244. Telegram From the Embassy in Afghanistan to the Department of State1

8592. CINCPAC & CINCEUR also for POLAD. Subj: (LOU) Massive Soviet Air Operations into Kabul Continue.

1. (C-entire text)

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2. Summary: Massive Soviet air operations into Kabul began Christmas morning and have not stopped yet. AN–22s, heavy jets, and AS–12s have been observed in large numbers, and the total flights may now exceed one hundred fifty to two hundred. (Most of these aircraft have had Soviet Air Force markings.) No information is available as yet regarding what was on those planes, but we have not yet seen any Soviet troops on the streets of Kabul, nor have we observed any significant increase in the Afghan military’s alert status in the capital. End of summary.

3. The first of three phases of intensive operations began at about 0400 Christmas morning and continued until just before 0700. These flights were probably all AN–22s, since they were the only aircraft seen after dawn broke at about 0600. Numbers of aircraft involved is very difficult to pin down, but at one point an Embassy officer (a former Air Force intelligence officer) could see five AN–22s stacked over the city, despite his limited field of view caused by nearby buildings and trees. Given this density of traffic, we would estimate that a minimum of twenty AN–22s arrived and/or departed Kabul during this first phase, although the number could have been much higher. Some of these aircraft departed the city beginning at about 1100, while at least four were observed still on the ground at 1500.

4. These operations were just the preliminary, however, as more action appeared to get underway at about 1800 Christmas evening. Heavy jet aircraft were heard arriving in fairly quick succession, but by that hour darkness had fallen and, combined with a low ceiling, it was impossible to determine the exact type of plane. These were definitely heavy jets, however, possibly IL–76 or something somewhat smaller. Again, the numbers of aircraft involved is impossible for us to determine with any certainty but we estimate that about twenty jet transports may have been operating during this second phase.

5. Finally, at about 2200 Christmas evening, operations switched to turbo-prop aircraft (most probably AN–12s, but possibly AN–22s as well). These seemingly unending flights continued throughout the night and have not stopped as yet. One officer counted more than one hundred and thirty flights between 2200 and about 0600 this morning. Since daybreak, we have seen AN–12s and AN–22s in the skies over Kabul.

6. We have no firm information as yet regarding what was on these aircraft, although some credible reports contend that heavy equipment and ammunition was on yesterday morning’s AN–22 contingent. We have not seen anything resembling mass movements of any Soviet troops who may have been on these planes, but there are routes leaving the airport which the regime could use which would not be visible to innocent observers. It strikes us that this massive sky train could easily [Page 709] have brought in thousands of personnel, and we will report immediately if any Soviet troops are seen in or around the capital.

7. After the above was written, a State officer arriving from New Delhi this morning saw about 200 Soviet Army troops around some of the planes at Kabul Airport. He also saw a group of APCs deployed at the east end of the runway. This leads us to believe that the Soviet troops are probably being deployed directly from the aircraft to waiting transportation, thereby bypassing the main highway into Kabul.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Cables File, Afghanistan, Box 1, 12/23–26/79. Confidential; Sensitive; Immediate. Sent for information to Ankara, Athens, Beijing, Islamabad, London, Moscow, New Delhi, USNATO, Paris, CINCPAC, and CINCEUR. Printed from a copy that indicates the original was received in the White House Situation Room.