47. Memorandum Prepared in the Central Intelligence Agency1

Possible Soviet Reactions to Specific Covert Action Initiatives

I. Afghanistan

General Comments

Consideration of possible Soviet responses to proposed US covert action options is dominated by one large and irreducible uncertainty: How far are the Soviet leaders prepared to go in support of the Teraki regime in the absence of significant and visible external assistance to insurgents?

If successful, US covert action assistance to insurgents would increase Afghanistan’s need for Soviet support and, if the Soviets are willing to provide it, would raise the military and political costs of larger and more visible increments of Soviet assistance. If the Soviets are determined to keep the Teraki regime in power, including, if necessary, by committing Soviet combat forces on a substantial scale, even the most extensive covert action programs cannot prevent them from doing so. It is true that external assistance to insurgents, particularly [Page 135] if and when it became more visible, would be exploited by the Soviets to justify their own deepening involvement. But this line will be taken by the Soviets in any case to justify their own increased support for the Teraki regime, whether or not insurgency is substantially aided by covert action. The Soviets are already making such charges.2 Successful covert action would however raise the costs to the Soviets of larger and more visible increments in their role. It would inflame Moslem opinion in many countries against the USSR, which would be seen as suppressing a religious-motivated insurgency.

On the other hand, if the Soviet leaders are uncertain how far they are prepared to go to rescue the Teraki regime, and are waiting to see if smaller increments of help will suffice, then a substantial covert action program, particularly if highly visible, could raise their stake in the issue. It is conceivable that some Soviets could view such a heightened US role as enhancing the dangers and uncertainties of more direct Soviet combat involvement, and therefore as additional cause for caution. But it is more likely that a large US-backed covert action operation would be seen as a challenge on their periphery, and would induce them to intervene more directly and vigorously than otherwise intended. While we believe the Soviets are strongly predisposed to aid this Afghan regime—which is ideologically sympathetic, closely tied to them, and most important, geographically contiguous—we have as yet insufficient basis for judging in which direction they are so far leaning on the subject of eventual combat intervention.

Alternative Options

1. Radio Broadcasts from Pakistan: The Soviets are already heavily denouncing Pakistan and the US in their own propaganda as responsible for the Afghan insurgency, and they will probably continue to do so, no matter what the US and Pakistan do, so long as a serious security problem remains in Afghanistan. In the event of the Pakistan propaganda counteroffensive with covert US support postulated, the Soviets would probably escalate their rhetoric somewhat more, and would be likely to make additional diplomatic demarches in Islamabad in protest, citing broadcast evidence of Pakistani support for the insurgents.

Beyond this, the main potential Soviet lever in dealings with Pakistan is the possibility that the USSR might retaliate by inciting unrest among Pakistan’s Baluchi tribes. So long as a major Afghan insurgency continued, the Afghan regime might hesitate to attempt this itself because of fear that Baluchi separatism in Pakistan might spread to Afghanistan and compound the security problem. The Soviets, how[Page 136]ever, probably have some independent capability to bring pressure upon Pakistan in more measured and insulated fashion by inciting activity by Marxist groups among Pakistan’s Baluchis. It is conceivable that the USSR might begin to do this in response to a sustained Pakistani radio propaganda aimed at Afghanistan. The degree of provocation the Soviets would perceive, however, would be considerably less than would be the case in the combat support options below. The US hand would not be very visible, the Pakistanis could claim that their propaganda was a response to that of the USSR, and the Soviets might be reluctant to burn their bridges to Islamabad too quickly. As time went on, however, if Pakistani broadcasts were perceived by the Soviets as having a significant inflammatory effect upon the Afghan population and as worsening the security situation, the Soviets would be progressively more likely to play the Baluchi card.

2. Insurgency Support—Direct Financial Aid. Soviets would of course exploit the expected leakage of the fact of such aid in their own already ongoing propaganda campaign, and use this as evidence that the revolt from the start had been US-instigated. The Soviets would use this in the West and in the US in an effort to paint US policy as provocative and reactionary, and thus to generate internal counterpressures on US policy machinery. Likelihood of Soviet attempts to injure Pakistan, however, would not be significantly greater than it is already in absence of such funding, since the Pakistan government position would remain essentially what it is now—one of tacit connivance rather than active encouragement and direction of insurgent use of Pakistan territory.

3. Insurgency Support—Indirect Financial Aid. In this case, with the US somewhat less visible and vulnerable and the Saudis and Paks proportionately more so, Soviet incentives to exert pressure on the latter two would be increased. The Saudis already fund a wide variety of anti-Soviet projects in various areas (from the Middle East to Angola), and the additional Soviet incentive for wanting to be able to change these Saudi policies and Saudi regime would be superfluous. There is little that the Soviets themselves can do, in practice, to retaliate against the Saudis; it is other Arabs who possess what leverage exists on the Saudis, and the USSR has only a marginal capability to affect the extent of such pressure. In any case, most Arab governments, including most “progressive” ones, would sympathize with Moslem insurgents seeking to overthrow a communist regime in Afghanistan. The Pakistani government, however, would be considerably more vulnerable to pressure from the Soviets if it followed this option, and the chances that the Soviets would move toward employment of their Baluchi option would rise.

