilometers from the eastern line of the city of Jalalabad, in the face of fierce resistance from Afghan government armed forces. As the Afghan National Army tightened its defenses around Jalalabad, the rebels unleashed withering artillery attacks against the city. During a 24-hour period (March 12-13), the rebels fired some 12.000 rockets and shells into the city. The heavy fighting had caused some 20.000 to 30.000 civilian residents of the city to flee toward the Pakistani border, it was reported March 13. It is worth knowing that at the beginning of February 1989, Jalalabad had an estimated population of about 170.000 inhabitants, including many refugees. The destruction of the city was very high, numerous buildings suffering major damage, a situation that was also confirmed by western reporters who were allowed to visit the besieged town.

On the opposite side, Lieut. Gen. Abdul Haq Ullumi, secretary of the Supreme Military Council, said 2.000 of the 14.000 attackers had been killed, and many more wounded. He said Government casualties had been heavy, but declined to give figures. General Ullumi said that reinforcements moved into Jalalabad from Kabul on March 11-12, had helped the Government to tighten its control over the city and its airport, the scene of some of the heaviest fighting.

According to diplomats who remain in Kabul, the Najibullah Government has to do several things to have any chance of surviving, and with some shaky moments it has managed thus far to accomplish them all. ”First of all, it has to keep the guerrillas out of Jalalabad and Kabul,” one Asian envoy said. ”Then it has to maintain control of the airports and finally it has to make sure it keeps the two essential supply routes open, the ones connecting Jalalabad to Kabul and Kabul to the Soviet Union.”

According to government sources, the total military and paramilitary forces engaged in the immediate defense of the Jalalabad city on 12 March was just over 12.200 soldiers, from which about 3.400 soldiers being brought to the Jalalabad area since March 8, 1989 (most likely from the 1st (Motorized) Infantry Brigade from the National Guard Forces and the 37th Commando Brigade). Although the government troops were on par with the number of attackers, drastic measures have been taken to increase the number of fighters on the front line: all able-bodied soldiers who were not vital to functioning of commands and services, were sent as reserves of combat units, the previously wounded soldiers, with minor injuries, were sent back to the front line, in reserve units, all party (People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan) members with previous military training were armed and incorporated into the completion units placed inside the city.

At the meeting of the Politburo of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union Central Committee on March 12, 1989, it was decided to resume the deliveries to the Republic of Afghanistan. The deliveries of weapons, ammunition, military equipment, fuels, spare parts and other materials had been stopped in the first week of February, when the needs for Afghan government forces were met until the beginning of August 1989. But the large-scale offensive of the Opposition forces and especially the huge losses suffered by government forces led to the resumption of deliveries much earlier than expected. To assist in the transfer of various material, the USSR Ministry of Defense was instructed to form four automobile convoys (100 KamAZ-5320, 8-ton general utility trucks each) with Soviet civilian drivers (volunteers), as well as to organize the Tashkent-Kabul air bridge by military transport aviation. The direct management of these events was carried out by Army General V.I. Varennikov. To arrange transportation and coordinate all issues, a soviet military delegation went to Termez and Hairatan (on the Afghan side of the border), where they met with Vice President of the Republic of Afghanistan, General Mohammed Rafie, representatives of the ministries and departments of the Republic of Afghanistan and the U.S.S.R.. The urgent transfer of weapons and ammunition, especially thousands of RPO-A ‘Bumblebee’ portable disposable rocket launchers, will soon allow the Kabul regime to repel the rebel attacks and maintain its position. It’s good to know that a well-documented report states that arms deliveries between March and August 1989 were worth 1,4 billion US Dollars.

In an interesting way for the attitude of the Afghan leader Najibullah and his close associates, the Soviet military advisors, including General Gareev, M.A., Soviet Chief Advisor of Afghanistan, were not invited to the meetings (Headquarter of the Armed Forces Supreme Commandership) for a couple of weeks after the Soviet supply convoys entered Afghanistan. In his memories, General Mohammed Nabi Azimi, Garrison Commander of the Capital Kabul, claimed that prior to this, Soviet military advisers had been invited to the meetings only to learn about the large human and technical losses of the government forces, in order to communicate them to Moscow, as these advisors were not consulted or listened to at all. This apparently weird attitude of Najibullah is explained, on the one hand, by the feeling of frustration and abandonment he felt în 1988 when the Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, decided and started the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan, which he vehemently opposed, and, on the other hand, by displaying an image of an independent leader of a sovereign state, even in front of his close associates, as he wanted to be seen.

