145. Notes on the Meeting of the Afghanistan Action Group, Washington, October 14, 19591


  • From Department of State:
  • NEAG. Lewis Jones (Chairman)
  • NEAParker T. Hart
  • SOAFrederic P. Bartlett
  • SOALeon B. Poullada
  • SOADudley C. Bostwick
  • U/MSCWilliam L. Baxter
  • U/CEAJ. Robert Fluker
  • CUSaxton Bradford
  • CURobert H. Thayer
  • From Department of Defense:
  • DOD (ISA)—J. N. Irwin
  • From International Cooperation Administration:
  • Leonard J. Saccio
  • O/NESA—Stellan C. Wollmar
  • O/NESA—Leland Barrows
  • O/NESA—Harold Schwartz
  • O/NESAEdward Pierce
  • From Development Loan Fund:
  • Hart Perry
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Mr. Jones opened the meeting by stating that the Afghan Action Group had been organized in response to a request from Under secretary Dillon who had recently designated Afghanistan as an “emergency area.” The Department was seriously concerned regarding the penetration of the USSR into Afghanistan and Under Secretary Dillon felt that a high level review of the progress and problems of United States policy regarding Afghanistan is desirable. He stated that the recommendations of the Action Group regarding our Afghanistan policies will be seriously regarded.

Mr. Jones further explained that Prince Naim, Deputy Prime Minister of Afghanistan who has been in Washington on an unofficial visit, has stated to our officials, including the President, that Afghanistan not only is a free country but will vigorously defend its independence. However, the great strides in economic development which are being made in South Central Russia directly across the Oxus River from Afghanistan renders it essential that Afghanistan itself experience enhanced economic well being. Prince Naim also had expressed the opinion that while Afghanistan is a great admirer of the United States, our assistance has been “too little and too slow.”

Mr. Saccio inquired whether we had ever refused military and economic aid to Afghanistan. Mr. Poullada explained that as long ago as 1951 the Afghans had approached us for military aid but wanted us to guarantee their frontiers and intervene in the Pushtunistan dispute. These conditions were not acceptable to the U.S. [1½ lines of source text not declassified] We had not extended economic aid (other than Export-Import Bank loans and TCA) until 1956 although the Afghans had been requesting U.S. aid since 1952.

The Afghanistan situation, Mr. Jones continued, loomed rather large in the recent CENTO meetings and both Iran and Pakistan expressed the view that Soviet penetration, particularly in the military sphere posed a serious threat.2 The Shah of Iran, for example, has a real fear of the Soviet air fields being built in Afghanistan and sees the Iranian flank being turned. Pakistan is experiencing similar apprehension and its fears are accentuated by the artificial, but nevertheless real, Pushtunistan dispute with Afghanistan.

Mr. Jones pointed out, however, that the CENTO powers, including Iran, agreed that Afghanistan was not yet lost to the free world in the same sense as China, and the British and the Turks also agreed with the U.S. position that the Afghans have no present intention of attacking Iran.

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It would appear, the Assistant Secretary further stated, that while Afghanistan’s political independence is important to free world interests it would not appear desirable nor feasible for the United States to attempt to compete in Afghanistan with the Soviets in outright economic warfare. At the same time the United States should not withdraw from the country but rather should maintain its presence and reaffirm its interest in order to give Afghanistan an alternative to Soviet domination. Mr. Jones recalled that when Prince Naim stressed the desire and goal of Afghanistan to maintain its independence, the President had replied that “the United States will be in your corner.”

Mr. Barrows explained that United States aid to Afghanistan is mainly on a grant basis and concentrated in several large projects such as the Helmand Valley, the Regional Transit Project with Afghanistan (which included the construction of a highway between Kabul and Kandahar) and major assistance in civil aviation and education. The Afghans have been disappointed in some of these projects particularly in the development of the Helmand Valley. This situation has been complicated by the inability of the Government of Afghanistan to carry its share of the load particularly in the field of providing skilled labor and by the refusal of the Government to sign a contract with Morrison-Knudsen for additional development of the Valley for which grant funds previously were allocated by ICA. Mr. Wollmar expressed the opinion that the Government of Afghanistan may be on dead center regarding the Helmand development due to “more sinister reasons.” He stated that the ICA Mission in Kabul feels that the Russians may be asked to take over the major development work in the Valley. Mr. Bartlett stated the opinion that the RGA is pursuing what appears to be unrealistic tactics as regards the Helmand project in order to build up a case for requesting further delay in the repayment of the outstanding Export-Import Bank loans which were furnished in the total amount of $39.5 million in 1950–1954. The Group agreed that at the next meeting the following specific problems should be discussed:

Should the United States withdraw from Helmand Valley Development Project and take the risk that the USSR might take over?
The problem of Prime Minister Daud’s request for a flood control dam in the lower Helmand Valley should be placed on the agenda.
An analysis should be made of whether a nominal increase of $1.2 million in the funding for the Kabul–Torkham Road, which has already been approved, is sufficient to meet our objectives and avoid further unfavorable comparisons with Russian road work.
Likewise the Group should study the problem of the increasing shortage of local currencies available in Afghanistan for support of U.S. development projects.

  1. Source: Department of State, SOA Files: Lot 64 D 577, Afghanistan Action Group. Secret; Limit Distribution. Drafted by Bostwick. This was the first meeting of the Afghanistan Action Group, which met on an irregular basis. Minutes of the meetings of the Action Group, which were primarily devoted to technical problems relating to the U.S. aid program in Afghanistan, are ibid.
  2. The Seventh Session of the Ministerial Council of CENTO was held in Washington, October 7–9.