24 January 1989* (Pb 146/VI) Afghanistan withdrawal

Politburo. The imminent withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan, alternative scenarios. [Russian: 24 Jan 89, Pb 146-VI] total 13 pp (excerpts).


[page one of thirteen]

Return to CPSU Central Committee
(General Department, Sector 2) within 3 days

Workers of all Lands, Unite!



No. Pb 146/VI

To Comrades:

Gorbachev, Ryzhkov, Slyunkov, Chebrikov,
Sheverdnadze, Yakovlev, Maslyukov, Yazov,
Murakhovsky, Kryuchkov, Baldin,
Falin – all items;
Gostev – items 2 & 6; Volkov – item 5; Katushev – item 6

Excerpt from Minutes No. 146 of the meeting of the Politburo of the CPSU Central Committee, held on 24 January 1989

Measures linked to the forthcoming withdrawal of Soviet troops from  Afghanistan

1. Agree with the views expressed by Comrades Sheverdnadze, Chebrikov, Yakovlev, Yazov, Marukhovsky and Kryuchkov in their Note (attached).

2. Be guided by the necessity of ensuring that Hairatan-Kabul Highway can function and provide all-round support to the Afghan Comrades to organise the security of this highway with their own forces, even to the point of supplying food products to their units for a certain period of time. Gosplan, the USSR Ministry of Finance, together with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Defence and the KGB are to present the corresponding proposals by 1 February.

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mainitaing the The USSR Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the KGB, the Ministry of Defence  and the International Department are to be guided by these views in developing practical measures in relation to Afghanistan.


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Concerning item 6, Minutes No. 146

Top Secret


To the CPSU Central Committee

On Measures linked to the forthcoming Withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan

In the difficult situation characterizing the state of affairs in Afghanistan, one can increasingly feel the inner tension arising from the impending withdrawal of the remaining units of Soviet troops. The attention of the regime and the forces of the opposition is totally focused on 15 February, when, in agreement with the Geneva Accords, the term of stay of our military contingent must end. In addition, the given timetable for Kabul is even more constrained, as the last Soviet military units must leave the Afghan capital in the beginning of February. …

… the Afghan comrades are seriously worried as to how the situation will turn out. In general, their resolve to resist the enemy is strengthening; they are taking a number of emergency measures and trying to arrange the available forces more rationally. The Afghan comrades are counting, to a certain extent, on the continuation of their contacts with a fairly significant number of commanding officers within armed detachments of the enemy, on the strong disagreements which continue to exist within the opposition, and on the incompatibility of some of its leading political groups …


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The Afghan comrades have expressed and affirmed once again their understanding of the decision to withdraw Soviet forces. But having soberly assessed the situation, they point out that they cannot manage completely without our military assistance. Such assistance, in their opinion, could be rendered in forms different from today and on a limited scale, but it would still be a serious support both practically and psychologically. The Afghan comrades believe that if, after the withdrawal of Soviet forces, the opposition is unable to capture the principal centres in a swoop, then the Peshawar “alliance of seven” and the Teheran “union of eight” will have to enter into negotiations with Kabul over the future government in Afghanistan, which they steadfastly refuse to do at this time.

In the given situation there arise for us a number of difficult elements. On the one hand, if we depart from decisions, made and announced, to complete the withdrawal of our forces on 15 February this may cause extremely undesirable complications in the international arena. On the other hand, there is no assurance that shortly after our departure there will not arise a very serious danger to a regime that is, throughout the world, associated with us.

Despite these difficulties the problem of the regime’s survival was reduced to that of supplying the main urban centres, especially Kabul, with food and fuel.

It is very clear that the opposition plans to organize an economic blockade of Kabul, close off its supply of foodstuffs and petroleum products, and provoke discontent and even direct insurgence among the population. Such a blockade is already being implemented by the opposition in the form of highway robberies, and the intimidation and bribery of drivers of Afghan ground-based freight vehicles destined for Kabul. The present complications with flour and foodstuffs in Kabul are to a significant degree related to the failure to defeat Ahmad Shah, whose detachments present the greatest threat to the road between Kabul and Hairatan, when the time was ripe. At present, Kabul’s monthly flour requirement alone is around 15,000 tons. Recently, several thousand tons of flour were delivered by Soviet motor and air transport. However, it is imperative to have provisions for at least 2-3 months, which would be controlled by the President and give the Afghan Friends the chance of feeling secure in this matter.

