|A KGB perspective of Afghan War||
Afghana! - Help
A KGB defector tells how Afghanistan became Brezhnev's Viet Nam.
Vladimir Kuzichkin, 35, a former KGB major whose presence in Britain
was announced by the British government last month, has given an
extra-ordinary account of Soviet involvement in Afghanistan -perhaps
the greatest blot on Brezhnev's career - as seen by the KGB.
Kuzichkin, who defected to the British last June, had served under
cover in Iran for five years. He was the ultra-secret "Directorate S",
which controls the "illegals," Soviet-born agents abroad. In an
exclusive interview in London last week with Time's Frank Melville,
Kuzichkin said: 1) Brezhnev himself overruled repeated advice from
Yuri Andropov's KGB not to turn Afghanistan into a Soviet satellite,
2) Afghan President Karmal is a KGB agent of long standing, 3)
Karmal's predecessor was murdered in his palace by a specially trained
KGB-led Soviet assault group. Kuzichkin's account:
Senior KGB officers rarely let their hair down about politics. But
Afghanistan has exasperated many. As a former boss [a KGB general] put
it late one night: "Afghanistan is our Viet Nam. Look at what
happened. We began simply by backing a friendly regime; slowly we got
more involved; then we started manipulating the regime - sometimes
using desperate measures - and now? Now we are bogged down in a war we
cannot win and cannot abandon. It's ridiculous. A mess. And but for
Brezhnev and company we would never have gotten into it in the first
place." The general had said what many of us involved with Afghanistan
- in the KGB, the army and outside - felt but would not stick out our
necks to say.
It all began innocently enough with a lucky accident. Over the past 50
years we had never had any serious problems with the Afghan kings.
Then, in 1973, [Mohammad] Daoud overthrew the monarchy with the help
of the leftists. Although the leftist officers had been trained in the
Soviet Union, we had not encouraged them to overthrow the king.
Nevertheless, the reaction of the Soviet leadership was that this
change was for the good.
Our relations with Daoud were never very good. He was keen to keep
open his lines with the West. He did not wish to be too closely
involved with us. Those of us who knew Afghanistan were convinced no
harm would come from that. The Afghans would slaughter each other for
generations regardless of whether they claimed to be Communists.
It was inconceivable to us that Afghanistan could do any credit to the
Soviet Union, let alone "Communism". The Afghans we told each other
should be left to stew in their own juice. We could never control
them, but neither could anybody else. We had our first taste of things
to come in 1978. Daoud turned against the Communists who had helped
him to power. Not only did he arrest leaders of the Afghan Communist
Party, but he planned to execute them. The Afghan Communists were in a
desperate position. They consulted the Soviet Embassy in Kabul. Moscow
quickly confirmed that we would support their proposed coup against
Dauod. Just before it was too late, the Communist leaders ordered the
coup - in fact, from their prison cells.
The coup succeeded and Afghanistan went Communist. But Mr. Brezhnev
and his colleagues brushed aside the vitally important warnings that a
Communist takeover in Afghanistan presented hair-raising problems. We
pointed out that despite all his slaughter, the tribes had accepted
Daoud as a legitimate ruler. An openly Communist regime would arouse
hostility that would then be directed against the Soviet Union.
It was clearly of the utmost importance that Afghanistan should have
the right leader. The choice was between Karmal, who headed the
Parcham faction of the Afghan Communist Party, and [Noor Mohammed]
Taraki who headed the Khalq faction. We knew a lot about both men. In
the papers we put to the Politburo, we scrupulously assessed their
strengths and weaknesses. Our assessment made clear that Taraki would
be a disastrous choice. He was savage by temperament, and had little
feel for complex political issues, and would be easily influenced by
his cronies, but not by us. Karmal, on the other hand, understood the
need for subtle policies. Moreover, he had been a KGB agent for many
years. He could be relied upon to accept our advice.
The Politburo decided to back Taraki because Mr. Brezhnev said he knew
Taraki personally. He was sure Taraki would do a good job! Things
started going off the rails almost at once. Taraki shipped Karmal off
to Prague as ambassador. He then set about killing Karmal's supporters
(many of whom were our own informers). Brezhnev would do nothing to
stop this slaughter - and Karmal, who was already disgruntled, began
to bear a bitter grudge against the Soviet Union. Things soon went
from bad to worse. The Shah had fallen in Iran. Taraki's policies
seemed certain to insure that there would be a Muslim insurrection in
Afghanistan. Taraki's response was to slaughter any opposition within
his reach. Moscow tried to persuade him that this was a recipe for
disaster, he should not repeat Stalin's errors. Taraki told Moscow to
mind its own business.
One day things began to look brighter. A man called Hafizullah Amin
seemingly emerged from nowhere to be Taraki's deputy. He was a
cultivated Oriental charmer. Quietly, Amin began to take control away
from Taraki. More important, he persuaded Moscow that he would be able
to diffuse the Muslim threat. We at the KGB, though, had doubts about
Amin from the start. Our investigations showed him to be a
smooth-talking fascist who was secretly pro-Western (he had been
educated in the United States) and had links with the Americans. We
also suspected that he had links with the CIA, but we had no proof. In
short, the KGB was pointing to a danger that Amin - if he could ride
the tiger of Muslim insurgency and come out on top as the leader of an
Islamic Afghanistan - not only would turn to the West but would also
expel the Soviet Union - lock, stock and barrel - from Afghanistan. On
political grounds, the KGB argued, it would be better, even at this
late hour, to put in Karmal as President.
