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Mujahideen claim the fall of Khost

By
ANWAR IQBAL

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Afghan rebels claimed Sunday they have captured the eastern Afghan city of Khost after a fierce battle with forces loyal to the Communist government in Kabul.

About 150 soldiers of the Kabul regime were killed around Khost during the last two days and 500 surrendered to the rebels, the rebels said.

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The rebel announcement followed a broadcast late Saturday by the official Afghan radio, which said 'the extremists have increased their pressure on the Khost garrison.' In the past Kabul radio has only admitted 'increased pressure' on places that already had fallen to the rebels.

The announcements, however, failed to clear the confusion that has surrounded Khost and its fate ever since the Mujahideen launched their offensive March 21.

The Afghan News Agency, in a separate report, said, 'The Mujahideen have entered Khost city from three sides but they are still facing resistance from the Kabul forces.'

The guerrillas have claimed capturing Khost city, old and new airports and the adjacent areas several times since March 21 only to say the next day that fighting continues.

However, on March 25, Radio Kabul broadcast a message from President Najibullah saying that parts of Khost had fallen to the rebels but that forces loyal to government still controlled the airport.

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It was first such admission of defeat by the radio in a message coming from the president.

Thousands of Mujahideen flocked to Khost on March 26 anticipating a victory.

There were 3,000 Mujahideen around Khost when the offensive began their number now has gone beyond 25,000.

The Mujahiddeen also have claimed to have downed two Soviet-made MiG aircraft during their Khost offensive and to have captured one plane and one helicopter.

Known as Little Moscow for its staunch pro-Communist tribesmen, Khost has a symbolic importance for the Mujahideen. Its capture could once again bring the rebel effort international media coverage and renewed aid.

Khost's fall also would enable the rebels to move their Pakistan- based interim government into a major Afghan city. The guerrillas, who have been fighting against the Moscow-backed Kabul regime since 1979 when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, control a large part of rural Afghanistan but had not been able to capture a major city.

The rebels also have been criticized by their Western and Arab supporters for their failure to move their interim government inside Afghanistan despite the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989.

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