Alternative Insight

The Origins of the Soviet-Afghan War
Revelations from the Soviet Archives

The Soviet intervention in Afghanistan brought catastrophes to the Soviet Union and the Afghan nation. Less obvious were the ultimate directions of Afghanistan's catastrophe--the emergence of the Taliban, links to America's most horrifying catastrophe and a United States war against Afghanistan. The Soviet leadership has described the origins of the Soviet/Afghan war. The minutes of four Soviet meetings from the Soviet archives reveal the mindset and confusion that brought the Soviets to their catastrophe.

Brief History of the Events that Preceded the Soviet/Afghan War
Afghanistan made its start as a constitutional monarchy in1953 when Prince Mohammoud Daoud, the cousin of King Zahir, became Prime Minister. Daoud wanted to modernize his army and requested to purchase military equipment from the U.S.. The U.S. rejected Afghanistan's request and Daoud turned to the Soviet Union for military aid. Khrushchev agreed to assist and commenced close ties between Afghanistan and the USSR. Daoud's overly ambitious and controversial social policies, and the increase of tensions with Pakistan (due to his alleged support for the creation of a Pashtun state in the Pakistan-Afghan border area), caused King Zahir to demand Daoud's resignation. In March 1963, Dr. Mohammad Yusof became Prime Minister.

King Zahir initiated the 1964 liberal constitution that permitted multi-party elections. In January 1965, a group of intellectuals, which included future leader Babrak Karmal, established The People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) . At the first nationwide elections under the new constitution, Karmal was elected to the Parliament. In the second national elections of 1969, Karmal and another PDPA member, Hafizullah Amin, both of whom would play important roles in the future Soviet intervention, were elected to the parliament.

Daoud returned to power in a military coup on July 17, 1973, and displaced the vacationing King Zahir. Daoud dissolved the monarchy, and established a Republic with himself as President and Prime Minister.

"We will never allow you to dictate to us how to run our country and whom to employ in Afghanistan. How and where we employ the foreign experts will remain the exclusive prerogative of the Afghan state. Afghanistan shall remain poor, if necessary, but free in its acts and decisions." - Mohammoud Daoud

Daoud failed to carry out acceptable economic and social reforms, and his February 1977 constitution did not alleviate the chronic political instability that afflicted Afghanistan. His attempts to oust suspected opponents from his government aroused resentment. When he tried to eliminate the PDPA in Spring 1978 by arresting its leaders, a bloody coup occurred and Daoud was killed. PDPA leader Nur Mohammad Taraki declared the establishment of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan and announced himself as President, with Babrak Karmal as deputy Prime Minister. Hafizullah Amin also had a major role in the new government.

Soon after seizing power, Taraki promoted the establishment of full women's rights and the implementation of land reform. The reforms threatened Afghan cultural traditions, and widespread resistance to them began in the summer of 1978. On 28 March 1979, with Taraki retaining some of his party posts, Hafizullah Amin became Prime Minister. Anarchy spread through the country and Amin asked for, and received, additional Soviet aid. A May 1979 top secret meeting of the Soviet Politburo describes the initial recommendation for this assistance (see below, Communication #1). Conditions continued to deteriorate, and on September 14, 1979, Taraki was killed in a confrontation with Amin's supporters. The fear that Amin was adopting an anti-Soviet attitude, which was revealed in a top secret report on events in Afghanistan by Soviet ministers (see below, Communication #2) in December 1979, provoked the Soviet Union's intervention in Afghanistan. Amin was killed three days later. Babrak Karmal returned from the Soviet Union and became the new Prime Minister, President of the Revolutionary Council and Secretary General of the PDPA. Widespread Mujaheedin resistance against Babrak's regime brought Soviet support to the embattled leader and initiated the Soviet-Afghan war. A June 1980 plenum of the Central Committee of the Communist Party (see below, Communication #3) expressed its attitude on the war and was partially echoed by an Afghan resistance leader.

"The Americans want us to continue fighting but not to win, just to bleed the Russians."- Ismael Khan. Prominent Afghan Commander, who fought against the Russians in Herat.


At a meeting of the Central Committee Politburo (see below, Communication #4) in 1986, Prime Minister Gorbachev outlined the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan. The last Soviet soldier left Afghanistan in 1989, and left behind him ten years of defeat by Afghanistan's rebels.