In the front area around Jalalabad city, the attacks of the rebel forces continued on 14 March. About two dozen government helicopters flew into Jalalabad as western-backed rebels said they had made gains in their assault on the eastern Afghan city. The Mil Mi-8T transport helicopters arrived early in the day amid renewed heavy fighting around the city, guerrilla sources in neighboring Pakistan said. They said the guerrillas, who have made a series of unorganized attacks on the city, had shot down one of the assault helicopters with a U.S.-supplied FIM-92B “Stinger” POST missile. Independent confirmation of the report was later available: a Mil Mi-24V/Mi-35 of the 377th Helicopter Regiment (Kabul IA) was indeed hit by a missile and shot down, the entire crew died. Two of the seven rebel parties based in Pakistan reported that an ammunition dump hit by guerrilla shelling in central Jalalabad had exploded on the night of 13/14 March. But the rebels’ focus changed for the Hadda sector (10 km. south of Jalalabad), defended by the units of the 81st (Motorized) Infantry Brigade, a howitzer division (battalion) and two MRL batteries of the 91st Artillery Regiment (all component units of the 11th Division). Hadda base, established on the lands of the Hadda State Farm, has become the key defense system south and south-east of Jalalabad city and was heavily defended by about 2.300 government soldiers, armed with medium tanks, armored personnel carriers, howitzers, mortars and multiple rocket launchers. From the northern, north-eastern and eastern direction three Mujahideen detachments with around 1.900 fighters (belonging to HIA (Mohammad Yunus Khalis), NIFA (Ahmed Gailani) and NLF (Sibghatullah Mujaddidi)), supported by 5 guns and howitzers, 14 mortars and 20 rocket launchers started their attacks that day. According to government sources, the attacks in this sector followed one after another until March 17, with more than 460 casualties among rebels, dead, wounded and missing. “All attacks were repulsed”, claimed the same source. But, from March 15, new attacks were launched by the Mujahideens from a different direction, from the Chaparhar district (south and south-west of Hadda), along the Pachir Khwar River. The rebel forces participating in the attack from this direction were estimated at about 1.000 fighters, most of them from the HIA (Mohammad Yunus Khalis) party, but also of the HIA (Gulbuddin Hekmatyar) fighters. The concentric pressure of their enemies, had apparently an effect, whereas, since March 18, there has been a gradual withdrawal of government forces from the area, concluded in March 19, according to several sources. Four strong fortifications fell into the hands of the rebels and also a large fuel storage tank for the State Farm, but without significant amounts of heavy equipment and ammunition. According to a mujahideen commander, a number of 24 vehicles were reportedly abandoned by the government forces, including 7 armored vehicles (2 medium tanks T-54A(M), 1 tracked infantry fighting vehicle BMP-1, 3 wheeled armored personnel carriers BTR-60PB and one wheeled armored reconnaissance vehicle BRDM-2), 11 trucks (GAZ-66-02, 4×4, 2 ton light trucks and ZIL-130-76, 4×2, 4 ton trucks), 2 off-road 4×4 military light utility vehicles UAZ-469 and 4 unspecified tractors, vehicles that were damaged beyond repair.

In the area of the more recently appeared “Northern Front” of Jalalabad, in the Behsud area (later organized into a district), located just north of Jalalabad town, over the Kabul River, government forces (10. Border Guard Brigade, 12. Mountain Battalion of the Sarandoy/Ministry of the Interior, 902. Battalion WAD/Ministry of State Security were identified in the area, but other units were also present) were continuously assaulted by the Mujahideens since March 10, but managed to keep a 7,8 square kilometer bridgehead on March 13, when the front stabilized. Until March 20, the government troops’ controlled area was gradually reduced at 5 square kilometers, as a consequence of further attacks. The Behsud area was dotted with a lot of small villages with many fortification works prepared during Soviet presence in the area, so it could be easily defended, and this despite the much higher number of fighters that the rebels had in this area compared to government forces.

