The last Red Army convoys abandoned their garrisons and headed north for home Monday, Soviet officials said, bringing to an end a nine-year mission that cost more than 13,000 Soviet lives.
Hundreds of Soviet troops guarded the airport of the war-weary Afghan capital as military transports ferried in loads of grain and other supplies to help ease food shortages caused by guerrilla blockades.In Moscow, the Communist Party newspaper Pravda reported "the last Soviet soldier left Kabul" on Sunday. But Soviet officials in the city said about 1,000 troops would remain at the airport until the end of the week.
In neighboring Pakistan, Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze met with Pakistani officials but said Monday the talks failed to find a way to peacefully end the Afghan war. He said the Soviets will continue to support Afghanistan's Marxist government but would not send troops back into the country.
Also, a Soviet military spokesman said Monday that more than 20,000 Soviet troops are still inside Afghanistan but the pullout will be completed by Feb. 14, one day before Moscow's deadline.
Lt. Col. Sergei Sinelnikov told reporters in Termez that some 20,000 Soviet troops remained in five Afghan provinces but would be withdrawn between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. on Feb. 14 - one day ahead of the deadline laid out in April's Geneva Accords.
Sinelnikov said Soviet soldiers remain in Balkh, Samangan, Herat, Baghlan and Tak-har provinces.
"Right now there are still about 20,000 Soviet soldiers in five Afghan provinces," Sinelnikov, 42, said.
Under a U.N.-brokered accord, all Soviets forces are to be out by Feb. 15.
Soviet diplomats said Red Army troops in the western city of Shindand left their garrison, the remaining Soviet military complex in the country.
The diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the soldiers headed over the weekend toward Herat to meet a convoy there and were expected to reach the Soviet border Wednesday or Thursday.
Pravda said Soviet troops had by Sunday removed defensive checkpoints on the Sa-lang Highway to about 50 miles north of Kabul at the end of a tunnel that cuts through some of the roughest terrain on the withdrawal route.
Pravda said insurgents did not fire on Soviet convoys on the highway, the only land route to the Soviet border from Kabul. But four avalanches crashed down on retreating columns Sunday, killing three Soviet soldiers and injuring a fourth, the paper said.
Three officers were also injured by "terrorist grenades" in a Kabul suburb Sunday as the Soviets handed over motor vehicles to the Afghans, the newspaper said.
In the Soviet border city of Ter-mez, where a Soviet airborne regiment arrived from Afganistan on Monday, military spokesman Lt. Col. Igor Korolev said the last remaining Red Army soldiers were on the move toward the border.
He said Soviet soldiers were moving out of Balkh, Samangan, Baglan, Parvan and Herat provinces.
The troops of the 350th Parachute Regiment were greeted by thousands of residents, servicemen and relatives as they roared across the Friendship Bridge over the Amu River into Termez. The unit had been stationed in Afghanistan since 1984.
Along the road behind the Kabul airport, meanwhile, several Soviet soldiers manned bunker checkpoints, nervously clutching rifles.
Andrei, a 20-year-old soldier from Moldavia, said the troops would be flown home sometime before Feb. 15. He said they had not been told exactly when.
Tass on Monday reported that heavy shelling by guerrillas in Kabul province killed eight people. It said one person was killed and two wounded in shelling in the cities of Gardiz and Khost in Paktia province.
Rockets and rocket-propelled grenades also hit residential areas in the city of Herat and the airport in the southern city of Kandahar, Tass said.
With the Soviet pullout, those cities are held by the conscript army of President Najib, a force guerrilla commanders say is demoralized and crippled by desertion.
The highest-ranking French diplomat in Kabul, Charge d'Affaires Raymond Petit, his wife and three Austrian diplomats left the capital Monday for New Delhi. Also on the flight were relatives of Yugoslav, East German and Vietnamese diplomats.
Shevardnadze said his talks in Pakistan failed because insurgents re-fuse to share power with Najib. He told a news conference that Moscow would continue to support the Kabul government.
"If new complications happen, if there is continued fighting, the Soviet Union has obligations to that country," he said. However, the Soviet envoy added, "We are not thinking of any Soviet re-entry into Afghanistan."
The Soviet Union sent troops into Afghanistan in December 1979 to replace one Marxist regime with another and stayed to help fight the U.S.- and Pakistani-backed insurgents. The Kremlin says more than 13,000 Soviet troops were killed and 35,000 wounded in the conflict.