287. Memorandum Prepared in the Central Intelligence Agency1




Overall US intelligence collection capability on Soviet casualties in Afghanistan is considered only fair. Our evidence comes primarily from [1 line not declassified]. These sources rarely agree and often contain conflicting information. In consequence it is impossible to provide [Page 768] anything more than a range of plausible estimates. At the bottom of the range we are fairly confident that Soviet casualties to date total at least 4,000. At the top of the range we can find reasonable grounds for entertaining the possibility that these casualties may have been as much as two or three times higher.3 Whatever the number, it is important to bear in mind that a high proportion of injured soldiers are probably returned to duty.4 ([classification marking, codeword, and handling restriction not declassified])

Combat Casualties

[1½ lines not declassified] These reports provide information on the number of Soviet troops killed or wounded in combat during a specified period, often with a breakdown by individual unit. Although incomplete, these data indicate that Soviet military forces suffered at least 2,031 casualties—771 killed and 1,260 wounded and injured—between late December and mid-May. Among individual ground units [less than 1 line not declassified] casualties during this period were as low as 2 percent but generally approached 5 percent and in one instance reached 13 percent. ([classification marking and codeword not declassified])

[less than 1 line not declassified] do not provide continuous coverage on all combat units in Afghanistan. [1½ lines not declassified] indicate a consistently low level of casualties, perhaps no more than a total of 4,000 from late December to mid-May if the actual figures obtained are doubled. Additional casualties on which we do not yet have a complete assessment [less than 1 line not declassified] have undoubtedly been incurred in late May, when combat continued to expand into new geographic areas. ([classification marking, codeword, and handling restriction not declassified])

Other Casualties

There are instances of casualties not specifically covered [1 line not declassified] other reporting addresses types of noncombat casualties that are not covered in the [less than 1 line not declassified] cited above. This includes casualties among combat support personnel, off-duty troops, and advisers who are killed or wounded by insurgents, by deserting Afghan Army troops, or by angry civilians. These reports [Page 769] frequently provide details of how and when casualties occurred—for example, that 120 Soviets died at the hands of rebellious Afghan soldiers on 17 January; that 25 Soviets were killed in one part of Kabul during the demonstrations in late February; and that 17 Soviets were killed on 16 or 17 May in a firefight between Afghan and Soviet soldiers around Pol-i-Charkhi prison. These and numerous other similar reports raise the possibility that total Soviet casualties in Afghanistan may be two or three times higher than the 4,000 minimum. ([classification marking and handling restriction not declassified])

  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, National Intelligence Council Files, Job 82B00561R, Box 1, NICM 80–10003CX: Soviet Casualties in Afghanistan, 10 June 1980. Top Secret; [codeword and handling restriction not declassified]
  2. This memorandum was prepared under the aegis of the National Intelligence Officer for the USSR and Eastern Europe at the request of the Near East Bureau of the Department of State and was fully coordinated within the Intelligence Community. [Footnote is in the original.]
  3. The Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence, Department of the Army; the Assistant Chief of Staff, Intelligence, Department of the Air Force; and the Director of Intelligence, Headquarters Marine Corps believe that there is inadequate intelligence data on which to treble the 4,000 minimum Soviet casualty figure. [Footnote is in the original.]
  4. Army medical intelligence estimates that typically 60 percent would return to duty in about two weeks after hospitalization. [less than 1 line not declassified] emphasizes the validity of the World War II experience that in the long term 70 percent of all wounded are returned to military duty. [Footnote is in the original.]