But, by far, the most important offensive action taken by the Opposition Forces after the attempt to take the Jalalabad Airport, was for the western encirclement of the city. Although this offensive action was of overwhelming importance, after the failure to take the Airport and enter the Jalalabad city from the east, the forces allocated for it were low. About 1.500 fighters of Abdul Rasul Sayyaf’s “Ittihad-i Islami” (around 1.000 fighters) and Arab volunteers (about 500 fighters) were engaged in this operation. The offensive action was launched in the morning of March 15, the detachment moved from Sra Kala village (19 km. south of Jalalabad, the main base for resupply of the detachment, situated in Chaparhar district) – to the north-west, to Lokhay village, then through a rugged arid area – a 10 km. long distance – to Fatehabad, on the Surkhrod District Road. Fatehabad was a village situated 11 km. south of Sultanpur town, where the most advanced outpost of government troops in this district was situated, the intermediate destination of the detachment. The march was very demanding, although the troops arrived at their intermediate destination (Fatehabad village) around noon, they needed rest, being able to resume the march towards Sultanpur after three more hours. After covering this distance (Fatehabad – Sultanpur), the troops arrived at 17 pm in the area, launching a first attack on the government troops positions at 17,20 pm.

Arranged over a length of about 2,2 kmGovernment positions in the Sultanpur area were built around a main base and five secondary bases, all fortified, manned by a “Sarandoy ”/Ministry of the Interior/ operative battalion. Surkhab river covered their right flank and the desert their left flank. As a reserve for the Sarandoy battalion, in the Naghrak area (9 km. north-east) was the 55th (Motorised) Infantry Brigade of the 9th Division, able to intervene immediately. On the western side of the Surkhab river, unidentified government units (Mujahideen claim both army and militia units) held positions (including a strong fortification) in the Kharkaran and Adam Khel villages, but they were accustomed to attacks from the Torghar Mountain where local rebels were based. The first attack on the on the government troops positions from Sultanpur (March 15 at 17,20 pm.) was powerful, preceded by heavy bombardment with mortar bombs, rockets and projectiles, but it will turn out to be a mistake. Although the Mujahideens managed, for a short time, to take one of the secondary fortifications, on the left flank, they failed to dislodge the defensive positions of government forces in the area when the night arrived (19,20 pm), allowing instead the strengthening of the positions of the government troops during the night, for the upcoming attacks in the next days. The Mujahideen commanders had not yet understood that the key to their success was in the rapid conquest, by a strong and well executed surprise attack, of key government positions, before the government troops could realize what was going on. Any other option was unlikely to succeed, given the superiority in numbers and technical means of the government forces, not to mention the kind of war the rebels now had to wage, the conventional war, which was unknown to them.

In the following days, from March 16 to 20, numerous attacks were carried out, four sometimes five per day, the Mujahideen lost about 330 men dead and wounded (their own claims). From March 16, Afghan Army units with armored vehicles and artillery made their presence felt, even executing counterattacks when a fortification was in danger of being taken. The Mujahideens finally managed to dislodge the government troops from the positions, on March 20, attacking them both frontally and from the flanks. The success will be only partial because government troops will retreat in order to another strengthened position, built around the Surkrod town, 2,7 km. north-east of Sultanpur.

On the western bank of the Surkhab river, an area threatened by local rebels even before Sayyaf’s detachment arrived, the local Mujahideens, supported by men and weapons (rocket launchers and mortars) from the Sayyaf detachment, have become much more dangerous than before. After several days of fighting, (between March 17 to 20), regime posts from Kharkaran and Adam Khel villages fell on March 20, the main base of government forces in the area – a well defended fortification – was also taken and all government forces fled the area on the same day. To better understand the situation, the distance between the most advanced post occupied by the Mujahideen (in the Surkhrod District) and the Jalalabad Kabul Highway (in the Darunta area) – the vital goal of insurgents – was 9 km. on the road and 7,5 km. in direct line (for artillery fire), a situation far from satisfactory. Although, for the moment, the supply of ammunition for the artillery (rocket launchers, mortars) was satisfactory, this was problematic in the medium term, as we will see. Pakistan’s supply network was acceptable to the rebel troops attacking Jalalabad from the east, north and south, but the supply of those attacking from the west was at the limit, and, in time (especially from May 1989), it could not be achieved, especially for long-range weapons (artillery and rockets).

A rebel source reported that the Mujahideen prevented a counterattack launched near the town of Surkh Rod (2,7 km. north-east of Sultanpur), on March 21, by a detachment of 65 government soldiers supported by 3 T-54B(M) medium tanks and 3 BTR-152K1 wheeled armored personnel carriers. The rebels claimed killing 5 soldiers and capturing another 49 and also destroying two tanks and damaging two BTRs, who still managed to retreat behind their own lines. This was probably a smaller local offensive action on the new line of defense of government troops, after their withdrawal from the Sultanpur area.

