A Soviet media official confirmed Thursday that 12,000 to 15,000 Soviet soldiers died in Afghanistan during the Kremlin's more than eight years of military involvement in that country's civil war.
Eduard Rosental, a political observer for the government news agency Novosti, confirmed a recent report by the Paris-based Agence France-Presse news service that 12,000 to 15,000 Soviets had been killed in Afghanistan.Rosental's comment during a news conference to discuss Afghanistan's history was believed to be the first time a Soviet official has approximated the death toll from the Soviet intervention.
He had been asked by a reporter how many soldiers had died in the war.
He reviewed various Western media assessments, including the AFP report, and said: "I think the figures cited by Agence France-Presse are more or less correct, but you can obtain more correct figures from our military men."
Gennady I. Gerasimov, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, has promised to bring high-ranking military officials to a news conference soon to discuss the war's costs in more detail, Rosental said.
A Soviet-inspired revolution in April 1978 brought a Marxist leadership to power in Afghanistan. The Kremlin sent troops and tanks in December 1979 to help the allied Kabul government fight U.S.-backed Moslem rebels.
Under a U.N.-mediated accord signed in Geneva on April 14, the Soviets began pulling out their 115,000 troops from Afghanistan on Sunday and are expected to complete the withdrawal within nine months.
Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard A. Shevardnadze said after the signing ceremonies in Geneva that his government would release casualty figures once the pullout began.
No date for the Gerasimov military press conference has been announced yet.
A U.S. State Department report released in December estimated the total number of Soviet casualties in Afghanistan since 1979 at "at least 33,000 to 38,000, more than one-third of whom were killed."
That would make the number of men killed in combat between 11,000 and 12,700, or more. "Those estimates do not include heavy losses to disease," the State Department report added.
The report said disease is rampant among the Soviet troops, particularly dysentery and hepatitis caused by poor hygiene.
If the death figures mentioned by Rosental are correct, then the Soviet Union suffered far fewer losses in Afghanistan than the United States did in the Vietnam War.