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New Faces in Afghanistan

Inside the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan and the Seizure of Kabul, December 1979

By Alexander Antonovich Liakhovsky

Translations by Gary Goldberg and Artemy Kalinovsky January 2007

The situation in Afghanistan following the events of September 13-16 of this year, as the result of which Taraki was removed from power and then physically destroyed, remains extremely complicated.

In the efforts to strengthen Amin in power, along with such superficial gestures like the beginning of the reworking of the draft of the constitution and the liberation of some of the people who had been arrested earlier, in fact the scale of repressions in the Party, army, state apparat and civic organizations has widened. He is clearly pursuing the removal from power of practically all eminent figures of the Party and government whom he views as his real or potential enemies.

According to information which we have, at the present time the execution of a group of Politburo members (Zeray, Misak, Panjshiri) who are subject to fictitious accusations of "anti-Party and counter-revolutionary activity," is planned. At the plenum of the CC PDPA which took place recently, Amin introduced into the ruling organs of the Party people who are more devoted to him, including a number of his relatives.

These actions of Amin led to a further aggravation of the split in the PDPA, the liquidation of the healthy nucleus in the Party, and the weakening of its influence on the social and political life of the country. They are even distracting the leaders of the country from solving the urgent problem of building a new society and from the fight against the internal counterrevolution. Moreover, although at the present time the military situation in Afghanistan has somewhat stabilized, there are no grounds to think that the rebels have rejected attempts at overthrowing the government by force.

Amin’s actions are provoking growing unrest among progressive forces. If earlier the members of the “Parcham” faction spoke against him, now the supporters of the “Khalq” faction and individual representatives of the government bureaucracy, the army, intelligentsia, and youth have also joined them. This has generated mistrust on the part of Amin, who is looking for way to step up repression, which will narrow the social base of the regime to an even greater degree. A considerable part of the population of the country is taking a watchful and expectant position in regard to the new leadership and the measures they are taking. This also refers to the sentiments of army personnel.

Incoming warnings about the organization of contacts by Amin with representatives of the right-wing Muslim opposition and the leaders of tribes hostile to the government are suspicious. In the course of [these contacts] he displays a readiness to settle with them about the cessation of armed combat against the present government under “compromise” conditions, which are actually to the detriment of the progressive development of the country.

Recently there have been noted signs of the fact that the new leadership of Afghanistan intends to conduct a more "balanced policy" in relation to the Western powers. It is known, in particular, that representatives of the USA, on the basis of their contacts with the Afghans, are coming to a conclusion about the possibility of a change in the political line of Afghanistan in a direction which is pleasing to Washington.

Amin’s conduct in the area of relations with the USSR ever more distinctly exposes his insincerity and duplicity. In words he and those closest to him are in favor of a further expansion of collaboration with the Soviet Union in various fields, but in fact they permit actions which run counter to the interests of this collaboration. Outwardly agreeing with the recommendations of Soviet representatives, including about the issue of preserving unity in the PDPA and DRA leadership, and declaring readiness to strengthen friendship with the USSR, in practice Amin does not only not take steps to put a stop to anti-Soviet sentiments but he himself actually encourages such sentiments. In particular, at his initiative a story is being spread about the supposed involvement of Soviet representatives in “making an attempt” on him during the 13-16 September events. Amin and his closest circle do not stop at slanderous inventions about the participation of Soviet representatives in repressive actions being conducted in Afghanistan.

 Thus in the person of Amin we have to deal with a power-hungry leader who is distinguished by brutality and treachery. In conditions of organizational weakness of the PDPA and the ideological immaturity [nezakalennost’] of its members the danger is not precluded that, thanks to the preservation of his personal power, Amin might change the political orientation of the regime.

At the same time, judging from everything, Amin  understands that the domestic and foreign difficulties of advancing the Afghan revolution, the geographic factor, and the dependence of Afghanistan in providing for the daily requirements of the army and the economy, dictates an objective interest of the Afghan leadership in maintaining and developing comprehensive Afghan- Soviet relations. Amin’s understanding of the fact that at this stage he cannot do without Soviet support and aid will give us the capability to exercise a certain restraining influence on him.

In the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan and in the Afghan army healthy forces have been preserved who express serious concern about the developing situation in the country, which could lead to a loss of the gains of the April 1978 Revolution. However, these forces are disunited and are essentially in an illegal position.

Taking account of this and starting from the necessity of doing everything possible not to allow the victory of counter-revolution in Afghanistan or the political reorientation of H. Amin towards the West, it is considered expedient to hew to the following line:

1. Continue to work actively with Amin and overall, with the current leadership of the PDPA and the DRA, not giving Amin grounds to believe that we don't trust him and don't wish to deal with him. Use the contacts with Amin to assert appropriate influence and simultaneously to expose further his true intentions.

2. Proceeding from our common policy regarding Amin at this stage and considering his repeatedly expressed desire to make an official or working visit to Moscow to meet with L. I. Brezhnev and other Soviet leaders we ought to give him a favorable reply in principle without, however, giving specific times for his visit right now.

3. Constantly direct Amin’s attention to the need to maintain collective leadership, the norms of party life and law and order, and the inadmissibility of continuing unjustified repressions of Party, military, and other personnel.

4. Through the channels of all Soviet institutions in Afghanistan intensify the study of the situation in the country and also of the leading figures of the Party and government apparatus and the command staff of the army and security agencies. In conversations with people who are well- disposed toward the USSR and concerned for the fate of the April Revolution, do not create the impression that we approve of everything that is going on right now in Afghanistan and do not put such people off. At the same time avoid open criticism of one or another actions of the present Afghan leadership in order not to give Amin and his supporters grounds to accuse us of interference in [their] internal affairs.

5. Military aid is to be given to Afghanistan in limited quantities right now. Considering the real situation in the country and the need for future combat operations to be waged against the rebels, continue deliveries of small arms, spare parts, and the minimally necessary amount of ammunition and auxiliary military equipment. Consider the request of the Afghan leadership for delivery of light small arms for the DRA people’s militia favorably. Hold off for now on deliveries of heavy weapons and military equipment, especially as there is no real need for them right now, but it is inadvisable to create excess reserves of such weapons and ammunition in Afghanistan.

6. The Soviet subunits located in Afghanistan (communications centers, the parachute battalion, the fixed-wing and helicopter transport squadrons) and also the Soviet institutions’ security detachment are to continue to perform the assigned missions.

 7. In the area of economic cooperation we should adhere to a policy of fulfilling current obligations according to signed agreements. However we should approach all new requests coming from Amin to give economic and financial aid, including delivery of petroleum products, food, and industrial goods, very cautiously and decide these questions considering our capabilities and the actual needs of the Afghan side, not allowing them to create long-term reserves at our expense.

8. Our advisers located in Afghanistan on behalf of the Ministry of Defense, KGB, and other Soviet ministries and agencies should remain there and carry out the missions assigned to them earlier. However, taking into account that Amin insistently pursues the point of “equal responsibility” of Afghan officials and Soviet representatives for the work of the corresponding Afghan agencies, the participation of Soviet representatives and advisers in measures of the Afghan side should be precluded which could cast a shadow on the Soviet Union.

Requests of the Afghan side to send additional Soviet advisers of one or another specialty should be carefully weighed and be granted only in those cases when this would correspond with our interests.

9. Continue the practice of mutual consultations and exchanges of opinions with Amin and other DRA representatives on questions of foreign policy with the idea of explaining our position on specific issues and also revealing the intentions of the Afghan side in foreign affairs. In necessary cases and in an appropriate form let Amin know of our disapproving attitude of his playing up to the West.

At the same time, though diplomatic and also through special channels, continue to take measures against the interference of other countries, particularly neighboring [countries], in its internal affairs.

10. In the Soviet press they should limit themselves mainly to reports of a factual nature about what is going on in Afghanistan, describing only favorably the measures of the Afghan government which facilitate a deepening of Soviet-Afghan cooperation, consolidate the gains of the April Revolution, and develop the DRA along the path of progressive socioeconomic reforms.

11. The Soviet Embassy in Kabul, the USSR Committee for State Security [KGB], the Ministry of Defense, and the CPSU CC International Department are to study the policy and practical activities of H. Amin and his circle regarding Afghan internationalists, patriots, and also personnel who have undergone training in the Soviet Union and socialist countries; the reactionary Muslim clergy and tribal leaders; and the foreign policy ties of Afghanistan with the West, particularly with the US…

Upon the availability of facts bearing witness to the beginning of a turn by H. Amin in an anti-Soviet direction, introduce supplemental proposals about measures from our side.

A draft decree is attached.

We request this be considered.

A. Gromyko (MID), Yu. Andropov (KGB), D. Ustinov (MO) , B. Ponomarev (CC CPSU) 29 November 1979

This document was signed by Gromyko, KGB Chairman Yuriy Andropov, Ustinov, and CC CPSU International Department head Boris Ponomarev. Such a combination was not accidental. In fact in the 1970s, in connection with Leonid Brezhnev’s illness, such a government power structure was formed when these people dealt with all foreign policy problems at the highest level. They prepared proposals and submitted them for the consideration of the CC CPSU Politburo. In addition, all these people were members of the CC CPSU Politburo Commission on Afghanistan.

