161. Intelligence Cable1

[cable number not declassified]

Subj: [1 line not declassified]

Afghanistan: Status of the Afghan Army. (U)

1. (S [codeword not declassified]) The internal collapse of the Afghan Army is gathering momentum.2 An engagement on 9 January is the first confirmed Soviet operation against the rebels.

2. (S [codeword not declassified]) The Army’s desertion problem has become particularly acute in the northeast. Officers and men of the 31st Regiment of the Nahrin-based 20th Division deserted last week following an accidental bombing of their position. Virtually all 20th Division forces in Takhar Province have deserted. Additionally, troops [Page 463]of the 75th Regiment sent from Kabul to reinforce the 20th Division’s units in Konduz are deserting. Most of the locally recruited troops of this regiment are returning to their homes in Konduz. As a result, the 20th Division’s artillery regiment is being moved from Konduz as a precaution.

3. (S [codeword not declassified]) In the adjacent 19th Division in Badakhshan Province, both the 24th and 27th Regiments are suffering from severe combat fatigue, desertions, and dissension spread by disloyal troops and intense rebel pressure. Airborne and commando battalions attached from Kabul since November are also threatening to refuse to fight.

4. (S [codeword not declassified]) Evidence of disloyalty has also surfaced in other units. Armored troops of the 17th Division in Herat are spreading antigovernment propaganda. Intelligence and police forces in the city are refusing to work, and the town has been virtually shut down for 3 days. Herat and other large cities have been placed under a strict night curfew to avert the danger of civil disorder. Herat is of particular concern because it was the scene of a bloody anti-Soviet military and civilian uprising last March. East of Kabul, both the 11th Division at Jalalabad and the 9th Mountain Division at Asadabad have experienced severe desertion problems. In each division at least one regiment has bolted or refuses to fight.

5. (S [codeword not declassified]) South of Kabul, a mortar company of the 14th Division at Ghazni attacked its battalion headquarters before fleeing. Deserters from the disarmed Kabul garrison have been captured by the Kandahar-based II Corps. That Corps and its sister III Corps in Paktia Province have also experienced desertions but at apparently lower rates than units nearer the Soviet border.

  1. Source: Carter Library, National Security Affairs, Brzezinski Material, Cables File, Box 4, Afghanistan: 1/11/80 (0000–1599). Secret; [handling restriction not declassified]; Sensitive; Priority. Printed from a copy that was received in the White House Situation Room.
  2. An intelligence memorandum prepared in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, January 9, noted: “rebel forces appear to be making substantial gains in a large number of regions” and “the Afghan military is attempting to assert itself more but to date seems barely capable of holding on to areas that have been under its control.” (Central Intelligence Agency, Office of the Director of Central Intelligence, Job 81B00401R: Subject Files of the Presidential Briefing Coordinator for DCI (1977–81), Box 8, Afghanistan Crisis—January 1980, SITREPs)