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Soviet forces carpet-bomb Afghan city and villages

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NEAL ROBBINS

NEW DELHI, India -- Soviet and government forces carpet-bombed Afghanistan's third largest city and an eastern valley, killing thousands of civilians in one of the harshest campaigns against rebels since the 1979 Russian invasion, Western diplomats said Tuesday.

As many as 50 planes a day pounded the western city of Herat in the drive against Moslem guerrillas attempting to oust the Soviet-backed Afghan government, said a diplomatic source who requested anonymity.

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The diplomat, quoting witnesses, said 'several thousand civilians were killed' in the bombing of Herat, an ancient trading center with a population of 160,000, during the two-week campaign that ended early this month.

According to one report, about 3,000 civilians were killed and half of Herat destroyed, the diplomat said.

Guerrillas shot down two planes and two helicopters bombing Herat, 450 miles west of the Afghan capital of Kabul, the source said.

In late April and early May, Soviet and Afghan forces used planes, tanks, artillery and helicopters in a separate drive against rebel sympathizers in the Shomali valley running north from Kabul, the diplomat said.

Islamic guerrillas have used the valley, through which a supply route runs north from Kabul to the Soviet Union, as a base to attack Soviet and Afghan government convoys.

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Diplomats in Islamabad, Pakistan said the attacks on the Shomali valley were of 'unprecedented intensity' and 'the most general and savage by all accounts' since the Soviets invaded Afghanistan.

Diplomats in New Delhi said a number of Shomali villages were devastated but no casualty figures were immediately available.

Soviet and Afghan government troops systematically looted homes as Afghan families abandoned their villages, Western diplomats said, quoting reliable sources.

'The result was that the population has begun flooding into Kabul seeking refuge,' the source said.

The attacks in the Shomali left the guerrillas 'reeling,' not only from their own losses but from the loss of civilian supporters on whom they depend for support, the source said.

Soviet soldiers executed 20 village elders, women and children who confronted occupation officials to complain about the attacks, charging they were aimed at civilians, diplomats said.

Western diplomats in Islamabad said the Soviet and Afghan government strategy was to depopulate the Shomali region in an attempt to safeguard the important highway linking Kabul with the Soviet border.

The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan on Dec. 25, 1979 and now maintains an occupation force of at least 105,000 troops.

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