[VKB — The Politburo discussed possible alternatives, each of which is striking in its own way and most characteristic for the Kremlin “reformers”.]

[page seven]



First scenario. Citing the difficult situation of the civilian population, leave one division, i.e. approximately 12,000 people, on the Hairatan-Kabul highway. This  scenario is hardly desirable, as it may be asked at the UN why we did not completely withdraw our forces. Despite the fact that Pakistan is not fulfilling its obligations under the Geneva Accords, one may assume that the majority of countries at the UN would not support us because, for many, the question of the military is the crux of the problem.


[page eight]


Second scenario. Citing the threat of starvation in Kabul and other cities, appeal to the UN to urgently provide a shipment of foodstuffs and petroleum products to the cities and send UN troops to keep the highway in operation. Until the UN forces arrive, leave our military units in these positions to carry out strictly humanitarian functions, providing the population with foodstuffs and petroleum products. Affirm that the withdrawal of the Soviet military contingent has taken place. Announce that, after the arrival of the UN forces, our units will immediately return to the Soviet Union.

However, this scenario is unfeasible, since the deployment of UN forces requires a decision of the Security Council, on which we cannot depend.

Third scenario. Withdraw all troops by 15 February, as planned; affirm this in the international arena with pronouncements by the governments of the USSR and the Republic of Afghanistan. Then, at the request of the Afghan government, which will appeal to the countries of the world, begin to escort convoys of civilian cargo with Soviet military units for their defence. The escort of such convoys could start within approximately two weeks after the withdrawal of Soviet troops. Prior to this, we should create a wide public opinion condemning the actions of the opposition, which has sentenced the population of Afghan cities to death from starvation. Against the backdrop of this opinion the escort of convoys by our units would appear to be a natural humanitarian step. In this scenario there would be a battle each time to clear certain sections of the road.

Fourth scenario. Withdraw almost all Soviet troops by 15 February. Officially affirm the withdrawal of the Soviet military contingent in a corresponding statement. But, on the pretext of transferring some posts


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on the Afghan side of the Hairatan-Kabul highway, leave Soviet units at some of the more important posts, including in the Salang Pass. Avoid creating too much noise, on our part, about this action; note that this concerns a only small number of Soviet military personnel who were slightly delayed because the Afghan side has not yet taken over from them. After some time, as in the third scenario, begin escorting convoys to Kabul under our military protection.

In all these scenarios we can begin from the fact that these operations would be undertaken by our regular units, but they must be formed on a volunteer basis, primarily from among military personnel who are serving their time in Afghanistan or have served their term and are now in Soviet Union. Offer a salary of 800-1000 roubles per month, partially in Afghan currency, for the rank-and-file and significantly increase the officers’ salaries as well.

Give international observers the right – and announce this widely – to verify whether we are actually escorting civilian goods. In the nearest future, talks should be held with the Aga Khan, the UN Special Coordinator of humanitarian and economic assistance programs so as to use these programs and the office  of the Special Coordinator in order to counteract the extremists’ plans to stifle Kabul and other large Afghan cities with an economic blockade.

In the talks with the Aga Khan it should be suggested that UN convoys of foodstuffs, petroleum products, and medical supplies


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go not only through Pakistan, but, to a significant extent, through Soviet Union.

In all of the four enumerated scenarios it is intended that a certain number of Soviet troops will be left behind after 15 February 1989.

There still remains yet another, fifth, scenario: Soviet forces are withdrawn completely before 15 February, but we give the Afghan side additional assistance, including funding, to organize the defence of the Hairatan-Kabul highway using their own forces, even providing completely for these Afghan units for a determined time-period, though, undoubtedly, this would be tied to considerable difficulties, especially in ensuring a dependable convoy escort.



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E. Shevardnadze; V. Chebrikov; A. Yakovlev; D. Yazov; V. Murakhovsky; V. Kryuchkov



In Judgment in Moscow (Chapter Six) Bukovsky describes this successful strategy and its only partially successful replication in Eastern Europe as “Withdrawal without Retreat“.

See Short Biographies for identity and positions of Afghan, Soviet and other officials.


  • 1. Notes by translator and editor are bracketed, thus [ ];
  • 2. text written by hand is indicated in italic script;
  • 3. when a handwritten phrase, figure or word has been added to a previously typed document this is indicated by underlined italic script.

Translation, JC

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