One of the heroes for the government side of the battle for Jalalabad was General Shah Navaz Tanai – the Minister of Defence. On March 21, 1989, he received a report that the airfield was attacked (again) by superior enemy forces and would soon fall. Immediately, Tanai flew by helicopter to the city to personally lead the defense of the most important facility. After landing, it turned out that most of the airfield was already in the hands of the mujahideen, and the helicopter was firing from small arms. The situation was saved by the commander of the Mil Mi-8MT/Mi-17 helicopter, Captain Muhammad Hamayun. He drove the helicopter like a car, without lifting it off the ground and, passing through the fence, he advanced on wheels to the territory controlled by government troops! General Shah Navaz Tanai, leaving the side, organized a counterattack as a result of which the mujahideens were driven back from the airfield.

On the other side, rebel sources said heavy bombing by Afghan warplanes killed six guerrillas and forced U.S.-backed rebels to retreat from the airport in the besieged city of Jalalabad in eastern Afghanistan.

“The Mujahideen were forced out of the airport by heavy bombing but continued to attack regime troops west of the airport” on the 16th day of efforts to capture the strategic city, a rebel source said on March 21, 1989. The sources said 6 rebels were killed and 14 wounded in the air attacks while several soldiers were killed and 17 troops captured at the airport. They also said the Mujahideen fired about 500 rockets at government positions at the facility, setting ablaze three T-54A(M) tanks, one BTR-60PB wheeled armored personnel carrier and two trucks.

Afghanistan’s state-run Kabul Radio reported 10 civilians, including four children, and seven soldiers were killed in rebel rocket attacks against Jalalabad. It said 18 civilians and an equal number of soldiers were wounded.

On March 24 Afghan guerrillas representatives said to Reuters news agency that they repulsed an attempt by Government troops to reopen the road from Kabul to Jalalabad. Citing radio reports from the Jalalabad area, guerrilla spokesmen said a Government force moved from the town of Sorubi (Kabul Province) on March 21 in an operation to clear the road. The soldiers on the ground were backed by several Mil Mi-24V/Mi-35 attack helicopters, the spokesmen said. The guerrillas said their forces had shot down one helicopter and killed three soldiers. Independent sources confirmed later that a helicopter was indeed hit, but its crew was able to fly it back to base. The rebels also claimed they had also blown up a bridge, the second in recent days, therefore stopping any attempt to cross into Jalalabad. But this announcement was probably too optimistic because, in the next day (March 25), a convoy of 85 supply trucks that had been delayed by guerrilla ambushes and by the destruction of a strategic bridge, broke through to the city of Jalalabad. The officials’ account, similar to one given by sources in the Soviet Embassy in Kabul (and later confirmed by independent sources), suggested that the immediate threat to the Government defense of Jalalabad, had been eased. This was indeed a new blow to the image of the rebels, after their numerous failed attempts to take the airport and enter the city.

As of 28 March, Resistance sources were estimating, after questioning many commanders of detachments fighting on the front lines, that the mujahideen had lost, since the launch of the offensive on March 5, about 750 men dead and more then 1.300 wounded.  However, the confidence of the mujahideen was still high as was their determination to continue and succeed.

The siege of Jalalabad (from March 28, 1989)

From the end of March 1989, a slight calm was felt on all the front lines around Jalalabad. After the setbacks suffered in the previous three weeks, the rebels and Pakistani volunteers changed the organization and tactics of warfare. Now the attacks of the Mujahideens take the form of local attempts to infiltrate, from small detachments of 40 to 70 fighters, supported by the fire of 3 to 5 heavy machine guns (12,7 mm. or 14,5 mm.), 2 to 4 mortars cal. 82 mm., simultaneous attacks with large-caliber artillery and missile barrages. They developed such effective tactics through Pakistani officers, some say, others say that, on the contrary, this was their usual tactic from the years of fighting the Soviet Army in their irregular type of war. Apart from these “infiltration detachments’ ‘, there were also “stabilization detachments’ ‘, to fight the counter attacks of government troops. These were usually equipped with French “MILAN-2” and Chinese “Red Arrow-73″/HJ-73 ATGM launchers, 57 mm. and 76 mm. cal. artillery guns, Chinese 107 mm. twelve-round missile launchers Type-63-I and American and Japanese communications. Finally, in the rear, “technical detachments’ ‘ were the ones who wielded heavy weapons – artillery (captured M-30 and D-30 122mm. towed howitzers and BM-21 ꞌGradꞌ 40 x 122mm. and BM-14MM 16 x 140mm. multiple rocket launching systems) and armored vehicles (medium tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, armored personnel carriers), their missions being to strike from a distance and to support the important offensive actions of the troops on the front line.