What was the mechanism of operation? Usually the rough drafts were made by representatives of these four ministries who prepared proposals for their ministers. For secondary issues no meetings were held. If the problem was important then Gromyko, Andropov, Ustinov, and Ponomarev met together, inviting everyone who was attending to [ispolnyal] the materials, and worked out a common policy. When issues of special importance were decided, as a rule the Chief of the General Staff (Nikolay Ogarkov or his [first] deputy Sergey Akhromeyev), deputies to the Minister of Foreign Affairs (for example, Georgiy Korniyenko) or of the KGB Chairman (let’s say, Vladimir Kryuchkov), were present, reporting the proposals of the corresponding ministries and agencies.

The leaders themselves then exchanged opinions and gave instructions, – such as changes in the documents which had been prepared. Then, depending on the substance and the importance of the problem, they were signed in turn and were sent to the CC Secretariat in the form of a CC CPSU note. The proposals were then examined at a CC CPSU Politburo meeting and the final decisions concerning them were made. That’s exactly how the decision to deploy troops in Afghanistan was done, although there were several peculiarities. The system being used, it would seem, would maximally consider the opinions of all parties and rely on the arguments and suggestions of various agencies. However, the analytic critiques and conclusions submitted by the corresponding agencies often turned out to be useless. The problem was that many leaders, including CC CPSU Politburo members, having their own views regarding the solution of one or another problem, always tried to “see which way the wind was blowing” by trying to find out Brezhnev’s opinion ahead of time, tailoring their opinions to him, and often ignoring the recommendations of analysts and experts. Such a flawed practice led to fatal mistakes.

At the beginning of December 1979, Andropov wrote a letter to Brezhnev in which he assessed the situation in the DRA as critical, proposing steps to defend Soviet interests. Obviously, his letter gave a new impetus to the critical analysis of the issue of the need for the deployment of troops in Afghanistan. 7

The note said, in part, that after Amin’s military coup in September and the killing of Taraki the situation in Afghanistan had taken a turn undesireable for the USSR. A difficult situation had developed in the party, the army, and the government apparatus, since they had essentially been destroyed through mass repressions carried out by Amin. At the same time troubling information had started to emerge regarding his secret activities, giving evidence that a political turn to the west was possible. Amin’s alleged contacts with an American agent, kept secret from Soviet representatives, were particularly worrisome, as were his promises to Pushtun tribal leaders to change the one-sided political orientation toward the USSR and to conduct “neutral politics” as well as closed meetings where attacks on Soviet policy and our officials, advisers, and specialists took place. According to Andropov the situation unfolding in Afghanistan created the danger of losing the gains of the April revolution within the borders of the country and a threat to the Soviet position in the DRA. It was also noted that the mood among the population was growing noticeably anti-Soviet and that at the moment there was no guarantee that Amin would not take steps toward the West in his aspiration to hold on to personal power. The note mentioned that a group of Afghan communists living abroad had come into contact with a USSR KGB representative. Through this contact Babrak Karmal and Assadula Sarvari informed the KGB that they had developed a plan to counteract Amin, create a new party and government organs. Amin, however, took preventive measures, which included the mass arrest of “suspected individuals” (300 people) many of whom were shot. Under these circumstances Karmal and Sarvari raised the question of possible Soviet aid, including military assistance. Andropov found it expedient to conduct the operation, the goal of which was to provide such aid, by using the forces and resources Soviet of the Defense Ministry and the KGB already in the country. In his view, this was enough for a successful operation. Nevertheless, as a precautionary measure against any unforseen complications, he proposed creating a military group near the Afghan border. In the event of an escalation of military forces this group could settle certain issues and actively enter battle against armed bands. In Andropov’s opinion, conducting such an operation would facilitate the settling of all questions regarding the defense of the April revolution, the establishment of Leninist principals in the party and the government leadership of the DRA, and defending Soviet interests in that country.

It seems that the note gave a new impulse for considering the introduction of Soviet troops on Afghan territory. It was considered at a meeting of the CC CPSU Politburo and corresponding decisions were taken.

According to certain information, Ustinov told Andropov in the library, “You’re quite the adventurist, Yura.”

7 For the text, see CWIHP Bulletin 8/9, pg. 57.

 It needs to be said that the strategic situation in this region at the end of the 1970s had not developed in the Soviet Union’s favor. The March 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, the electoral defeat of Indian Prime Minister Gandhi, the military coup in Iraq, the Islamic Revolution in Iran, the resignation of the center-left Ecevit government in Turkey…All this considerably weakened Soviet positions in the Near and Middle East. The possibility of losing an Afghanistan “which had started on the socialist path of development” was taken very badly. They tried to prevent such a turn of events.

In the assessments of Soviet analysts, events in the DRA had become part of a world revolutionary process. It was recommended that the USSR leadership not allow the export of counterrevolution and help the healthy forces of Afghanistan defend their revolutionary gains. Such a position harmonized with the moods of the Soviet leaders. The possibility of having a reliable ally on their southern borders tied to the Soviet Union by a common ideology and interests seemed too tempting.

At that time the leader of the “Parcham” wing, Karmal, was assuring Soviet leaders that he enjoyed the support of a significant part of Afghan Party members and the population (as became clear later there was no support or it was insignificant), who were only waiting for him to show up in Afghanistan in order to act against Amin. Karmal claimed that he would be able to retain power in the country. It was proposed to him that he head the struggle to overthrown the Amin regime. He agreed and right away became a ward [opeka] of the KGB. Karmal promised complete loyalty and obedience…The truth ought to be noted that similar proposals were made to Khalqis (Zeray, Panjshiri, Misak), but they refused.

Meanwhile ever newer reports arrived from Kabul with a description of requests from H. Amin for the deployment of Soviet troops to the DRA. Not having received a favorable decision of the Soviet leadership for the deployment of troops to Kabul the CC PDPA General Secretary began to invite them into at least the northern provinces bordering the Soviet Union. He also did not oppose the deployment of just USSR MVD internal troops. In particular, having invited in Chief Military Adviser Magometov, on 2 December Amin declared that the rebels in Badakhshan were getting active aid from China and Pakistan and therefore he would request the Soviet government send one reinforced regiment to this province for a short time to help normalize the situation.


(Secret) (Urgent)

…On 2 December 1979 H. Amin called in the Chief Military Adviser [Magometrov] and announced that in conditions where the rebels in Badakhshan are getting active support from China and Pakistan and we have no opportunity to withdraw troops from the areas of combat operations I request the Soviet government send one reinforced regiment to this province for a short time to help normalize the situation.

At the conclusion of the conversation Cde. Amin requested that [I] transmit his request to the USSR Minister of Defense and said that he was ready to turn to L. I. Brezhnev about this issue…

2.12.79 Magometov

The next day Amin again told Magometov about the desirability of sending subunits of Soviet Internal Troops capable of keeping order in the northern regions together with the DRA people’s militia.


(Secret) (Urgent)

 …On 3 December there was a meeting with H. Amin. During the conversation H. Amin said: “We intend to send part of the personnel and weapons of the 18th and 20th divisions (from Mazari-Sharif and Baghlan) to form people’s militia subunits. In this case, instead of the of regular Soviet troops into the DRA, it is better to send Soviet militia subunits which together with our people’s militia could ensure and restore order in the northern regions of the DRA.”

4.12.1979 Magometov

[Translator’s note: The above telegrams are also found in Lyakhovskiy’s “Tragediya i Doblest’ Afgana”, previously translated].

On 4 December Lt. Gen. Vadim Kirpichenko, a deputy chief of the USSR KGB’s First Main Directorate, was sent to Kabul. He flew on a military transport aircraft from Chkalovskiy Airfield north of Moscow to Bagram with a group of officers of the Airborne Forces Operations Group headed by Deputy Commanding General of the Airborne Forces Lieutenant-General Nikolay Gus’kov. In Kirpichenko’s pocket was a diplomatic passport in the name of Petr Nikolayev. He had been given special authority since he had been appointed the senior chief to prepare the operation in Kabul to remove Amin from power. According to Kirpichenko, he never had to show this passport.

Brezhnev decides to save “people’s” power

The decision to deploy Soviet troops to Afghanistan to support an operation to remove Amin from power was made after long hesitation and an analysis of the unfolding situation. It was not impulsive, but many factors were not considered all the same.

Having arrived in Kabul on the morning of 5 December Kirpichenko met with the senior KGB representative General Ivanov and they assigned responsibilities. He also informed Chief Military Adviser General Magometov of the planned operation to remove Amin from power.

On 6 December a decision was made at a CC CPSU Politburo meeting: considering the develop situation and Amin’s request, send a detachment to Afghanistan of about 500 men from the General Staff’s Main Intelligence Directorate in uniforms which would not reveal an affiliation with the Soviet armed forces. It was proposed to transport them in military transport aviation aircraft in the first half of December.

Top Secret8 Special Folder

to Cdes. Brezhnev, Andropov, Gromyko, Suslov, and Ustinov

Extract From Protocol No. 176 of the Meeting of the CC CPSU Politburo of 6 December 1979

About the dispatch of a special detachment to Afghanistan

Agree with the proposal on this issue set forth in the note of the KGB USSR and the Ministry of Defense of 4 December 1979. No. 312/2/0073 (attached).