From the Soviet Archives-Four Communications that Shaped the Soviet Fate

Communication #1
CPSU CC Politburo Decision and Instruction to Soviet Ambassador in Afghanistan, 24 May 1979, Communist Party of the Soviet Union. CENTRAL COMMITTEE
To Comrades Brezhnev, Kosygin, Andropov, Gromyko, Suslov, Ustinov, Ponomarev, Baibakov, Patolichev, Skachkov, Serbin, Smirtiukov

Extract from protocol No. 152 of the CC CPSU Politburo session of 24 May 1979
About Providing Supplementary Military Assistance to the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan
1. Approve the draft instruction of the USSR Council of Ministers on this issue (attached).
2. Assign Gosplan USSR and the Ministry of Foreign Trade to review within weeks the request for the delivery to the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan of 1500 automobiles and to submit a proposal on this issue.
3. Affirm the text of the instruction to the Soviet Ambassador in the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan on this issue (attached)
Re: Point 159 Prot. No. 152
Visit N.M. Taraki and, referring to the instruction, inform him that the Afghan leadership's request about the provision of supplementary military assistance to the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan have been attentively reviewed.
Say that in Moscow they share the concern of the Afghan leadership in relation to the activation of counter-revolutionary activity by the reactionary forces in Afghanistan. The Soviet leadership, guided by a strong desire to provide further internationalist assistance in order to stabilize the situation in the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan, has taken a decision to deliver to Afghanistan in the period 1979-1981, free-of-charge, special property in the sum of 53 million rubles, including 140 guns and mortars, 90 armored personnel carriers (of which 50 will represent an expedited delivery), 48 thousand machine guns, around 1000 grenade throwers, 680 aviation bombs, and also to send in the form of an expedited delivery in June-July 1979 medicines and medical equipment in the sum of 50 thousand rubles. In terms of immediate assistance in May of this year, 100 incendiary tanks and 160 single-use bomb cassettes. The delivery of gas bombs with a non-toxic poison gas is not considered possible.
As far as the request of the Afghan side for the dispatch to the DRA of helicopters and transport planes with Soviet crews and a possible landing of our parachute troops in Kabul is concerned, the question of using Soviet military units was considered in much detail and from all points of view during Comrade M. Taraki's visit to Moscow in March of this year. Such actions, we are deeply convinced, are fraught with great complexities not only in the domestic political, but also in the foreign policy sphere, which no doubt would be used by hostile forces first of all to the detriment of the interests of the DRA and the consolidation of the victory of the April revolution.
Telegraph upon execution.
[Source: TsKhSD, f. 89, per. 14, dok. 30, ll. 1-3; provided by M. Kramer; translation by Carter-Brezhnev Project.]