Radio Kabul and Afghan government news agency Bakhtar report on the fighting in Nangarhar province, on 5. April 1989:

“According to reports from the rear lines of the enemy, more than 1.000 Pakistani militia, with changed uniforms, from the the ꞌKhyber Riflesꞌ (Regiment) of the Pakistani Army, are actively participating in the battle of Nangarhar (Jalalabad being the capital city of Nangarhar province). Among them are officers (Subahdar): Adam Khan, Mahmud Khan, Hamid Chawdhuri, NCOs (Havildar) Ahmad Hussain and Qadir, who have been taking part with the rebels in the battles in Shewa, Chaparhar, Surkh Rod, Pol-e Saracha and Rodat areas.”

On April 4, 1989, a more significant attempt from the rebels to penetrate the lines of defense of government troops south-west of Jalalabad, was repelled by the government forces. The rebel detachment, about 170 men strong, although strongly supported by artillery and missile fire, attacked the positions near the town of Surkh Rod (14 km. west of downtown Jalalabad), was thrown back, having lost 43 fighters killed and wounded. The superior firepower of government troops proved decisive in this fight as well, light artillery pieces cal. 57 and 76 mm., smoothbore recoilless guns cal. 82 mm., mortars cal. 82 and 120 mm., being completed by medium tanks and armored vehicles who executed quick counterattacks when a fortified position was in danger of falling.

On April 6 a larger rebel attack took place south of Jalalabad, in the Qasaba village area, with over 400 fighters initially employed, supported by 7 artillery tubes (cal. 76 mm. guns and 122 mm. howitzers), 4 multiple missile launchers and 3 medium tanks T-54A(M), the attack was repulsed by government forces. The attack was resumed on April 10, with a larger number of rebel fighters (claimed at over 600 fighters by government sources) and intense artillery and missile fire. The Qasaba area was defended by the 7th (Sarandoy) Operative Regiment (unit of the Ministry of Interior) and, by the second half of the month, subunits of the 1stRegiment of the Jowzjan Tribal Forces (unit also subordinated to the Ministry of Interior) will arrive.

The Qasaba area also became a target for government cal. 122 mm. howitzers and a number of 9M21K artillery rockets with submunitions, fired from 9K52 ‘Luna-M’ tactical missile launchers from April 11, 1989. The latter are particularly feared by the rebels, the rebel fighters usually abandon the area hit by such a warhead.

From a source close to the rebels, as a result of a air attack on the gang of the famous ringleader Jalaluddin Haqqani (50 years old in 1989), commander under Yunis Khalis‘ “Hezb-e-Islami” back then, his fighters being from the Jadran tribe, located in Chaparhar district, nine of his men were killed and other seven were injured. According to the Pashtun tradition, Jalaluddin Haqqani intended to send the bodies of those killed to their relatives, and the wounded – for treatment in Peshawar (Pakistan). However, this was prevented by the Arab military advisers in his unit, who personally killed the wounded. The killing of the wounded would have led to a rebellion in his unit, all the Arab military advisers being massacred. When the news arrived in the refugee camps in Pakistan, riots broke out. The Pakistani police and rebels acting as security guards fired on the Afghan rioter refugees to stop them. After the protests were suppressed, in order to prevent new mass protests by refugees, Pakistani authorities have banned informing them of losses near Jalalabad. As a consequence, rebels killed and missing after heavy battles in the Jalalabad area are often mentioned as missing.

On 16 April, the Afghan government news agency ‘Bakhtar’ reported the reopening of the Kabul – Jalalabad highway, which had been blocked by guerrilla-laid mines. A column of 270 trucks carrying food, weapons, ammunition and fresh reinforcements was able to reach the city.

According to General Mohammed Nabi Azimi (then Garrison Commander of the Capital Kabul), subunits of the 1st Regiment of the ‘Jowzjan Tribal Forces’ arrived in the Jalalabad area by 16 April 1989 (certainly with the column that entered the city). This regiment, subordinated to the Ministry of Interior, was led by Lieutenant Colonel Abdul Rassul nicknamed “Godfree” (40 years old in 1989), and will play a very important role soon.