Top Secret9 Special File

8 APRF, f. 89, per. 25, d. 1

9 Ibid. As cited in A. A. Lyakhovskiy, The Tragedy and Valor of the Afghani (Moscow: GPI “Iskon”, 1995), p. 107.

 to the CC CPSU

The Chairman of the Revolutionary Council, General Secretary of the CC PDPA, and  Prime Minister of the DRA H. Amin recently has insistently been raising the issue of the necessity of sending to Kabul of a motorized rifle battalion for defense of his residence.

Taking account of the situation as it has developed and the request, H. Amin considers it expedient to sent to Afghanistan the detachment of the GRU of the General Staff which has been prepared for these goals, with a complement of about 500 men, in a uniform which does not reveal its belonging to the Armed Forces of the USSR. The possibility of sending this detachment to the DRA was envisioned by the decision of the CC CPSU Politburo

of 06.29.79 No. P 156/IX.

Regarding the fact that issues related to the sending of the detachment to Kabul have been agreed with the Afghan side, we propose that it is possible to drop it in on airplanes of military transport aviation during the first half of December of this year. Cde. Ustinov, D.F. is in agreement.

Yu. Andropov, N. Ogarkov

No. 312/2/0073

4 December 1979

On the same day a meeting was held in Washington between national security advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski and the Soviet Ambassador to the US Anatoliy Dobrynin at which they discussed the question of the ratification of the SALT-II treaty. Brzezinski anticipated that the treaty would be ratified in March 1980. They also discussed the prospects for Soviet-American cooperation: SALT-III, a visit to the US by Leonid Brezhnev in July 1980, a reduction in medium-range missiles…Not a word was said about Afghanistan. At the beginning of December, Margaret Thatcher paid a visit to the White House to coordinate the positions of Great Britain and the US at the December session of NATO where the issue of the stationing of American medium-range missiles in Europe targeted against the Soviet Union would be decided.

After the conclusion of the training of the “Muslim” battalion, Col. Kolesnik was recalled to Moscow and went to work performing his daily duties. In accordance with the CC CPSU Politburo decision of 6 December the personnel and combat equipment of the “Muslim” battalion (520 men) were transported to Afghanistan on Military Transport Aviation aircraft on 9 and 10 December, to Bagram airfield. They were all dressed in Afghan uniforms, outwardly indistinguishable from local servicemen. This uniform had been sewn from samples sent through military intelligence channels.

Soviet Ambassador Tabeyev informed Amin that his requests to send two Soviet battalions to reinforce the security of the residence of the head of state and Bagram airfield had been carried out. At the same time he informed him that the Soviet leadership was ready to receive him in Moscow on an official visit…

Meanwhile in Moscow officials increasingly calculated that without Soviet troops it would be difficult to create the conditions for the removal of Amin from power, if this were even possible; it was risky to count on domestic opposition alone. Where were the guarantees that the Afghan army would accept and support Karmal? And even if he managed to seize power, could he fight off the attacks of the armed opposition, whose resistance was growing constantly?

The leadership was leaning more and more to the opinion that without Soviet troops it would be difficult to create the conditions for removing Amin. Even if such a thing were possible, the leadership believed, it would be risky to rely solely on internal opposition. Where was the guarantee that the Afghan army would support Karmal? And even if he successfully seized power, would he be able to repel the attacks of the armed opposition? The resistance was constantly growing.

Behind the scenes there was great fuss regarding the decision to introduce troops onto Afghan territory. The leadership of the general staff tried to explain to Ustinov the situation in Afghanistan and measures for stabilizing it.

V. I. Varennikov, at that time the First Deputy Chief of the General Staff and Chief of the Main Operational Directorate, wrote:

 Feeling that the leadership of the country was at the threshold of changing their decision regarding the introduction of troops into Afghanistan, the Chief of the General Staff N.V.Ogarkov made a last attempt to convince the Minister of Defense D.F. Ustinov not to do it. In connection with this he invited S.F. Ahromeev and myself and informed us that he would like, in our presence, to state the inexpediency of such a move and to substantiate [his claim.] If necessary, we were to support him. When we came to Ustinov’s office he was with the head of the Main Political Directorate A.A.Epishev. Nikolai Vasiilevich [Ogarkov] presented for a long time, trying to substantiate the inexpediency of such a move and to convince Ustinov of this. At the end of Ogarkov’s presentation the minister did not comment, but only ask Epishev, “Aleksey Alekseyevich, do you have any questions?” The head of the MPD responded: “No I don’t have any questions. The General Staff always have their own special opinion.” Ustionv noted: “This is true. But I will take the opinion of the General Staff into account.” I supported Ogarkov: “Comrade Minister of Defense, we feel that this is the last chance.” Ahromeev was quiet. As we were leaving, Ogarkov once again turned to Ustinov: “Dmitiry Fedorovich, we’re really counting on you.”

According to the information of the Soviet Embassy in Kabul of that period:

The Afghan opposition has considerably expanded its social base, strengthened its ranks, and created a base of operations on Pakistani territory. Anti-government uprisings have taken place as a result of the counterrevolution’s influence on the personnel of a number of garrisons, predominantly those far from headquarters. For examples, mutinies occurred in the 30th Mountain Infantry Regiment (Asmar), the 36th Infantry [Regiment] (Naray), the 18th Infantry [Regiment] (Khowst), and other units which were isolated from their superior headquarters and which have received no support for a long time…The appearance of new IOA and IPA formations has been noted in the provinces of Kunar, Nangarhar, Laghman, Paktia, Kapisa, Ghazni, Zabol, Kandahar, Ghowr, Badghis, Bamian, and Herat. About 70% of Afghan territory in which more than 10 million people live is under opposition control (or outside government control), practically the entire rural population…

Moreover the fierce struggle in the Afghan leadership on the issue of the attitude toward the army led to considerable disorder in the DRA armed forces. The constant personnel shakeups, purges, repressions, and the forced conscription of youth into the army substantially undermined the cohesion and combat effectiveness of the troops. The Afghan army ended up considerably weaker and, from Amin’s statements, was not in a condition to defend the ruling regime and the sovereignty of the country by itself. However the main reason for the deployment of Soviet troops was not due to the situation in the DRA. It was of a different nature.

The memoirs of Academician Yevgeniy Chazov shed light on many circumstances. He wrote in his 1992 book Zdorov’ye i Vlast (“Health and Power”):

When now voices are sometimes heard, including from the former leadership, that the Politburo and CC CPSU were not informed about the true state of Brezhnev’s health, this is not even clever nor a subterfuge but a “white lie”. For those who knew and came to terms with the situation need to justify their silence and inaction somehow. Yes, to be quite honest, what could they have done? At that time all power was in the hands of “Brezhnev’s group” and this situation suited those in the leadership who were not in this group for they preserved their position and their future with an impotent Brezhnev….This also concerns the issue of the beginning of the Afghan war which is very painful for our country.

I am not familiar with the details of the preparation for and the carrying out of the invasion of Afghanistan by our troops. If one believes some of the mass media then just four people – Ustinov, Gromyko, Andropov, and Tikhonov [SIC] – prepared and carried out this invasion and no one in the leadership or the CC knew what such an act… was to be. But…the members of the country’s leadership and CC members were constantly informed of the situation in Afghanistan.

Hundreds of our representatives, including Party advisers, KGB officials, and military intelligence officers, had collected extensive material and submitted it to Moscow.

For me the Afghan events began earlier than the deployment of our troops to Afghanistan.

They began in the period when, on Amin’s order, the head of the Party (PDPA) and state, Taraki “was removed” by his brother Abdullah (the head of the Afghan security service) himself or at the hands of one of his people…

In spite of the reduction of his mental acuity [sposobnost’ kriticheskoye vospriyatiye], Brezhnev dealt with this event vigorously. Most of all he was indignant that back on 10 September, not long before these events, he had received Taraki, promised him aid and support… “What scum Amin is: you smother a man with whom you participated in a revolution. Who’s the leader of the Afghan revolution?” – he said during a meeting – “And what will they say in other countries? Can they really believe Brezhnev’s word if his assurances of support and protection remain [just] words?” Andropov spoke to me in approximately the same spirit as Brezhnev had spoken in his presence and in Ustinov’s presence. These comments of Brezhnev hardly played the role of catalyst in the invasion of Afghanistan but…after these events preparations for an invasion began…

At that time I often had to meet with Andropov and never in all our 17 years of acquaintanceship had I see him in such tension. It seems to me that right before the deployment of Soviet troops in Afghanistan he had, in contrast to Ustinov, periods of lack of confidence and even bewilderment. But he trusted his sources of information very much…However everything happened the other way around, despite the information – the deployment of troops aggravated the situation…

Recalling the period before the invasion of Afghanistan by Soviet troops and the turn of events, I am confident that the decision about beginning the Afghan war was the work of many people and the assertion that only a narrow group in the leadership of the country knew is a myth…31

In my view, the key factor in the memoirs of the academician is the phrase of the CC CPSU General Secretary after the murder of N. M. Taraki: “Can they really believe Brezhnev’s word if his assurances of support and protection remain [just] words?” And in Gromyko’s opinion, the murder of Taraki produced an additional aggravation of the situation, from a government which was requesting aid. This bloody act shocked the Soviet leadership.

