Afghan rebels seize capital after 14 years As civil war ends, rival Islamic bands jockey for power

April 26, 1992|By Edward A. Gargan | Edward A. Gargan,New York Times News Service

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Kabul fell to Islamic rebels yesterday as rival guerrilla groups swept through the capital and occupied government ministries and installations.

The capture of the city came after nearly 14 years of civil war against a succession of Soviet-backed Communist governments.

The presidential palace, army garrisons and armories, police stations, and the television and radio complexes were swiftly occupied by heavily armed guerrillas who met almost no resistance.

Two rival groups, the Jamiat-i-Islami of Ahmad Shah Masood and the militant Hezb-i-Islami of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, vied to capture portions of the city's center, a competition that led to occasional shoving matches but apparently no serious armed clashes.

The suddenness of the takeover, initiated by the Hezb-i-Islami, which represents the southern Pathan ethnic group, gave rise to speculation that Mr. Hekmatyar was attempting to grab power at the expense of the many other rebel groups who have formed an alliance.

But very quickly, other guerrillas, particularly fighters from Jamiat-i-Islami, emerged from hiding and outflanked the Hezb-i-Islami forces to occupy most of the critical installations in the capital. Many of these groups are dominated by northern and western ethnic nationalities who resent centuries of dominance by the Pathan group.

Earlier yesterday morning, in the Pakistani border town of Peshawar, a gathering of Islamic rebel groups announced the formation of an interim governing council, although Mr. Hekmatyar -- the most rigid fundamentalist among the Islamic rebel leaders -- declared that he would not participate.

The Associated Press reported that at the Pakistan headquarters of the resistance, nine rebel chiefs -- not including Mr. Hekmatyar -- issued a communique saying that Mr. Masood was in charge of Kabul until their arrival.

The capture of the city was clearly the crowning military victory of a struggle that began nearly 14 years ago when the first Islamic rebels took to the mountains to fight the Communist government.

The Soviets intervened in December 1979, sending the first of more than 100,000 troops to fight the Muslim guerrillas. Unable to crush the resistance and facing growing internal problems, the Soviet Union completed its withdrawal in February 1989. The rebels continued fighting President Najibullah, who was installed the Soviet Union in 1986.

Nine days ago, Dr. Najibullah, without informing any of his senior aides, attempted to flee Kabul in the plane belonging to the U.N. special envoy to Afghanistan. But soldiers refused to let the former president leave the country. He fled to a U.N. building in the city, and his whereabouts yesterday were not known.

The first move by the guerrillas yesterday morning came when more than 500 fighters from Mr. Hekmatyar's units, who had been hidden in the Ministry of the Interior, took up positions outside the gates of the complex.

Mohammed Kareen, a commander of Hezb-i-Islami, said: "We came two days ago. We stayed in the ministry until now. . . . This ministry belongs to Hezb-i-Islami."

Elsewhere in Kabul, a group of rebels shouting "God is great!" stormed the headquarters of the secret police, and here and there across the city crowds of people waving the green banner of Islam paraded through the streets shouting "Long live the mujahedeen," or holy warriors.

Yet even as some of Kabul's citizens celebrated the arrival of the guerrillas, others, including many government workers and members of the once-dominant Watan or Homeland Party, hurried to take refuge in their homes. By midafternoon, the streets of the capital were deserted, except for an occasional jeep or armored car speeding along, raising clouds of dust.

As night fell, the blackness over Kabul was torn by the crimson stitching of tracer bullets, the white flash of flares, and the crackle of automatic-weapons fire as guerrillas celebrated their victory.

Mr. Hekmatyar was believed to be outside the city, as was Mr. Masood. At his base in Charikar, 35 miles north of Kabul, Mr. Masood told reporters that Mr. Hekmatyar had collaborated with Communist elements to try to take over the city.

The collapsing Kabul government had been weakened by defections in the military, and as Hezb-i-Islami forces moved to capture sites around the center of the city the extent of cooperation between elements of the government's armed forces and Mr. Masood became clear.

Late yesterday afternoon, a fleet of 18 air force helicopters began ferrying 1,800 of Mr. Masood's troops to the capital from Jabalussaraj, a town about 40 miles north of here.

Earlier, a column of heavily armed fighters from Jamiat-i-Islami wearing backpacks marched into the capital's television station. Machine-gun nests were set up on the building's roof and army guards at the gates to the station were supplemented by Jamiat fighters.

"We asked them to come to control the station," said Akbar Nihad, who said he was the general director of advertising.

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