Despite our warnings and to our complete amazement, Mr. Brezhnev
backed Amin. Taraki was invited to Moscow. Secretly, Mr. Brezhnev and
his Politburo colleges had agreed with Amin that Amin would arrange
for Taraki to step down as president on his return to Kabul. Amin
carried out that agreement in spirit, if not to the letter. Taraki
stepped straight from the presidency to his grave. Moscow was willing
to turn a blind eye to that. It was only weeks, however, before the
smooth-talking Amin made the KGB argument seem correct. Amin did not
honor specific promises he made to the Soviet Union. He complained
about the KGB's activities in Afghanistan, and he wanted the Soviet
officials who had had the "effrontery" to advise him recalled.
Moreover, things in Afghanistan were looking blacker and blacker.
Terrible reports were coming in of what Muslim insurgents were doing
to any Soviet advisers they caught. Worse, though the uprising was
spreading, Amin seemed to be doing nothing to combat it.
The Politburo now really was convinced that the KGB argument had been
right. Amin was planning to turn Afghanistan against the Soviet Union.
So the Politburo decided that Amin had to go. Preferably quietly - but
certainly dead. At first we - that is the KGB - were given the job. We
had an officer, an illegal who passed as an Afghan and had for some
time been one of Amin's personal cooks. He was ordered to poison Amin.
But Amin was as careful as any of the Borgias. He kept switching his
food and drink as if he expected to be poisoned. The illegal's nerves
began to fray as his attempts.
The failures annoyed Moscow. The Politburo accepted a less quiet way
of getting rid of Amin. This time special Soviet troops were to storm
the palace. The day after Christmas 1979, Soviet paratroopers began
arriving at the Kabul airport. They strengthened the substantial
garrison we had quietly been building up there. The next day an
armored column moved out of the airport towards the presidential
palace. It consisted of a few hundred Soviet commandos, plus a
specially trained assault group of KGB officers - rather like the US
Green Berets. They were all in Afghan uniforms, and their vehicles had
Along the road the column was stopped at an Afghan checkpoint. Afghan
troops gathered round to find out what was happening. Suddenly the
flaps of the front vehicle went up and the Afghans were machine-gunned
to the ground. The column rolled on. When it reached the palace, the
special troops attacked from three sides, while Colonel Bayerenov (the
hear of the KGB's terrorist-training school) led the assault on the
palace. The attack got off to a good start. It would have been better
had the leading armored vehicle not got caught up in the palace gates.
Moscow wanted no Afghans left to tell the tale of what had happened in
the palace. No prisoners would be taken. Anybody leaving the building
was to be shot on sight. Amin was found drinking in a bar on the top
floor of the palace. He was shot without question. So was the
exceedingly beautiful young woman with him. The Soviet objective had
been achieved. But the plan was not without its weaknesses. No one had
expected Amin's bodyguard to put up such ferocious resistance within
the palace. Resistance was so stiff that Colonel Bayerenov stepped out
of the door to call for reinforcements. He had forgotten about the
orders to the troops out side and so was shot dead.
Anyway, Amin was now dead. Earlier, Karmal had been located in Europe
and brought to Moscow. He agreed to be the President of Afghanistan
and to invite Soviet troops in to protect his regime. Even before that
announcement was made, tens of thousands of our ground troops were
moving into Afghanistan.
The Western press attributed several motives to Moscow. Some said we
were worried about the impact on Soviet Muslims that an upsurge of
Islamic Fundamentalism in Iran and Afghanistan could have. Others said
that we insisted on having "our own man" or that we were inflamed by
the terrible deaths that Afghan insurgents were inflicting on Soviet
advisors. There is something in these interpretations. But they miss
the real point.
What moved the Politburo was the thought that the Muslim revolution in
Afghanistan could succeed and that, as a result, the Soviet Union
would actually be thrown out of Afghanistan. The repercussions of such
a blow to our prestige would be unpredictable. The Soviet Union could
not run such a risk. The Politburo was determined to show that the
Soviet Union could not be pushed around.
Now the military came to the fore. The army had not been happy about
the way our military involvement in Afghanistan had been handled. Some
has argued that troops, not advisers, should have been sent in 1978
before things got out of hand. But in December 1979, the general staff
felt that 80,000 or so Soviet troops could get the situation under
There was not a new Afghan leader, a KGB agent at that, and
substantial Soviet support. The Afghan Army, we believed, would go
over to the offensive. The insurgents themselves would be reluctant to
take on such odds. Soviet troops were just supposed to provide the
initial stiffener. Well before Amin's murder, two divisions, specially
made up of Farsi-speaking troops from neighboring Tadzhikistan and
Uzbekistan had been assembled along the frontier. They all had Afghan
uniforms. They were supposed to make our intervention go more
smoothly. In retrospect, it was an error. In no time at all they were
black-marketeering (including selling army equipment), buying Korans
and robbing the local population (for which many were executed). They
showed little interest in fighting "their neighbors", the Afghans.
European troops were soon brought to replace the Tadzhiks and Uzbeks.
We made two major errors of judgment. We overestimated the willingness
of the Afghan army to fight and underestimated the upsurge of Afghan
resistance. As a result we sent in too few troops. The trouble is that
Moscow cannot correct this error. When we began to get bogged down, of
course, the army argued for more troops. The Soviet general staff
wanted at least twice as many - to seal off the frontier with Pakistan
and to get better control along the boarder with Iran. But the
Politburo ruled that out. By then, it feared provoking a serious
Now no one in the USSR is happy. Soviet troops are bogged down. Karmal
has not established effective leadership. Like his predecessors,
Karmal is proving somewhat truculent in his dealings with Moscow.
Given the way he was treated, that is hardly surprising. By the Spring
of this year, the Politburo was already considering having him
replaced - but decided to give him a bit more time.
Nobody can really see a way out. There is no prospect that the Soviet
Union will withdraw from Afghanistan in the foreseeable future. For
those of us who know what really happened, it is all a stark reminder
of how Soviet leadership deals with foreign