Lieutenant Colonel Abdul Rassul was a close associate to the President Mohammad Najibullah, appointed by him personally to the command of the Internal Troops of the Jowzjan province, particularly to the ‘Jowzjan Tribal Forces’ 1st Regiment of Sheberghan. According to some WAD (“Ministry of State Security ”) officers, Lieutenant Colonel Abdul Rassul nicknamed “Godfree ” was a brutal character, ignorant in military matters and very unpopular even among most of the troops he commanded. Pashtun by ethnicity (like the President Najibullah), he was not liked by his mostly Uzbek and Turkmen subordinates, which constituted the majority in his regiment. On the other hand, Major Abdul Rashid Dostum (34 years old in 1989) commander of the 2nd Regiment of the ‘Jowzjan Tribal Forces’ was a natural soldier and a good leader, whose troops admired his charisma and tough military approach. He specialized in frontal assaults on the enemy, and he quickly acquired a reputation for brutal and extreme violence, but also a high military efficiency. Dostum’s Regiment formed a disciplined force that often defeated mujahedin commanders in the northern part of the country, and even persuaded some to defect to the communist cause. The fact that he was ethnic Uzbek, like most of his troops, made him even more popular and closer to his men, he often boasted that “he had no soldiers who had ever deserted to the enemy”.

As an interesting element, the president’s protégé Abdul Rassul “Godfree” had been promoted as Commander of the Internal Troops of the Jowzjan province, precisely to counterbalance the growing popularity and influence of Abdul Rashid Dostum, but growing military needs will force the president to promote Major Abdul Rashid Dostum to Colonel Rank and to allow the expansion of his militia forces into a full (motorized) infantry division by late 1989. I have to say that, in the end, General Abdul Rashid Dostum will play a decisive role in overthrowing President Najibullah from power in April 1992.

The controversial role played by “Jamiat-e Islami” Commander Massoud

Ahmad Shah Massoud (36 years old in 1989), the jihadi commander of the Panjshir guerrillas (in the Panjshir Valley, north of the Afghan capital Kabul, Massoud stronghold), is said to have received about half a million US Dollars from the CIA’s representative to block the Salang Highway, which was considered the supplementary vessel of the Kabul regime. Apparently he was unable to do so, despite several attacks on the Kabul Highway. On the other hand, Massoud did not show much interest in the victory of the Mujahideen in the battle for Jalalabad, because on the day after the victory, the power in Jalalabad would have been concentrated in the hands of his powerful opponent, Gulbudin Hekmatyar, with his Hezb-e Islami party. Even if, formally, both political-military groups (“Jamiat-e Islami” and “Hezb-e Islami”) were part of the coalition government in exile from Peshawar, Afghan Interim Government (AIG), the rivalry between them will become open and violent, even during the battle for Jalalabad, as we will soon see. I have to say that the rivalry was not only personal, but also an ethical-community one, Gulbudin Hekmatyar’s “Hezb-e Islami” party was composed mostly of Pashtuns, while Commander Massoud men were mostly Tajiks (the same with “Jamiat-e Islami” party followers).

During April and May 1989, rumors and direct accusations will appear and spread among the mujahideen who fought in the Jalalabad area (but not only there) that Commander Massoud had reached an agreement with the Kabul government, in order not to cut off National Highway 01 (close to the Salang Tunnel), connecting the capital Kabul with the border town of Hairatan, near the border with the Soviet Union. These rumors initially appeared through news agencies (especially BBC) based in Pakistan, reporting in Pashto and Dari languages, starting in April 1989, which led to a prompt reaction from Commander Massoud and his supporters. They said that losses suffered by “Jamiat-e Islami ” party forces in January and February 1989, during the three weeks of massive attacks launched by the Soviet Army and Afghan National Army, weakened the offensive capacity of his forces, which needed rebuilding and strengthening before they could launch a strong offensive. They also said that it was true that Commander Massoud could block the Salang Tunnel, but only after a large mobilization of his forces from that entire area, and probably, only for a short time, sacrificing vital resources and fighters instead, without a lasting result. Massoud’s men claimed that during four large attacks in February and March 1989, they annihilated about 300 government soldiers, including 25 killed, 41 wounded and 234 captured, only in the Salang Tunnel area.