Brezhnev in particular took his death especially badly. Without question, the CC CPSU General Secretary expressed his dissatisfaction to Andropov, who had promised, but could not ensure, the security of Taraki, which put Brezhnev in an extremely awkward situation before the entire world. Accordingly, the KGB Chairman “pressured” his officials and they quickly began to work out alternatives to rectify the resulting situation. Stories appeared about Amin’s involvement with the CIA, the external threat to the DRA from Pakistan and Iran, the penetration of Islamic extremism into Soviet Central Asian republics, the intentions of the US to place American SIGINT equipment and several types of missiles in Afghanistan if pro-Western forces came to power there…[Translator’s note: the US lost two listening posts in northern Iran when Khomeini came to power]. Decisive steps were required in order to counter them. Thus, not so much the objective necessity as the personal factor played a key role in justifying the advisability of deploying Soviet troops to Afghanistan.

On 8 December a meeting was held in Brezhnev’s office (the so-called “Walnut Room”), in which a “narrow circle of people” took part – Andropov, Gromyko, Mikhail Suslov, and Ustinov. They discussed the situation for a long time and weighed the pros and cons of deploying of Soviet troops. As evidence for the need for such a step Andropov and Ustinov could cite: the efforts of the US CIA (particularly Paul Henze, the Chief of Station in Ankara) to create a “New Great Ottoman Empire” including the southern republics of the USSR; the lack of a reliable air defense system in the south and thus, in case American “Pershing” missiles were stationed in the DRA, many vitally important objects such as the Baykonur Cosmodrome would be placed in jeopardy; the possibility of the use of Afghan uranium deposits by Pakistan and Iran to create a nuclear weapons; the establishment of an opposition government in the northern regions of Afghanistan; the joining of this region to Pakistan…

As a result they decided to work out two options: remove Amin from power using the KGB’s capabilities and transfer power to Karmal; if this didn’t work, then send a certain number of troops to the DRA for these purposes.

On 10 December 1979, Ustinov informed Chief of the General Staff Marshal Nikolay Ogarkov that the CC CPSU Politburo had made a tentative decision to temporarily deploy Soviet troops to Afghanistan and assigned him the task of preparing about 75-80,000 troops. Ogarkov was very surprised at this information and said that such a number of troops would not stabilize the situation, that he opposed such a step, and that it was reckless. But the

 Minister stopped him abruptly and said, “What are you saying, are you going to teach the Politburo? Your job is to follow orders….”

The following day, December 11th, A.N. Kosygin, the Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the USSR, called Ogarkov and informed him that a decision was being prepared regarding the introduction of Soviet troops into Afghanistan. He asked his position regarding such a step. Ogarkov answered that his opinion was negative. Kosygin then asked him to convince Ustinov that this must not be done. Ogarkov summoned Gen. Varennikov and discussed this problem with him, and then called Ustinov and asked him to see him so that he could report on certain important documents. Having made his report, Ogarkov once again tried to state his position regarding the introduction of troops into Afghanistan, but Ustinov rejected this and even started screaming “Are you going to teach the Politburo? You must carry out orders. You’re always building intrigues! You’re systematically sabotaging my decisions! And now  you are unhappy with what the country’s leadership is preparing. What gets decided in the Politburo is none of your business. Your business is the staff…” Ogarkov objected, saying that the General Staff, being an organ of the Supreme Command, cannot stand aside when it is making such fateful decisions for the country. This irritated Ustinov even more, and he started to accuse the General Staff of all possible sins, and Ustinov told Ogarkov that he will talk to him no longer and went into the relaxation room. Although their relations had been “cool” even before that, this, essentially was the final break. After this conversation with Ustinov, Ogarkov called Kosygin and the first Deputy Foreign Minister G.M. Kornienko and informed them of Ustinov’s position, saying that it had not been possible to change his mind.

That same day Ogarkov was suddenly called into Brezhnev’s office, where the “small Politburo” was meeting. As Varennikov related to me, before going to this meeting, they spent a long time discussing the position that Ogarkov should take regarding the question of introducing troops into Afghanistan. It was agreed that he would assert until the very last the opinion that such a move was inexpedient. As an alternative it was decided to propose the introduction of small sub-divisions into the DRA to protect certain objects. With that he left for the Kremlin. Ogarkov, now in Brezhnev’s presence, tried once again to convince the Politburo members that the problem needed to be solved politically, not relying of force. He referred to the Afghan tradition of resistance against foreigners on their land, warning about the probability of our troops being pulled into military activity, but all of this turned out to be in vain. “We will pit all of eastern Islam against us,” Ogarkov said. “and we will lose politically in the entire world.” But he was sharply interrupted by Andropov: “Mind your own business! Politics will be taken care of by us, the party, Leonid Ilyich!” Ogarkov tried to protest, “I am the head of the General Staff.” Andropov once again stopped him: “And nothing more. You were invited here not so that we could hear your opinion, but so that you could take down the instructions of the Politburo and organize their implementation.” The KGB Chairman was supported by Politburo members Gromyko, Chernenko, Suskov, Ustinov, and Kirillenko. Finally Brezhnev had his word: “It follows that we should support Yuri Vladimirovich [Andropov].” It was then that Ogarkov formed the opinion that the decision had already been discussed and decided upon ahead of time, and that his efforts were in vain.

At the end of the conversation, it was agreed that for now the final decision would not be made regarding the immediate introduction of troops, but that the troops would prepare just in case. Ustinov took this as a directive to begin acting…

[Translator’s note: the last half of this paragraph appears in Lyakhovskiy’s “Plamya Afgana”, previously translated for CWIHP].

At the conclusion of the conversation it was decided there would be no decision about immediate military aid but that troops would be readied in any event. The military would be subjected to criticism in the era of glasnost but they could not display firmness in the defense of their views. The truth is, none of the officials even took responsibility for the consequences of the political decision about the entry of Soviet troops into the DRA...

Sensing that things were taking an undesireable turn, Ogarkov made sure that he had the support of Ahromeev and Varrenikov. Having prepared a written report on the Afghani problem, Ogarkov then went with them  to try once again to change Ustinov’s mind. As Varennikov would later recall:

Ogarkov invited Ahromeev and myself to his office and allowed us to familiarize ourselves with the report prepared for the minister of defense which analyzed the situation in Afghanistan and surrounding it, as well as our suggestions. [We were asked to] sign it. I remember that the report stated that the General staff believes: that it would be possible to refrain from introducing Soviet troops onto the territory of sovereign Afghanistan, which was consistent with the decision made earlier by the leadership of the USSR and would allow [the USSR] to avoid heavy political, economic, social and military consequences. We also signed the report and went to the minister of defense. When we came into Ustinov’s office, Ogarkov said that we had prepared the report together in his name and handed it to [Ustinov.] Dimitry Fedorovich [Ustinov] started to read slowly, making notes in the margins. I thought that his reaction would be turbulent, but Ustinov was outwardly calm, although intuitively we sensed his internal tension. Having finished reading, the minister took some [корочки] from his table and put two sheets of the report in them. He signed at the top of the first sheet, saying “this is for you, for the prosecutor.” He then closed the files, calmly returned the report to Ogarkov and said “You’re too late. The decision has already been made.” Ogarkov tried to protest once again: “Dimitry Fedorovich, the General Staff knows nothing about this. Our actions could be seen all over the world as expansionism.” “Once again I’m telling you that the decision has already been made. Therefore instead of discussing the actions of the Politburo you should be carrying out the decision Ustinov said agitatedly and made it clear that the conversation was over. We left the office and went back [to our offices.] Sergey Fedorovich Ahromeev stayed behind in the reception area. On the way Nikolay Vasilievich [Ogarkov] said to me “If the decision has been made, we need to prepare a directive.” Ogarkov went into his office (which was on the third floor – AL) and I went upstairs to the fifth floor. When I came into my office the telephone which was a direct line to the Chief of the General Staff rang: “ Valentin Ivanovich, while you were going upstairs I spoke with the minister – that is, he called me and ordered me to write a directive regarding the introduction of troops into Afghanistan. It seems that Sergey Fedorovich stayed behind to suggest to Ustinov’s assistance that such a document was needed. I will give the order to Abolins to write the draft of such a directive. You, also, should look at it and then come see me together.”

That evening Ustinov convened the Collegium of the USSR Defense Ministry and informed [them]: a decision will obviously be made in the near future concerning the use of Soviet troops in Afghanistan and an appropriate military force [gruppirovka] needed to be prepared. Directive Nº 312/12/00133 was urgently sent to the field. Beginning on 10 December Ustinov began to issue verbal orders to Ogarkov to form a new combined-arms army in the Turkestan Military District; prepare an airborne division, an independent airborne regiment, and five Military Transport Aviation divisions for an airborne landing operation; increase the combat readiness of two divisions in the Turkestan Military district; bring the pontoon bridge regiment in the Kiev Military District up to full strength and send it to the Termez region…Everything was done secretly and with cover stories [legendirovalos’].

On 10 December the Commander of the 108th Motorized Rifle Division Major-General Konstantin Kuz’min, en route to the “Krym” sanatorium, arrived in Tashkent where he remained in a hospital, expecting to fly to Simferopol’ the next day. But he was unexpectedly called by the Commanding General of the Turkestan Military District General-Colonel Yuriy Maksimov and ordered to immediately return to the division.