Communication #2
Andropov-Gromyko-Ustinov-Ponomarev Report on Events in Afghanistan on 27-28 December 1979, dated 31 December 1979
Top Secret
Regarding events in Afghanistan
during 27-28 December 1979 After a coup-d'etat and the murder of the CC PDPA General Secretary and Chairman of the Revolutionary Council of Afghanistan N.M. Taraki, committed by Amin in September of this year, the situation in Afghanistan has been sharply exacerbated and taken on crisis proportions.
H. Amin has established a regime of personal dictatorship in the country, effectively reducing the CC PDPA and the Revolutionary Council to the status of entirely nominal organs. The top leadership positions within the party and the state were filled with appointees bearing family ties or maintaining personal loyalties to H. Amin. Many members from the ranks of the CC PDPA, the Revolutionary Council and the Afghan government were expelled and arrested. Repression and physical annihilation were for the most part directed towards active participants in the April revolution, persons openly sympathetic to the USSR, those defending the Leninist norms of intra-party life. H. Amin deceived the party and the people with his announcements that the Soviet Union had supposedly approved of Taraki's expulsion from party and government.
By direct order of H. Amin, fabricated rumors were deliberately spread throughout the DRA, smearing the Soviet Union and casting a shadow on the activities of Soviet personnel in Afghanistan, who had been restricted in their efforts to maintain contact with Afghan representatives.
At the same time, efforts were made to mend relations with America as a part of the "more balanced foreign policy strategy" adopted by H. Amin. H. Amin held a series of confidential meetings with the American charge d'affaires in Kabul. The DRA government began to create favorable conditions for the operation of the American cultural center; under H. Amin's directive, the DRA special services have ceased operations against the American embassy.
H. Amin attempted to buttress his position by reaching a compromise with leaders of internal counter-revolution. Through trusted persons he engaged in contact with leaders of the Moslem fundamentalist opposition.
The scale of political repression was taking on increasingly mass proportions. Just during the period following the events of September, more than 600 members of the PDPA, military personnel and other persons suspected of anti-Amin sentiments were executed without trial or investigation. In effect, the objective was to liquidate the party.
All this, in conjunction with objective difficulties and conditions specific to Afghanistan, put the progress of the revolutionary process in extremely difficult circumstances and energized the counter-revolutionary forces which have effectively established their control in many of the country's provinces. Using external support, which has taken on increasingly far-reaching proportions under Amin, they strived to bring about radical change in the country's military-political situation and liquidate the revolutionary gains.
Dictatorial methods of running the country, repressions, mass executions, and disregard for legal norms have produced widespread discontent in the country. In the capital numerous leaflets began to appear, exposing the anti-people nature of the current regime and containing calls for unity in the struggle with "H. Amin's clique." Discontent also spread to the army. A significant number of officers have expressed dismay at the domination of H. Amin's incompetent henchmen. In essence, a broad anti-Amin front was formed in the country.
Expressing alarm over the fate of the revolution and the independence of the country, and reacting keenly to the rise of anti-Amin sentiments in Afghanistan, Karmal Babrak and Asadulla Sarwari, both living abroad as emigres, have undertaken to unite all anti-Amin groups in the country and abroad, in order to save the motherland and the revolution. In addition, the currently underground group "Parcham," under the leadership of an illegal CC, has carried out significant work to rally all progressive forces, including Taraki supporters from the former "Khalq" group.
All earlier disagreements were eliminated and the previously existing schism in the PDPA has been liquidated. Khalqists (represented by Sarwari) and Parchamists (represented by Babrak) have announced the final unification of the party. Babrak was elected leader of the new party center, and Sarwari - his deputy.
In this extremely difficult situation, which has threatened the gains of the April revolution and the interests of maintaining our national security, it has become necessary to render additional military assistance to Afghanistan, especially since such requests had been made by the previous administration in DRA. In accordance with the provisions of the Soviet-Afghan treaty of 1978, a decision has been made to send the necessary contingent of the Soviet Army to Afghanistan.
Riding the wave of patriotic sentiments that have engaged fairly large numbers of the Afghan population in connection with the deployment of Soviet forces which was carried out in strict accordance with the provisions of the Soviet-Afghan treaty of 1978, the forces opposing H. Amin organized an armed operation which resulted in the overthrow of H. Amin's regime. This operation has received broad support from the working masses, the intelligentsia, significant sections of the Afghan army, and the state apparatus, all of which welcomed the formation of a new administration of the DRA and the PDPA.
The new government and Revolutionary Council have been formed on a broad and representative basis, with the inclusion of representatives from former "Parcham" and "Khalq" factions, military representatives, and non-party members.
In its program agenda announcements, the new leadership vowed to fight for the complete victory of the national-democratic, anti-feudalistic, anti-imperialistic revolution, and to defend Afghan independence and sovereignty. In matters of foreign policy, they pledged to strengthen in every possible way the friendship and cooperation with the USSR. Taking into account the mistakes of the previous regime, the new leadership, in the practical application of its policies, is intent on giving serious consideration to broad democratization of social life and ensuring a law-abiding society, widening the social base and strengthening the state throughout the country, and maintaining a flexible policy with regards to religion, tribes and ethnic minorities.
One of the first steps that has captured the attention of Afghan society was the release of a large number of political prisoners, which include prominent political and military activists. Many of them (Kadyr, Keshtmand, Rafi, and others) have actively and enthusiastically joined in the work of the new Revolutionary Council and the government.
Broad masses of people met the announcement of the overthrow of H. Amin's regime with unconcealed joy and express their eagerness to support the new administration's program. The commanders of all key formations and units of the Afghan army have already announced their support of the new leadership of the party and the government. Relations with Soviet soldiers and specialists continue to remain friendly overall. The situation in the country is normalizing.
In Kabul's political circles it is noted that the Babrak government, evidently, must overcome significant difficulties, inherited by him from the previous regime, in establishing order in domestic politics and economy; however, they express hope that PDPA, with USSR's help, will be able to solve these problems. Babrak can be described as one of the more theoretically equipped leaders of PDPA, who soberly and objectively evaluates the situation in Afghanistan; he was always distinguished by his sincere sympathies for the Soviet Union, and commanded respect within party masses and the country at large. In this regard, the conviction can be expressed that the new leadership of DRA will find effective ways to stabilize completely the country's situation.
[signature] [signature]
Yu. Andropov A. Gromyko
[signature] [signature]
D. Ustinov B. Ponomarev 31 December 1979
[Source: TsKhSD, f. 89, per. 42, dok. 10; provided by M. Kramer; trans. by D. Rozas.]