From the other side, General Mohammed Shafi, commander of the ANA 2nd(Motorized) Infantry Division, which had the mission of keeping the Salang Pass area under control, said later that, at the beginning of April 1989, his units took Hai Jaan, the one holdout village in the pass. He said it was a strategic position that had enabled the rebels to choke the supply line between Kabul and the Soviet Union for several weeks after the Soviet troops had departed. He said a rebel commander named Abdul Basir (27 years old in 1989) and about 400 men reoccupied what was left of the village after a 20-day battle following the February bombings. They held it for 10 days (around mid March 1989) before the army counterattacked and drove them out, after another 12-day battle (end March – early April 1989), reopening the road. General Shafi said his men killed 250 of the rebels (“They’re buried over there by the river”) and that he lost only 17 men, most of them to land mines. At the end of April 1989, Western journalists were allowed to visit the Salang Pass area and confirmed that the entire area was the scene of intense battles that had recently ended, being now under the firm control of government forces.

In an interesting way, a key moment of the initial stage of the battle for Jalalabad – the failure of a force of 3.000 guerrillas to fulfill its mission of launching the offensive from the north on the city of Jalalabad – in the Behsud area (and blocking the road west of Jalalabad, so as to prevent supplies and reinforcements from arriving overland from Kabul), simultaneously with the offensive launched by the main rebel forces from the east, this question was never addressed. These guerrillas, for reasons that have never been explained, did not move from their positions north of the road for a week after the offensive began in earnest on March 5. As a result of this, supplies and reinforcements reached Jalalabad from Kabul until March 20. Thus the element of surprise was lost, allowing government forces to stabilize the front line. If it is to speculate, we can say that this problem was an internal (organizational) of the planners and executors of the Jalalabad offensive, and questioning it – was certainly unpleasant for them, instead, accusing Commander Massoud served their interests in finding a scapegoat.

However, these accusations brought to Commander Massoud and his forces will create reactions among the mujahideen, the tensions between them (supporters and accusers of Commander Massoud) will worsen over time, even leading to armed incidents. The worst incident, with long-term adverse effects, happened on July 9, 1989, when 30 Massoud men, including 7 commanders, had been killed by fighters loyal to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, head of the fundamentalist “Hezb-i-Islami” faction. That incident will lead, in the short term, to a strong tension in relations of the two parties and their supporters (annihilating their cooperation in the fight against government forces), but the worst effects will be in the medium and long term.

Preparations in the government forces area

On Thursday, 20 April 1989, General Mohammed Nabi Azimi, Garrison Commander of the Capital Kabul, temporarily replaced General Mohammed Asif Delawar as Commander-in-Chief of the Eastern Front, located at a steady underground base in Jalalabad Airport terminal. At that moment Lt. Gen. Manoki Mangal was already appointed military governor of the Nangarhar Province and first secretary of the district committee of the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan, so, in fact, he was in charge of the whole province. General Azimi said that General Mangal was heavily involved in military affairs, mutually handling the Eastern Front Commandship with General Asif Delawar. The situation in the Jalalabad Airport area was still critical for the government troops, being surrounded from the north, east and south by rebel forces. From the north, the Khush Gumbad Village area was defended by  1st (Motorized) Infantry Brigade from the National Guard Forces (described as a very strong and professional unit), while from the east and south the Airport area was defended by the units of the 8th Border Guard Brigade and the 37th Commando Brigade. In the Airport area there were also subunits of two battalions (420 men in total), one from the 10thEngineer-Sapper Regiment and the other was the Light Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion from the 11th Division. This was the second line of defense, in case the first had been broken.

To the west, continued to enjoy special attention the base Command of the 1st Central Army Corps (2,3 km. in straight line from the Airport terminal), defended by two motorized infantry battalions, formed by the surviving subunits of the 66th and 71st (Motorized) Infantry Brigades (from the 11th Division), who escaped from encirclement, and also a mechanized battalion (BMP-1 equipped) from the 11th Division reserve. These three battalions had suffered heavy losses during previous battles, and were of low morale, but because of the importance of their task given, the base housing the Command of the 1st Central Army Corps, they received with priority food, medicine, ammunition, equipment, reinforcements in men and heavy weapons.

Further south, in the Qasaba area, in defense towards Chaparhar district, the 7th (Sarandoy) Operative Regiment, the 1st Regiment of the ‘Jowzjan Tribal Forces’ and the 1st Central Army Corps Reconnaissance Battalion, had managed to stabilize the situation, successfully defending their positions.