The adviser to the Chief of the DRA Armed Forces Main Political Directorate Maj.-Gen. Vasiliy Zaplatin was urgently summoned from Kabul to Moscow on 10 December as a person who knew the state of affairs in the Afghan army thoroughly inasmuch as the new Chief Military Adviser, Magometov, was not yet sufficiently well acquainted with the situation in Afghanistan in a short period. He arrived at the Bagram airfield in the evening but he could not fly out that same day. The next day he first flew into Tashkent and then on to Moscow on another plane. He was taken right away to the office of the Chief of the Main Political Directorate of the Soviet Army and Navy, Army General Aleksey Yepishev, to whom Zaplatin reported in detail his perspective on the situation in the DRA and the Afghan army.

On the morning of 12 December Zaplatin was summoned to see Ustinov. Ogarkov and Yepishev were also there in his office. Having heard Zaplatin’s report, Ustinov left, but Ogarkov, Yepishev, and Zaplatin discussed the situation which had developed in Afghanistan for a long time. According to Zaplatin, Ogarkov spoke consistantly against the deployment of Soviet troops to Afghanistan.

 When Ustinov returned he again listened to Zaplatin’s report and then showed him a cable from a folder signed by the KGB representative and gave it to the general to read. In the estimation of the KGB representative the situation in the DRA was approaching a critical point. Having read it, Zaplatin said that he would not have put his signature to this report. Ustinov asked, “Why?” He replied that the authors of the cable overdramatized the situation in the Afghan army. The minister said: “You there can’t agree but we here have to make a decision.” Then Ustinov added, ‘You are evaluating the situation in Afghanistan incidentally but they are answering for it with their heads.” Zaplatin said that he knew the sources of information the representatives of the special services were using, they did not inspire confidence, and therefore everything needed to be re-checked, but Ustinov replied – “It’s too late.” Zaplatin did not understand these words then and only much later did it become known to him that it was at a CC CPSU Politburo meeting, from which Ustinov had just come, that the decision to deploy troops to Afghanistan had been made.

Actually the information from various sources was very contradictory and the solutions proposed were polar opposites. Moreover there was an unwritten rule – send primarily that information which would suit the leadership, that was in harmony with its positions, and “guess” the information which corresponded to the leaders’ notions about one or another issue and confirmed their prescience. Often the initial information sifted through the “strainer” of various echelons changed to the point of being unrecognizable. This forced Moscow into a very difficult position.

Each department defended its own interests. Even so, politicians were obliged to hear out various opinions, analyze the situation deeply and from various angles, forecast the trend of developments of the military and political situation in the region and the world, and also consider the consequences of a deployment of troops and the reaction of the West. Only on this basis could the correct decision be made. But they chose another method – they were guided by old approaches and dogmas, although by that time the situation in the world had already changed to the detriment of the USSR.

This step was insufficiently supported at informational and propaganda levels. The reference to the troops being introduced at the request of the DRA government was a propaganda ploy. There indeed were about 20 such requests in all sent via Soviet representatives. Amin made seven of them even after he had removed Taraki. In addition, there were personal appeals to the Soviet leadership at summit meetings and during telephone conversations. However, if specialists on Afghanistan had earlier cast doubt on the existence of such requests, accusing the USSR of treacherously invading the territory of a sovereign state with its troops, they later recognized that there were such requests but they had no legal force and it was wrong to refer to them since “the Russians removed and killed everyone who had invited them there.” In this there is common sense and its own logic.

The decision of NATO foreign affairs and defense ministers at a meeting in Brussels on 12 December became the last drop tipping the scales in favor of the deployment of troops. They approved a scenario for stationing new American medium-range cruise and Pershing-2 missiles in Western Europe.

Information for reflection

From Brussels

The ministers of foreign affairs of the NATO countries in Brussels have approved a plan for stationing new medium-range missiles in Western Europe. The meeting was called exceptionally important and successful. According to the information, the US Secretary of State [Cyrus Vance] in particular stressed: “We have decided to implement a plan for the modernization of NATO nuclear forces.”

It was decided at the meeting that the US would produce cruise and Pershing-2 missiles.

Taken into service in Western Europe these missiles can hit Soviet territory. At the meeting attempts by the Soviet Union to convince NATO members to reject the stationing of these missiles were mentioned. The only country where this attempt was successful was the Netherlands, although there is information that they will submit their final decision in two years. Also, Belgium postponed consideration of this issue for six months. The remaining NATO members confirmed that any delay in implementing this plan is unacceptable.

from Rosen

The same day this information arrived the CC CPSU Politburo – rather its elite, Andropov, Ustinov, and Gromyko – unanimously made the final decision about the deployment of troops to Afghanistan. In their belief, after the NATO decision to station medium-range missiles in Europe aimed at the USSR there was nothing to lose…

There was a record of this meeting stored in a special folder of the CC CPSU written very allegorically in the handwriting of CC CPSU Secretary Konstantin Chernenko. In the document Afghanistan was designated by the letter “A” and the word “measures” meant the deployment of Soviet troops to the DRA and the removal of Hafizullah Amin from power. For a long time the record was supersecret and was kept in a special safe and only several in the highest leadership of the country were familiar with it. It clears up much about who was the initiator and the executor of the “measures”.


Chaired by Cde. L. I. Brezhnev

Present: Suslov M. A., Grishin V. V., Kirilenko A. P., Pel'she A. Ya., Ustinov D. F., Chernenko K. U., Andropov Yu. V., Gromyko A. A., Tikhonov N. A., Ponomarev B. N.

CC CPSU Decree Nº 176/125 of 12 December concerning the situation in "A"

1. Approve the ideas and measures set forth by Andropov Yu. V., Ustinov D.F., and Gromyko A. A. Authorize them to introduce amendments of non-essential nature in the course of the execution of these measures.

Questions requiring the decision of the CC should be expeditiously submitted to the Politburo. The implementation of all these measures is to be entrusted to Cdes. Andropov Yu. V., Ustinov D. F., and Gromyko A. A.

2. Charge Cdes. Andropov Yu. V., Ustinov D. F., and Gromyko A. A. to keep the CC Politburo informed on the status of the execution of the outlined measures.

CC Secretary L. Brezhnev

Nº 997 (1 page)

It is believed that this document is the CC CPSU Politburo resolution to introduce troops into the DRA. However, anyone who is remotely familiar with the process of preparing documents and their evaluation at CC CPSU Politburo meetings knows that there should also be a note with the suggestions of Andropov, Ustinov, and Gromyko. In fact, such a note does not exist. Is it possible that the resulting letter from Andropov or these suggestions were discussed orally by the Politburo? Judging by the fact that his name is first on the list [of speakers], it was Andropov who was the initiator of the discussion regarding the planned action in Afghanistan.

On the basis of these facts and the development of the situation in Afghanistan I will take a risk and offer another version: at this meeting the Politburo discussed questions raised in Andropov’s letter regarding the conduct of the operation to remove Amin using forces already in Afghanistan. If the operation had been conducted successfully it would not have been necessary to introduce Soviet troops into the DRA. However, the goals of the operation were not met. A telegram from Soviet representatives in Kabul stated that that it had not been possible to remove Amin using forces already in Afghanistan. It seems that after this the necessary corrections were made [to the plan] providing for the introduction of troops into Afghanistan to carry out a coup. It is possible that CC CPSU resolution No 176/125

10 [Translator’s note: an image of this decree with translation and source information can be found in CWHIP Bulletin, Fall 1994 p. 46]

 (dated December 12, 1979) was considered the basis for the realization of such a difficult step, and the order to introduce troops into the DRA was later given orally.

The record was signed by all CC CPSU Politburo members present at the meeting. No one then voted “against”. There was still a Stalinist syndrome in effect, the principle of mutual protection. Everyone wanted to keep his post and dissent or disagreement with the opinion of the General Secretary automatically expelled him from the CC CPSU.

One man has always ruled in Russia, as opposed to the US where the system ruled. As one Russian writer correctly noted, Russia is a country of masters and slaves because each master is in turn another’s slave according to an established hierarchy. For centuries regimes, rulers, dynasties, and ideologies changed but the principle of slaves and masters remained unchanged. In general it needs to be said that for all its long history, Russia was very rarely fortunate to have worthy rulers. Only a handful of them can be recalled with bowed head. Little changed in Soviet times. The CC CPSU General Secretary had authority and power of which even the czars did not dream. Everyone and everything was dependent on him. For example, at Stalin’s order the wives of several high Party functionaries (such as Molotov) were imprisoned and their husbands could not even say a word in defense of them. None of the services to the Fatherland of the outstanding military leader Marshal of the Soviet Union Georgiy Zhukov could save him from retirement when CC CPSU General Secretary Nikita Khrushchev desired it.

