Day after liberation, Afghan guerrilla factions battle in streets of Kabul

April 27, 1992|By New York Times News Service

KABUL, Afghanistan -- War broke out in Kabul yesterday, hours after victorious Muslim guerrillas occupied the city. Throughout the day, two rival rebel groups filled the virtually empty streets with the thunder of tanks, rockets and rifle fire, replacing the celebratory tattoo of flares and tracers that had been launched into the night sky on Saturday.

Kabul remained without any apparent leadership yesterday, despite the announcement that a security council had been formed for the city. The day after rebels took the capital, residents remained barricaded in their homes, and shops were shuttered. Only in the deepest neighborhood alleyways did people venture forth to observe the new order taking shape around them.

Two major Islamic guerrilla factions are pitted against each other now: Jamiat-i-Islami, led by Ahmad Shah Masoud, a member of the Tajik minority from the north, and Hezb-i-Islami, led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a fierce Muslim fundamentalist and a member of the formerly dominant Pathans of the south. Mr. Masoud's forces have joined with other Tajik and Uzbek fighters in a northern coalition.

It appears now that, for the first time in more than 100 years, northerners -- who have felt ignored and exploited by the Pathans under the Communists, under earlier dictatorships and even under the monarchy -- have the upper hand.

Reports of casualties were spotty and difficult to confirm, but members of forces allied with Mr. Masoud said they had killed 10 of Mr. Hekmatyar's men. Mr. Hekmatyar's forces hit houses, causing some civilian victims including children, Reuters reported. The Red Cross hospital in Kabul reported six dead and more than 60 wounded, and a member of Mr. Masoud's group said 40 of his troops had been killed in the fighting, Reuters reported.

On Saturday, Mr. Hekmatyar's forces staged lightning raids into several government installations, apparently momentarily surprising Mr. Masoud's units, who were deployed on the edge of the city and in some neighborhoods.

But yesterday, Mr. Masoud's guerrillas, along with their allied army units and with fighters from the northern coalition led by a former militia general, Abdul Rashid Doestam, waged fierce firefights, attacking units loyal to Mr. Hekmatyar in Kabul and at important sites south of the capital.

Yesterday morning, Afghan radio announced formation of the Committee for the Security of Kabul and said that Mr. Masoud was its chairman and defense minister.

The six men named to the committee represent five of Afghanistan's major rebel groups.

In the Pakistani border town of Peshawar, the formation of a broad-based interim council of 50 members representing all rebel groups except Mr. Hekmatyar's was announced over the weekend, but its status and relationship to the committee here remain unclear.

On Saturday, when the rebels poured into Kabul, the royal palace was occupied by fighters from both groups, and an uneasy truce prevailed through part of the night. But the unspoken accord dissolved in a blaze of gunfire when Mr. Masoud'sforces attacked and drove Hezb-i-Islami troops from the vast complex.

Although it seemed that Mr. Masoud's troops were moving decisively to secure the city, fighting could be heard throughout the downtown area. In the east, in a housing complex built for government and ruling-party officials, sharp battles were fought between the two forces during the day, and by nightfall it was unclear who controlled the area.

House-to-house fighting erupted in an area of diplomatic residences, with Jamiat fighters struggling to evict Hezb-i-Islami forces from their strongholds.

In Balahissar, an old royal fort south of the city, there was heavy fighting last night. Reporters who had been in the area said that Mr. Hekmatyar's forces had staged a violent assault on the fort with tanks, but that the attack had been beaten back by a coalition of Mr. Masoud's fighters, Afghan army soldiers, and troops loyal to Mr. Doestam, an ethnic Uzbek.

Ethnic identities are so sharply etched in Afghanistan, as a productof the country's mountainous terrain, lack of communications and tribal traditions, that the battles now being waged could plunge this country into ethnic warfare.

Afghanistan today is less a country than a patchwork of regional kingdoms, a mesh of shifting alliances, all drawn along fault lines of competing cultures.

A senior U.N. official here said, "Afghanistan is like being on the edge of a canyon. You can either retreat to safety or everyone can fall into the canyon of ethnic conflict."

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