ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- At least 3,000 recently released political prisoners were drafted into the Afghan army and deployed with Soviet-backed forces in the battle to break the guerrilla siege of Khost, a rebel news agency said Thursday.
The Afghan Resource Media Center, based in the western Pakistan city of Peshawar, where the rebels maintain their headquarters, also reported intense fighting between an Afghan-Soviet relief force and guerrilla forces on the dirt road to the garrison town of Khost.
The report, which could not be independently confirmed, conflicted with claims by the Soviet-backed Kabul government and Moscow that the rebel siege of Khost had been broken and the road opened to relief supplies for Khost's 40,000 inhabitants and its Soviet and Afghan defenders.
The rebels said trained dogs sniffed out some 8,800 mines planted by the rebels along the 90-mile road, but hundreds of armored vehicles were blown up by mines that had not been removed.
Resistance sources said at least 3,000 political prisoners released earlier this month by the government were drafted into the army and deployed in a battle raging near Sato Kandao, 15 miles outside of Gardez on the road to Khost.
Quoting Haji Sadaat, a local commander, the agency said in the past 10 days Soviet aircraft straffed rebel bases in the Syed Khel, Allauddin and Braha areas, killing 16. More than 6,000 families fled toward the Pakistani border and nearby regions.
Ghous Mohammad, an Afghan government soldier who defected along with three other soldiers last week, told the agency 4,000 Soviet troops and 1,200 Afghans were taking part in the battle. He said that Afghan conscripts were ordered to fight alongside Soviet troops in an attempt to lift the Khost siege.
But Sabur Illyasi, the Afghan deputy consul in Peshawar, reitrated Kabul's claim that the Gardez-Khost road was 'open to traffic.' 'There is no doubt that we are now linked with Khost after a long time,' he told UPI.
Illyasi called the rebel claims of their continued blockade of the Gardez-Khost road as 'propaganda' and said all resistance had been eliminated.
Kabul Radio reported a military convoy with 1,600 tons of foodstuff that left Gardez Wednesday had reached Khost. On Wednesday the radio reported the first convoy of 150 vehicles had reached Khost that day.
Western diplomats said some 50,000 Soviet and Afghan troops were involved in breaking the Khost siege by between 6,000 and 10,000 rebels in one of the largest operations since Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan in December 1979 to salvage a communist government saddled with internal feuds and a revolt by Moslem fundamentalist tribesmen.
The rebels had controlled the area around Khost and the road to Gardez since the Soviets arrived in Afghanistan, but three months ago tightened their noose around the town, cutting off food supplies.