Kosygin, whose position regarding the deployment of troops to Afghanistan was negative, did not attend the decisive CC CPSU Politburo meeting. His signature is missing from the document. Soon he was sent into retirement. (He died in 1980.) This eliminates some of the interpretations regarding who made the decision. There is evidence, however, that the meeting of the CC CPSU Politburo never actually took place. When the decision had been made by a smaller group (Brezhnev, Andropov, Gromyko, Ustinov, Suslov, Chernenko) the other members were “asked” to sign it. That is, they found about [the decision] after the fact. According to Ponomarev, who was supposedly “present” at the CC CPSU Politburo meeting,

Gromyko later admitted that the decision had been made behind the scenes (kuluarno). How did they manage to do this without me when I was in charge of the International Department of the CC? No one asked my advice... Andropov played a big part. His people found Babrak Karmal in Czechoslovakia and prepared him to be the leader. Brezhnev had great trust in Andropov.

Thus many false rumors and different interpretations about who was responsible for this decision are eliminated. Although there is information that a CC CPSU Politburo meeting was generally not held, yet when the decision was made by a narrow body (Brezhnev, Andropov, Gromyko, Ustinov, Suslov, Chernenko), the remaining members of the Politburo were “asked” to sign it. The dates around the signatures of several Politburo members could be indirect evidence of this. And no one refused – they were afraid. But this is only one version.

The account of CC CPSU Secretary Leonid Zamyatin could serve as confirmation of this:

The four were convened. Brezhnev, Ustinov, Andropov, and Gromyko, with Chernenko as secretary. The decision was made there about the deployment of troops to Afghanistan. The materials of Yuriy Vladimirovich Andropov were used. How did the discussion go? I cannot say. There is nothing except the record which was handwritten by Chernenko…This is the first time in the history of the Politburo that a decision was handwritten and not typed.

This is what it was called – on the issue about “A”. [Translator’s note: In fact, the text reads: “K polozheniyu v ‘A’ (“Concerning the situation in ‘A’) not, as Zamyatin quotes, “K voprosu ob ‘A’.] The letter A in quotes. There were four points, one of them concerning the deployment of troops. Well, the formulation there was about the implementation of international aid, a limited contingent, and so forth. There were assurances from Ustinov that this was a temporary deployment of troops, for a maximum of three or four months, then we would withdraw them…

…There was a note of Andropov, very detailed, since there was a KGB group in Afghanistan headed by Boris Semenovich Ivanov, a special adviser and consultant to Andropov. His telegram was, so to say, one of the first calls [that] other methods of solving the Afghan problem were needed, for this letter said: if we don’t support Taraki right now with the use of force then we might lose Afghanistan; that is, Brzezinski’s theory – create a “green” underbelly below our Central Asian republics – would be realized.

 In the epoch of openness the military will be subject to groundless criticism for not having been firm in asserting their views and preventing the introduction of troops on Afghani territory. The initiative of the USSR KGB [in this matter] will gradually be forgotten. None of the higher party or government officials will deign to assume responsibility for the consequences of the political decision to introduce troops into Afghanistan and none of them will face any punishment.

The CC CPSU Politburo had embarked on such a difficult step although its members had not analyzed it themselves until the end: what revolution had they gathered to defend? In the estimation of the former chief of the KGB First Main Directorate Leonid Shebarshin: “The entire undertaking was prepared in a situation of such secrecy that there was simply no critical data analysis of the situation in Afghanistan, not only from the point of view of the factional intra-Party fighting or the fighting with the government, but also from the historic, national, religious, and ethnic points of view.” In my view, this decision was the result of opportunistic approaches to the situation in Afghanistan, mistakes, failures, and the fatal miscalculations of our special services and missions in Kabul, and also a superficial analysis of the situation and insufficient forecasting of the development of the situation in and around Afghanistan by analysts in Moscow, although it was based on the highest interests of the country.

If we assess the situation from today’s perspective a conclusion can be drawn: the transfer of power from the “Khalq” to “Parcham” did not substantially change the situation since both PDPA factions were not fundamentally distinct from one another at the theoretical level and neither had influence among or the support of the majority of the people. Objectively, the most suitable candidate for us capable of providing some stability in the country without bringing it to the point of civil war would possibly have been an influential, authoritative figure in Afghanistan not connected with the PDPA. But at that time such an alternative was not even considered; this would have been a seditious thought – a betrayal of the ideals of socialism…

Cables which later arrived from the DRA seemingly confirmed the correctness of the steps taken by the Soviet leadership regarding Afghanistan. According to a report of the KGB representative, during meetings with him on 12 and 17 December, Amin said that the Afghan leadership would welcome the presence of Soviet Armed Forces in a number of strategically important locations in the northern provinces. The forms and methods of extending military aid should be determined by the Soviet side. The USSR can have military garrisons in the locations it wishes, e.g., take under guard all facilities where there is Soviet-Afghan collaboration and protect DRA lines of communications.


(Secret)11 (Urgent)

…On 12 and 17 December 1979 the KGB representative met with H. Amin. The following statements of Amin deserve attention.

Amin insistently adhered to the idea of the need for the direct participation of the Soviet Union in deterring the combat operations of the rebel groups in the northern regions of the DRA. His reasoning boiled down to the following:

- the present Afghan leadership will greet the presence of the Soviet Armed Forces at a number of strategically important points in the northern regions of the DRA…

Amin said that the forms and methods of extending military aid should be determined by the Soviet side;

- the USSR can have military garrisons wherever they want;

- the USSR can take under guard all facilities where there is Soviet-Afghan collaboration;

- the Soviet troops could take DRA lines of communications under guard…

11 [Translator’s note: Previously published in Lyakhovskiy’s “Tragediya I Doblest’ Afgana’, previously translated]

17.12.1979 the USSR KGB representative

There was no decree of the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet or other similar document adopted regarding the issue of the deployment of troops. All orders were issued verbally in order to preserve secrecy and mislead Amin. The implementation of such actions was possible due to the existing practice of making important political decisions: in practice, after the approval at the CC CPSU Politburo (the highest body of the ruling party), they were basically only formally “approved” and explained to the people. This was the era of “groupthink” – a precise system of subordination created by the Party nomenklatura was in effect which did not allow a single departure from the line worked out by the CC CPSU Politburo. People who occupied key posts in the government were under the total control of this system.

Gromyko later wrote that he believed the introduction of troops to be legitimate:

On December 5, 1978 the Soviet-Afghan Agreement of Friendship was signed.

In accordance with this the government of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan turned to the Soviet Union with a request to provide military aid to the Afghan National Army. This request was weighed by the Soviet Union thoroughly and at length. In the end the Politburo of the CC CPSU unanimously decided to provide such aid…

The situation was made more acute by the tragic murder of the General Secretary of the CC PDPA Taraki whose representatives had requested aid. This bloody act shook the Soviet leadership.

L.I. Brezhnev in particular took his death very hard.

Ultimately it was in this environment that the decision to introduce a limited contingent was made. The decision was taken collectively, by the entire Politburo, and I took part in it. Even now I don’t consider this a mistake…First of all we were afraid of a regime appearing in Kabul which would be antagonistic towards the USSR. Likewise, we considered it our obligation to help the National Democratic Party of Afghanistan in defending the gains of the April revolution. The leaders of the PDPA had asked us to introduce troops fifteen times.

After this decision was taken by the Politburo, I went into Brezhnev’s office and said “Shouldn’t we frame the decision to introduce troops along government lines?” Brezhnev did not respond right away. He picked up the phone.

“Mikhail Andreevich, won’t you come in here? It is necessary to discuss something.” Suslov appeared. Brezhnev informed him of our conversation. Then he added:

“In the situation that has unfolded, it seems necessary to make a decision immediately: either we ignore Afghanistan’s request for aid or we save the people’s power and act in accordance with the Soviet-Afghan agreement.”

Suslov said: “We have an agreement with Afghanistan and we need to fulfill our obligations quickly since we have made the decision. We’ll discuss it at the CC later.”

The plenum of the CC CPSU that took place in June of 1980 completely and unanimously approved the decision of the Politburo.

Even during the working conferences before the final decision was made regarding the introduction of troops the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the USSR Marshall

N.G. Ogarkov voiced his opinion that individual parts of the Afghan army might resist.

At first it was assumed that our troops would only help the local inhabitants defend themselves from outside bands…We never wanted to increase the numbers of our continent nor to be pulled in to serious military activity. Most of our troops were stationed in urban garrisons.12

The CPSU leadership did not consider it necessary to submit this issue to the USSR Supreme Soviet for discussion. They declared: “international aid” – and everything ended with that. And those people are clever (even at a high level) who state in their justification that they knew nothing about the intention to deploy troops to Afghanistan and took no part in it. When did they find out and start to protest or express their disagreement? No, they approved.

12 Gromyko, Afghanistan in Our Fate (Moscow: APN, 1989), p. 97.

They were afraid and held onto their posts. This can easily be confirmed by excerpts from the speeches of many Party and government leaders of those years.

A CC CPSU plenum resolution “The International Situation and the Foreign Policy of the Soviet Union,” approved unanimously on 23 June 1980, said,

The CC Plenum completely approves of the measures taken to extend comprehensive aid to Afghanistan in the cause of repelling armed attacks and interference from without, the goal of which is to smother the Afghan revolution and create an imperialist base for military aggression at the southern borders of the USSR. The plenum calls for a political settlement of the situation which has arisen around Afghanistan, which is following a policy of nonalignment. The complete cessation of aggression against the country and reliable guarantees against subversive acts from abroad are required for this…13

This action of the Soviet Union was approved in the reports of Brezhnev and Gromyko and also in the speeches of participants of the CC CPSU plenum which touched on the deployment of troops to Afghanistan. The speech of Georgian CP First Secretary Eduard Shevardnadze from the rostrum of the CC plenum was noteworthy:

In the world they know that the Soviet Union and its leader will not leave their friends to the whims of fate, that its word matches its deeds.