North of Jalalabad city, towards Behsud and Kama areas, the 1st Central Army Corps had managed to take over the vulnerable tight defense lines there rather swiftly. It subordinated its existing forces (10. Border Guard Brigade, 12. Mountain Battalion of the Sarandoy/Ministry of the Interior, 902. Battalion WAD/Ministry of State Security) and formed a solid line of defense, which it managed to maintain.

Towards the northwest of the city where the Darunta Power Plant was situated, there were the 9th (Motorized) Infantry Division units based there. The forces defending the area were considered with extremely low morale and weak, although they had extensive military experience. They had previously served in Kunar province, acting alongside Soviet troops until November 1988. One divisional brigade, deployed in the Surkh Rod area, did quite well in the operations in that area, the other two brigades did not seem to be alike. The troops had apparently no motivation of any kind. The government forces exposed themselves by every single move that they made, sustaining deaths and damages in the wake of any imposed pressure on them by the Opposition Forces, since the battlefront was tight and the number of troops countless. The government forces did not show a sense of maneuver and therefore the troops were suffering from an inactive defense. There were no real reserves available for the battlefront making it impossible for the relevant commander to stop the enemy from penetrating when it came to a major enemy assault.

General Mohammed Nabi Azimi, who temporarily replaced in command General Asif Delawar on the Eastern Front Commandship, initiated several measures with a medium and long term effect. He wanted to create a powerful reserve force for the commandership of the Jalalabad battlefield as a first step. In this sense, he went on to rationalize the distribution of military personnel in the front areas, but also behind the front, in particular the soldiers belonging to units that had previously been destroyed or severely weakened in battle. In this way he managed to fill more effectively with troops the lines of defense, releasing from the front a brigade for active action, if required. This brigade was taken out of Behsud area and prepared as a reserve force at the 1st Central Army Corps Headquarters.

A larger sketch and map of Khush Gumbad Village was drawn up. Colonel Rahmatullah Raufi (41 years old in 1989), commander of the 1st (Motorized) Infantry Brigade from the National Guard Forces was assigned to launch an offensive action in Khush Gunbad Village and advance house by house, until the liberation of the entire village. Indeed his soldiers managed to advance in small detachments, supported by mortar fire and automatic grenade launchers, managing the recapture of a large part of the village, and also shortening the line of defense. The previous diagonal defense line turned into a straight line, both on the map as well as on the land connecting from the east to the west. General Asif Delawar returned to Jalalabad on April 27, 1989, and resumed his command.

General Nabi Azimi flew back to Kabul, where he was warmly welcomed by President Najibullah at the Armed Forces Supreme Headquarter. The President listened to his report with sheer patience and attention.

“The Armed Forces based in Jalalabad have managed to stop a huge attack carried out by The Opposition, with a sublime bravery and resistance. The Forces’ military situation and ability still possess no high quality. Some of the battlefields still remain vulnerable. The forces’ morale is high but they are all exhausted and, therefore, the frontline forces must be replaced. (1)The defense must be brought out of the current passive status. By carrying out both minor and major maneuvers, the defense area must be widened and constantly kept under fire and attack, especially Jalalabad Airport, surrounding areas of which is the enemy’s main pounding target. (2) A counter attack by the Afghan Armed Forces must be designed and exercised following the arrival of fresh personnel and the supply of heavy artillery and armory and once the Saur Revolution celebrations are out of the way.”

The President, also Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, approved the views presented by Gen. Nabi Azimi. He issued directions regarding the troops’ inattentive attitude on the battlefield, during the same meeting. Preparations for a counter-offensive were also initiated, planned for the second half of May 1989. 

In the meantime, Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman, Mohammad Nabi Amani, said government soldiers had inflicted heavy blows to the guerrillas in their latest attack near Jalalabad. Particularly violent battles were fought in the area south (most likely Qasaba Village area) and east (most probably Khush Gunbad Village area) of the city, the rebels would have lost 221 men (92 killed and 129 wounded), in a three-day battle (24 – 26 April 1989).

On the other side, a mujahideen commander said that Monday, April 24, 155 fighters had fallen, 58 were killed and 97 wounded. He said government troops also lost about 200 soldiers killed and wounded. The rebels admitted that they had not yet achieved their goals, but the fight is ongoing, the situation can change at any time.

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Fall of Afghanistan

What happened in the battle of Jalalabad?