Transcript of Politburo meeting (17-18 March) about the worsening situation in Afghanistan [Russian: 17-18 March 1979, Pb] total 28 pp (excerpts).
[page one of twenty eight]
MEETING OF CPSU POLITBURO
17 March 1979
Comrade L.I. BREZHNEV
Comrades in attendance:
Yu.V. Andropov, A.A.Gromyko, A.N. Kosygin,
A.L. Pelshe, K.U. Chernenko, D.F. Ustinov,
P.N. Demichev, B.N. Ponomaryov, M.S. Solomentsev,
A.A. Tikhonov, I.V. Kapitonov, V.I.Dolgikh,
M.V. Zimyanin, K.B. Rusakov, M.S. Gorbachev
1. On the worsening situation in Afghanistan and our possible measures
GROMYKO. […] when I talked at 11:00 this morning with Amin, Taraki’s deputy who is the minister of foreign affairs, he did not express the slightest alarm about the situation in Afghanistan. On the contrary, with Olympian tranquillity, he said that the situation was not that difficult: the army had everything under control, and so forth. … Not a single act of insubordination by a governor had been reported, he said; all the governors, in other words, are on the side of the lawful government.
[…] approximately two or three hours later, we received news from our comrades that disturbances had begun in Herat. One regiment, an artillery regiment, opened fire on its fellow Afghan soldiers, and part of a second regiment went over to the insurgents. Consequently, only part of the 17th division … remains loyal to the government.
About half an hour later, our comrades reported again that Comrade Taraki had summoned the chief [Soviet] military advisor Comrade Gorelov and chargé d’affaires Comrade Alexeyev. Taraki appealed to the Soviet Union above all for military equipment, ammunition, and rations. This is already covered in the documents we have presented for the Politburo’s consideration. As far as military aid is concerned, Taraki said, as if in passing, ground and air support might perhaps be required. This must be understood to mean that the deployment of our forces is required, both land and air forces.
And if we lose Afghanistan now and it turns its back on the Soviet Union, this will be a sharp setback to our [foreign] policy. Of course, it is one thing
to resort to extreme measures if the Afghan army is on the side of the people, and quite another if the army does not support the lawful government. And finally, third, if the army is against the government and, consequently, against our forces, then things will be very complicated. As Comrades Gorelov and Alexeyev have reported, the mood among the leadership, including Comrade Taraki, is not very happy.
KOSYGIN. I don’t think that we should prompt the Afghan government into requesting us to deploy our forces. Let them set up their own special units, to be sent to the more critical areas to suppress the insurgents.
USTINOV. In my view we must not, under any circumstances, mix our units with the Afghan units if we send them there.
KOSYGIN. We must prepare our own military units, draw up a document defining their status, and place them under a special command.
18 March 1979
[Politburo meeting resumes]
KOSYGIN. As concerns Kabul, it is clear from the cables received today that the situation is roughly the same as in Iran. There are demonstrations and crowds of people are massing. Large numbers of individuals, bearing Iranian and Chinese arms, are flowing into Afghanistan from Pakistan and Iran. …
USTINOV. As far as the Tajiks are concerned, they don’t have separate tank units. Now it would be hard to say how many of them are serving in our army’s tank units. … When I talked to Amin he also requested the deployment of forces to Herat to defeat the enemy. …
The Afghan revolution has encountered major difficulties along the way, Amin said in his conversation with me, and its survival depends totally on the Soviet Union.
What’s the problem? Why has this happened? The leadership of Afghanistan did not sufficiently appreciate the role of the Islamic religion. It is under the banner of Islam that the soldiers are joining the other side, and the absolute majority, perhaps, with only rare exceptions, are believers. That is why they are asking us to help drive back the insurgents in Herat. Amin said, somewhat uncertainly, that they can rely on the army. And again, like Comrade Taraki, he appealed for our assistance.
KIRILENKO. It follows that they cannot be certain of their own army. They are depending on one thing only, namely, our tanks and armoured vehicles.
KOSYGIN. In taking a decision to supply such aid, of course, we must seriously think through all the consequences. This is a very serious matter.
ANDROPOV. I have considered this whole issue very attentively, comrades, and concluded that we must consider very, very seriously why we should deploy our forces in Afghanistan. It’s quite clear to us that Afghanistan is not ready at this time to tackle all the issues it faces in a socialist manner. Therefore, I believe that we can only preserve the revolution in Afghanistan with the aid of our bayonets, and for us that is entirely unacceptable. We cannot take such a risk.
KOSYGIN. Perhaps we should instruct our ambassador, Comrade Vinogradov, to go to the Prime Minister of Iran [Mehdi] Bazargan and inform him that interference in the internal affairs of Afghanistan cannot be tolerated.
GROMYKO. I completely support Comrade Andropov’s proposal to rule out a deployment of our troops in Afghanistan. The army there is unreliable. Thus our army, when it enters Afghanistan, will be the aggressor. Against whom will it fight? Against the Afghan people first of all, and it will have to shoot at them.
There will no longer be any question of a meeting between Leonid Ilych [Brezhnev] and [US President Jimmy] Carter, and the visit of [French President] Giscard d’Estaing at the end of March will be in doubt.
What would we gain, we must ask: Afghanistan with its present government, backward economy and insignificant weight in international affairs. On the other hand, we must also remember that we could not justify sending in troops from a legal point of view. According to the UN Charter a country can appeal for assistance, and we could send troops, if it was subject to external aggression. Afghanistan has not been subject to any aggression. This is its internal affair, a revolutionary internal conflict, a battle between one part of the population and another. It should be added that the Afghans haven’t officially requested us to send troops. […]
KOSYGIN. Perhaps we should invite him [Taraki] here and tell him: we are increasing our assistance to you, but we cannot deploy troops, since they would be fighting not against the army, which has gone over to the adversary or is just sitting on the by-lines, but against the people. There would be huge minuses for us. A whole range of countries would quickly come out against us. And there are no pluses for us at all.
ANDROPOV. We should tell Comrade Taraki frankly that we will support you by all possible means apart from the deployment of troops. …
KIRILENKO. We gave him everything. And what has come of it? Nothing did any good. They were the ones who executed innocent people for no reason and told us in their own justification, that we also, supposedly, executed people during Lenin’s time. That’s the kind of Marxists they are.
The situation has changed since yesterday. Yesterday, as I already said, we were unanimous about providing military aid, but we carefully discussed the matter, considered various options, and searched for other approaches than the deployment of troops. I believe that we should present our point of view to Leonid Ilych, invite Comrade Taraki to Moscow and tell him everything we have agreed on.
For full text in translation see Documents on the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan: CWIHP e-dossier No. 4 (November 2001), pp. 31-40.
See Short Biographies for identity and positions of Afghan, Soviet and other officials
- 1. Notes and additions by translator and editor are bracketed, thus [ ];
- 2. Text added by hand is indicated in italic script;
- 3. when a handwritten phrase, figure or word has been added to a previously typed document it is indicated by underlined italic script.