Being a witness to the titanic activity of Leonid Il’ich Brezhnev, reading the transcripts of his conversations, fundamental works, and speeches on domestic and foreign problems you experience joy and pride from the knowledge that at the head of the Party and state stands a man in whom there are organically combined the broadest erudition, revolutionary courage, great humanism, and rare diplomatic flexibility. (Stormy, prolonged applause)

The deep concern of the Soviet people when the gains of the Afghan revolution were in the balance is recalled. The fate of the Afghan people, the fate of our borders, our southern borders, disturbs them. And the courageous, the only faithful, the only wise step taken regarding Afghanistan was greeted with satisfaction by every Soviet citizen. Enthusiastically supporting the measures of the Central Committee of the Party and the Soviet government described in the report of Leonid Il’ich Brezhnev in the name of preserving and furthering the gains of the Afghan revolution and ensuring the security of our southern borders, the workers of Georgia, like all the Soviet people, enthusiastically approve of the foreign policy actions of the CC of our Party, the Politburo, Cde.

Leonid Brezhnev, which entirely correspond to the vital interests of our Motherland and all progressive humanity… 14

Later, it is true, he spoke completely differently, advocating a fundamentally opposite position, but, as they say, you have to tell it like it is. It should generally be noted that Shevardnadze never was celebrated for the firmness of his views, changing them depending on conditions considerably more easily than a chameleon changes color. At that time in all his public statements, whether at congresses or plenums, he showered glorification and lavishly praised the wisdom and farsightedness of Party leader Brezhnev with sugar and honey to the point of indecency, lying like a “Caucasian” nightingale. Obviously he had thus secured for himself the opportunity to be at the helm of the Georgian SSR. During the period of perestroyka Shevardnadze began to direct words of praise in another direction, Gorbachev’s, subjecting his previous views to “critical rethinking.” Later, as President of an independent Georgia, he advocated completely different positions…

The officially proclaimed main purpose of the Soviet military presence in the DRA was peacekeeping and was formulated unambiguously – to help stabilize the situation and repel possible aggression from without. The Soviet troops should have become garrisons and not gotten enmeshed in the internal conflict and combat operations. It was prescribed everywhere that they were to give aid to the local population, to protect them from rebel bands, and also to distribute food, fuel, and basic necessities. It was thought that the very presence of Soviet troops would constitute a powerful stabilizing factor, significantly strengthen the PDPA regime, and exert a restraining influence on the opposition movement…Now, of course, it is understood that such an attitude was unrealistic but then they thought it reasonable. The real purpose of the deployment of Soviet troops to Afghanistan can only be guessed. It seems to me – it was to remove Amin from power and liquidate him, and to provide the conditions for the appointment of Karmal as General Secretary of the CC PDPA and Chairman of the DRA Revolutionary Council.

13 APRF, f. 3, op. 120, d. 44

14 Ibid.

 The reader himself will understand with what difficulty this decision was made. It was not hasty or impulsive as some journalists try to picture it. It was made only against the background of a large number of contradictory, fast- paced, and acute factors directly affecting the Soviet Union’s vital interests and national security. And the situation turned out to be far more complex and serious than was presented. As further events demonstrated, the action undertaken without an adequate projection and a consideration of the entire spectrum of factors affecting the consequences of the deployment of troops on the development of the situation in Afghanistan led to a tragedy, not just for the Afghan people, but for ours, too.

The leadership of the USSR Armed Forces General Staff, in particular, Ogarkov, Varennikov, and also the Commander-in-Chief of the Ground Forces General of the Army Ivan Pavlovskiy spoke out against the deployment of troops to the DRA before the final decision was made, warning the political leadership of the country away from the temptation to throw our troops into a fight with the Afghan opposition. The military leaders thought that our military presence would provoke the initiation of combat operations and lead to a strengthening of the rebel movement, which would be directed against Soviet troops, and the poor knowledge of local customs and traditions, especially Islam, and national ethnic relations would force us into a quite difficult position. This, in fact, then occurred, but at the time the political leadership did not pay attention to the arguments of the military. Sober estimations of the situation were regarded by the Soviet leadership as a lack of comprehension or underestimation of the political importance of the processes occurring in Afghanistan. They all subsequently fell into the disfavor of Defense Minister Ustinov, who actually removed them from “Afghan affairs” and then sent Pavlovskiy into retirement and appointed Ogarkov to the post of Commander-in-Chief of the Western High Command as a demotion15 …Sergey Akhromeyev became the Minister’s most trusted person. In 1983 in the post of First Deputy Chief of the General Staff he was promoted to the rank of Marshal of the Soviet Union (an unprecedented event in history) and in 1984 was appointed Chief of the USSR Armed Forces General Staff.

There exist many opinions regarding the reasons and purposes for the deployment of troops and various versions are advanced. They are quite diverse and at times polar opposites. Some of them are complete fantasies. I will touch only on facts and documents. The “Cold War” was going on. There was a strategic military confrontation between two superpowers, two systems, and two military blocs. There was geopolitical competition with China, which was then viewed as the probable enemy. The revolution against the Shah in Iran and the establishment there of an Islamic regime forced the Americans to look for new locations for military and intelligence bases. Therefore the massive aid to the Afghan rebels and reinforcement of US forces in the region in direct proximity to our borders could not have failed to alarm Soviet leaders.

By the end of the 1970s the development of the détente process in USSR-US relations had slowed considerably. The administration of Jimmy Carter had unilaterally decided to halt the ratification of the SALT-II Treaty for an indefinite period, which was regarded in the Soviet Union as a sign of a sharp change in the overall military and political policy of the US. NATO considered the issue of an annual increase of its members’ military budgets until the end of the 20th Century. The Americans created “rapid deployment forces”…

We were also worried that a further rapprochement between the US and China was occurring on an anti- Soviet basis. Agreements were concluded between them about an exchange of visits at the ministerial level, and by trade delegations and military missions; a reduction of US troops on Taiwan (while preserving the right of the US to sell weapons to Taiwan); Chinese support for American peace efforts in the Near East; the development by the Chinese of a secret channel of communications with Israel; the American use of their influence to improve ties between Saudi Arabia and China; the readiness of Washington to change COCOM procedures in order to ease the transfer of the latest technology to China; American and Chinese aid to several regimes in Africa, especially those who were in a position to increase the price of Soviet-Cuban military interference; also, closer cooperation on such issues as Afghanistan, aid to Pakistan, and assistance to the efforts of Southeast Asia to counter Soviet support to Vietnam.

15 [Translator’s note: However, as indicated below, Ogarkov was not removed as Chieg of the General Stadd and appointed to this newly-created position until 1984, shortlet Ustinov’s death]

 The Americans made a point of increasing their military presence in the Persian Gulf - in direct proximity to the DRA and our southern borders.

The situation in various parts of the world was assessed as tense and explosive, especially in the Near and Middle East. Right beyond the Soviet Union’s southwestern border another revolution was occurring, in Iran, which worried Soviet leaders for two reasons. First and foremost, the Islamic renaissance in Iran could lessen Soviet influence there, and spread “defiance” to Afghanistan and even among millions of Soviet Muslims. Further, the fall of the Shah could require the United States to seek another place in the region for its military base. Therefore the CPSU CC Politburo showed a determination not to permit its competitor to profit from an analogous situation in Afghanistan. The overthrow of a regime in Iran friendly to the US prompted euphoric ideas among Kremlin politicians about the possibility of influence in the Middle East – to strengthen their positions quickly, decisively, and without special effort.

The Soviet leadership proceeded from the then-existing assessments in the world and the region and also the views of the prospects for competition with the US. The predominant opinion was that the stationing of American missiles in Europe made our facilities vulnerable, even as far as the Urals. But this act would permit the removal of tension and deflect attention from Europe. The reinforcement of the US carrier group in the Persian Gulf and on the island of Diego Garcia – thus posed difficulties in ensuring the air defense of industrial and primary centers for the extraction of oil, natural gas, and coal in Siberia…In the opinion of several experts there was a danger of American interference in the affairs of Afghanistan, which could create a threat to the security of the southern borders of the USSR. In my view the latter argument is improbable – they would have shared the same fate as we did.

On top of that, the personality factor played a role of no little importance, e.g., the ambitions of individual Soviet politicians (they could not forgive Amin for ignoring the appeal of the CPSU CC Politburo’s and Brezhnev “personally” to spare Taraki’s life). The ambitions of the CPSU General Secretary himself had a certain decisive effect on the rest of the Soviet leadership, depriving them of government wisdom and forcing them to change their convictions about the inadvisability of using troops in a domestic Afghan conflict. The desire of our leadership to avert the formation of Amin’s terrorist regime, to protect the Afghan people from genocide, and also not to permit the opposition to come to power and to preserve an “ideological” ally, evidently played some role.