Communication #3
CC CPSU Plenum, 23 June 1980 (excerpt)
23 JUNE 1980

Sverdlovsk Hall, 11:00 a.m.
[. . .]Brezhnev: Not a day goes by when Washington has not tried to revive the spirit of the "Cold War," to heat up militarist passions. Any grounds are used for this, real or imagined.
One example of this is Afghanistan. The ruling circles of the USA, and of China as well, stop at nothing, including armed aggression, in trying to keep the Afghanis from building a new life in accord with the ideals of the revolution of liberation of April 1978. And when we helped our neighbor Afghanistan, at the request of its government, to give a rebuff to aggression, to beat back the attacks of bandit formations which operate primarily from the territory of Pakistan, then Washington and Beijing raised an unprecedented racket. Of what did they accuse the Soviet Union[?]: of a yearning to break out to warm waters, and an intention to make a grab for foreign oil. And the whole thing was that their plans to draw Afganistan into the orbit of imperialist policy and to create a threat to our country from the south crashed to the ground.
In the Soviet act of assistance to Afghanistan there is not a grain of avarice. We had no choice other than the sending of troops. And the events confirmed that it was the only correct choice. (Continued applause).
[. . .]Gromyko: [. . .] Given all that was achieved by the fraternal countries in the international arena, especially in the 1970s, in the struggle for detente and peace, we note something else: the general situation in the world has grown more complicated, tension has grown, above all in our relations with the United States. The question arises: what is the reason for this?
The opponents of detente do not trouble themselves even with a minimal dose of objectivity in explaining the reasons for such a situation. They are building their policy on deception of the peoples. Imperialist policy and deception of the peoples are indivisible. From all corners they announce that the Soviet Union has supposedly changed its policy and by its own actions threatens the West and its interests. In every way they exaggerate in this regard the Afghan events, they cast it in a false light. In pursuit of these goals they break all their former records of trickery, lies, and evil puffery.
Acting on the true course of events, the Soviet Union directly casts back in the face of the officials of the imperialist states facts like the acceptance by the USA and NATO, in demonstrative form, of the decision to increase sharply their military budgets, to abruptly whip up the arms race, to deploy new American intermediate range weapons in Western Europe, to make ready the strike ["rapid development"-ed.] force in the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf.
To all this, to all of our well-founded accusations against the NATO bloc, they can raise no objection. And how can they object, if all this happened when the so-called Afghan issue was not even mentioned.
. . . Comrades, for our actions in Afghanistan, for the fact that we fulfilled our obligation to international solidarity in relations to revolutionary Afghanistan, for the fact that the aggressor already has received a solid rebuff, the Soviet Union does not intend to make any excuses to anyone, and the inspirers of aggression against the Afghan state are beginning to feel that. Those should ask for pardon who organized and stand behind the aggression against Afghanistan, who concocted the criminal plans in relation to that country, the independent existence and security of which have a direct relation to the security of the Soviet Union. We accuse the organizers of the aggression against Afghanistan and demand that that aggression be stopped. (Applause).
Of course, it would be premature to believe that the complexity in relation to Afghanistan is already behind us. The external enemies of Afghanistan and the domestic reactionary forces will still make themselves known. But the matter is now on the correct path. Afghanistan will not return to the past. Our Party and our people can be sure of that. (Applause).
For us now, as Leonid Il'ich announced, there is no need to have in Afghanistan a military contingent even of the size which it was when it was introduced. But if the situation demands it, we at any time will be able to strengthen our contingent, so as to reliably work together to provide for the independence and territorial integrity of Afghanistan.
The possibility of reaching at an appropriate time a Treaty of mutual assistance between the Soviet Union and the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan, which would clearly demonstrate the resolve of both countries not to allow any encroachment from without on the independence and integrity of the Afghan state, deserves serious attention.
. . .We have proposed and propose that Washington be led in our mutual relations by the principles of equality, equal security, mutual advantage, non-interference in each other's domestic affairs. In a single word, we have built and are ready in the future to build our relations with the USA on the principles of peaceful coexistence.
Declaring our readiness to maintain normal relations with the USA, we proceed from the fact that hostility between the two powers is not only unwise, but also dangerous. At the same time we more than once have warned the Americans, that they should take into account the lawful interests of the Soviet Union and that the Soviet Union will not permit anyone to trample on those interests. Many of you, evidently, have in your memory how during the terms of office of various Presidents throughout the post-war period, American policy rocked from side to side. It cost the Soviet Union considerable effort to lead the USA to an acknowledgement of the single reliable basis of our relations--a policy of peaceful coexistence.
Now the American administration has once again begun to veer wildly. The underlying cause of the current break in Soviet-American relations is Washington's attempt to do whatever it takes to achieve military superiority over us.
[Source: TsKhSD, f. 89, per. 14, dok. 40; provided by M. Kramer.]