In addition, great power thinking predominated then in the style of the leadership. A somewhat scornful attitude toward the Afghans was noted and not just toward them. Ustinov, for example, said that Soviet troops need only show up in Afghanistan and some rebels would drop their weapons right there and the others would simply flee. Obviously they envisoned the opposition forces with this derisive attitude in mind. But in practice the underestimation of an enemy always costs very dearly.

At a closed session of the Second Congress of USSR People’s Deputies at the end of 1989, with regard to the reasons causing the leadership to deploy troops to Afghanistan, KGB Chairman Kryuchkov noted:

The situation was described as extremely tense. This was a period of a retreat from détente, dragging the world into a new round of the arms race, and the organization of massive subversive activity against the USSR and its allies by the West. Of course, we too had not been sleeping.

The American leadership, encountering a serious crisis of trust within the country, had decided to look for a way out by strengthening US leadership in world affairs. Under the American aegis and the slogan of countering the “Soviet threat” three existing power centers (the US, Western Europe, and Japan) were cemented. A prohibition was imposed on selling modern technology to the Soviet Union and various sanctions were widely employed. Work on cruise missiles, nuclear warheads with increased yield, B-1 bombers, and new MX strategic missiles were stepped up and the reluctance of the American military to ratify the SALT-2 Treaty was examined. As a whole, Washington’s practical actions all the more often had an unpredictable and often dangerous nature.

The centrifugal trends in NATO which intensified during the latter half of the 1970s worried the US. Right now, as you know, the attitude toward such complex ambiguous phenomena has changed. Then, the implementation of a long-range program of upgrading and rearmament had begun in Western Europe under pressure from Washington. Consequently there was a buildup of the nuclear potential of the bloc accompanied by a continuous three-percent increase in the military budget of a majority of NATO members. It is impossible to say that there were no grounds given by us for justifying the need in the West for such military programs. But in equal measure our arguments can be recognized as justified that what was happening was an attempt by the West to undermine strategic parity…

Such a confrontational approach spread through practically the entire spectrum of relations between the two great powers and their allies. A whole series of regions of the world were regarded by the Americans as a sphere of “vital interests” of the West. Naturally, the revolutions which occurred in 1978 in Afghanistan, which the Soviet Union in no way instigated, and then in Iran were understood mainly in the context of this confrontation. Trying to compensate for the weakness of their position in the Middle East the US deployed naval forces in the Persian Gulf and developed plans for an invasion of Iran. The Americans, like many of their allies, could not have failed to ask the question of how far Afghanistan would go in its relations with the USSR.

A policy was adopted of replacing the regime in Kabul. Ideas appeared to station American SIGINT equipment [against] the Soviet Union and possibly some types of missiles in case pro- Western forces came to power. We also knew about the development of plans by American and Pakistani special services to inflame nationalistic, pan-Islamic sentiments in Soviet Central Asian republics using the territory of neighboring states. It can be assumed that in these conditions the Soviet leadership was most likely inclined to the conclusion that a fundamental change of the situation in revolutionary Afghanistan and the strengthening of the position of the US and its allies in this country would lead to an overall change in the balance of power undesirable for the USSR, not only in the region but on our southern borders. It was without doubt that the West hoped to shoot down the wave of national democratic revolutions through Afghanistan…

The Soviet leadership could not fail to also consider the development of the situation inside Afghanistan itself. Leftist excesses and a reliance on military force and repression in resolving domestic problems led rather quickly to the loss of popular support by the regime. A massive flight of refugees to Pakistan and Iran began. Discontent with the policy of the authorities was skillfully used by the Afghan counterrevolution. By the autumn of 1979 “Islamic parties” which had already appeared on Pakistani territory were able to bring the strength of their armed formations up to 40,000 men and organize combat operations against government troops in 12 of the 27 provinces of the country. The Afghan army, weakened by repression, turned out to be incapable of crushing the antigovernment movement. Mutinies in the troops became more frequent and mass desertion with weapons began…

The prospects for a change [evolyutsiya] of regime also aroused great alarm. The establishment in the Party and government of the personal authority of Hafizullah Amin, who in the autumn of 1979 had organized the murder of the head of state and CC PDPA General Secretary N.

M. Taraki, occurred rapidly. Representatives of healthy forces in the PDPA ever more often directed the attention of the Soviet side to the fact that the reckless acts of the Amin clique were leading to the complete physical destruction of the national patriotic and progressive forces of the country. Representatives of ethnic minorities suffered especially heavily – Uzbeks, Tajiks, Turkmen, and other peoples of the north of the country related to the population of Soviet Central Asian republics. Information that Amin, trying to preserve his regime at any price, was ready to enter into a secret understanding with the Islamic opposition and make serious concessions to the West and its allies caused serious concern among our friends in Afghanistan.

By the end of 1979 it had become all the more obvious that Afghanistan was on the edge of a general national crisis. The country had come to an impasse…

This analysis of the situation in and around Afghanistan introduced as a justification for the actions of the Soviet leadership was made 10 years later but it realistically shows the views and evaluations dominating at the end of the 1970s and allows one to understand what guided the CC CPSU Politburo in deciding to deploy Soviet troops in Afghanistan.

 Evaluating the situation, they reacted with alarm in the USSR to the statements of Islamic fundamentalists that if they came to power they would carry the struggle to the territory of Soviet Central Asian republics under Islamic slogans. Iranian political scientists regarded the situation in the following manner: “The Kremlin is so tied down in supporting the Kabul Marxists that they already cannot avoid direct military support to their protégé…In addition, Moscow is frightened by the prospect of the influence of a new Iran, not only in Afghanistan but also in Azerbayjan and Central Asia. Moscow’s creature in Kabul is, in the Kremlin’s opinion, an important outpost against the idea of the unity of all Muslims.”34

Of course, now these circumstances seem immaterial and the fears exaggerated – could they really talk about some transfer of the struggle to Soviet Central Asia? The Soviet Union was a great power. The Islamists could not have then engaged in such recklessness although one cannot fail to consider that the situation in and around the DRA was explosive. It could have not failed to influence the then Soviet leadership, which thought that the decision to deploy troops would save the PDPA regime from inevitable destruction. And those people are not correct who depict Brezhnev, Andropov, Ustinov, and Gromyko as fools…As I see it, they were not. They were simply placed in conditions where they could not fail to support a “fraternal” Party; our allies, the other Communist parties, would not have understood this. But they did not have sufficient statesmanship (or moral fortitude and perseverance in defending their opinion about the inadvisability of deploying troops) and they did not find another way out. But this step, it seemed to them, solved all problems. The Soviet leaders did not consider how dangerous it was to disrupt the balance of power in the country and the region which had existed for centuries, no matter on what basis it was built.

But the fates and lives of people were never considered in the entire history of the Soviet Union. They were “laid on the altar of the Fatherland” when necessary and when unnecessary. So it was in time of war and in time of peace. People were considered as a human factor. Having used them in whatever extreme situation (war, Chernobyl), they simply forgot about them. It is appropriate to note that among the troops in Afghanistan there were no sons and grandsons of the people who sang the praises of the troops. They preferred that other people’s children perish.

For a long time the foreign security policy of the USSR was constructed to a considerable degree on the basis of ideological dogmas. They acted as the criteria of correctness in evaluating the decisions then being made. It is to them that the state and national interests of the country were subordinated. The postulates of proletarian internationalism predominated. It is sufficient to recall East Germany (1953), Hungary (1956), Czechoslovakia (1968), etc.

It needs to be noted that the experience of Afghanistan taught the Soviet leaders something all the same.

During the worsening of the situation in Poland in 1980-81, when the question of deploying Warsaw Pact troops there to protect Socialist gains arose, perhaps the main reason why this was not done was our presence in Afghanistan. It is possible that this averted still more casualties. As they say, perhaps it was in this respect, at least, a blessing in disguise.

The wisdom of a politician consists in averting the launching of a war by all available means and finding a peaceful resolution of conflict. Any compromise needs to be sought and the maximum permissible concessions made to keep the peace. But if a decision has already been made to begin combat operations it is not necessary to entertain illusions that it will cost few casualties. History has more than once shown: it is impossible to play at war; it needs to be fought properly. But the Soviet troops in Afghanistan conducted combat operations on a comparatively limited scale, in keeping with a policy developed by the US Joint Chiefs of Staff called low-intensity conflict. This wore down the USSR economically and morally.

It is strange, if this is not to blaspheme, that the complaints of politicians who launched the war are heard that women, children, and old men died who were no way at fault…They “did not want this – the military is not able to efficiently fulfill its responsibilities to destroy only armed formations”. One can discuss this sitting in offices, but it doesn’t happen that way in war. The barbaric nature of modern war consists precisely of the weapons being used inflicting more damage on the civilian population than on troops. And recently this is the norm. For example, in local conflicts from 1945 to 2000 losses came to more than 40 million, more than 35 million of whom were civilians. In Afghanistan 85 percent of the dead were civilians. At the same time the deaths of soldiers and officers is accepted quietly for some reason, as if they were robots and not someone’s father, son, or brother. In my view politicians should be guided by the principle of individual responsibility; it provides for the right to make a decision but imposes full responsibility for the results of this decision. One must always remember this when sending people to their deaths or launching precision bombing and missile strikes on military targets.

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