Communication #4
CPSU CC Politburo transcript (excerpt), 13 November 1986
Top Secret
Only Copy
Working Draft

13 November 1986

Chaired by comr. GORBACHEV M.S.

Also present: comrs. Vorotnikov V.I., Gromyko A.A., Zaikov L.N.,
Ryzhkov N.I., Solomentsev M.S., Chebrikov V.M., Shevardnadze
Eh.A., Demichev P.N., Dolgikh V.I.,Yeltsin B.N., Talyzin N.V.,
Biryukova A.P., Dobrynin A.F., Zimyanin M.V., Medvedev V.A.,
Nikonov V.P., Razumovskii G.P., Kapitonov I.V.

GORBACHEV. In October of last year [1985] in a Politburo meeting we determined upon a course of settling the Afghan question. The goal which we raised was to expedite the withdrawal of our forces from Afghanistan and simultaneously ensure a friendly Afghanistan for us. It was projected that this should be realized through a combination of military and political measures. But there is no movement in either of these directions. The strengthening of the military position of the Afghan government has not taken place. National consolidation has not been ensured mainly because comr. Karmal continued to hope to sit in Kabul under our assistance. It was also said that we fettered the actions of the Afghan government. All in all, up until now the projected concept has been badly realized. But the problem is not in the concept itself, but in its realization. We must operate more actively, and with this guide ourselves with two questions. First of all, in the course of two years effect the withdrawal of our troops from Afghanistan. In 1987 withdraw 50 percent of our troops, and in the following [year] - another 50 percent. Second of all, we must pursue a widening of the social base of the regime, taking into account the realistic arrangement of political forces. In connection with this, it is necessary to meet with comr. Najib, and, possibly, even with other
members of the CC PDPA Politburo.We must start talks with Pakistan. Most importantly, [we must make sure] that the Americans don’t get into Afghanistan. But I think that Americans will not go into Afghanistan militarily.
AKHROME’EV. They are not going to go into Afghanistan with armed forces.
DOBRYNIN. One can agree with USA on this question.
GORBACHEV. We must give instructions to comr. Kryuchkov to meet with Najib and give him an invitation to visit the Soviet Union on an official visit in December 1986.It is necessary to also tell comr. Najib that he should make key decisions himself.Entrust comrs. Shevardnadze Eh.A. (roll-call), Chebrikov V.M., Sokolov S.L., Dobrynin A.F., Talyzin N.V., and Murakhovsky V.S.,
taking into account the discussion which took place in Politburo meetings, to coordinate, make operative decisions, and make necessary proposals on solving the Afghan question and settling the
situation around Afghanistan.
POLITBURO MEMBERS. We agree. The resolution is passed.
[Source: TsKhSD, f. 89, per. 42, dok. 16; provided by M. Kramer;
trans. by D. Rozas.]


november 1, 2001