4. Insurgency Support—Non-Lethal Material. This would not significantly change the equation spelled out in (3) so far as Soviets are [Page 137] concerned, except that the scope of the operation would be somewhat enlarged, and with it, the visibility. The distinction between non-lethal and lethal would be believed by nobody, even if it were closely maintained; hence it would not significantly reduce Pakistan-US propaganda vulnerability below that which would otherwise exist.

5. Unconventional Warfare Support—On-Site Survey. In view of the unsatisfactory state of present US knowledge of the nature, extent of and potential for support of the Afghan insurgency from Pakistani soil, this option is one which should logically precede all the others. If the Soviets became aware of such a survey, they might interpret it as a possible harbinger of a more active US role both in the Afghan insurgency effort and in providing security backing for Pakistan against Soviet pressure. If the USSR drew this conclusion it would be likely to become more active diplomatically. The Soviets would seek to alarm the Indians about an imminent strengthening of the US security relationship with Pakistan. They would present more demarches to the Pakistanis about the dangers Islamabad was bringing on itself by tying itself to an unreliable and ephemeral US relationship. Beyond this, however, the Soviets would probably wait upon events before taking more vigorous action.

6. and 7: Unconventional Warfare Support—Phases I and II. At some point in the sequence between phases I and II, the Soviets would be likely to begin to incite unrest among Pakistan’s Baluchis, if they had not already done so. The Soviets in this phase would also become more likely to make a direct demarche to the US, warning Washington against expanding interference in fraternal Afghanistan. The USSR might now add demarches to leaders they might think susceptible in Western Europe, arguing that the US was once again venturing on the same adventuristic line of policy that proved so disastrous in Vietnam, that the US was endangering the stability of detente not only between US and USSR but also for West Europeans, that the USSR had demonstrated its responsibility and restraint during the Sino-Vietnamese war, in contrast to US incitement of that war, but that the USSR could not be expected to stand idly by and see a socialist neighboring state undermined and “destabilized” as in distant Chile by the perfidious CIA. In talking to the Iranians, the Soviets would seek to counter anti-Kabul sentiments in Tehran by playing upon Iranian paranoia about US imperialism left over from the Shah relationship, and by intensifying any efforts which may be already under way to persuade Khomeini that US covert action is responsible for some of Iran’s present troubles with its own minorities. Finally, the USSR would seek to alarm the Indians about an imminent strengthening of the US security relationship with Pakistan, and would inter alia suggest that the US was about to adopt a more permissive attitude toward Pakistan’s acquisition of a nuclear capability.

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8. Unconventional Warfare Support—Phases III and IV. At these stages, to the degree that this support from Pakistan was seen by the Soviets as becoming critical for the insurgency, this might tip the balance in Soviet thinking on whether to commit ground combat forces to Afghanistan. That is, the Soviet decision on this point would to some extent begin to be influenced not only by the gravity of the insurgency itself, but also by the fact of a perceived US challenge. At the same time, the possibility would rapidly begin to grow that the Afghan military authorities might react directly against Pakistani base areas. If Soviet combat forces were present, they might under some circumstances take part in such a cross-border punitive operation. The Soviets would be particularly likely to move in this direction if the US security relationship with Pakistan remained somewhat ambiguous.

If, on the other hand, the US had in the meantime negotiated a clear and strongly-enunciated security relationship with the Paks which the US had unambiguously communicated to Moscow, the Soviets would be less likely to allow their own forces to respond with raids into Pakistan, but would in any case seek to enhance Kabul’s ability to do so. The Soviets would in the meantime vigorously seek to exploit Indian fears and resentment of such an unambiguous US military tie to Pakistan.

[Omitted here is a section on the Arabian Peninsula.]

  1. Source: National Security Council, Carter Administration Intelligence Files, Box I–047, Afghanistan: 8 May 1978–7 Dec 1978. Secret; [handling restriction not declassified]. The memorandum was one of several papers prepared for the April 6 SCC meeting. See Document 48. In a memorandum to Brzezinski, April 4, Henze characterized this memorandum and the paper, Document 45, as “serious intelligence papers that provide a basis for realistic discussion.” Still, Henze noted, the Department of State was not enthusiastic about implementing the proposals, while CIA personnel were divided as well: “Turner wants to please everybody and avoid controversy; Carlucci is in a Hamlet-like pose; McMahon wants to straddle everybody’s position. All this is clearly sensed by the sharp minds that still exist in the DDO. Many DDO officers oppose all these actions because they do not believe the Agency has the capability to carry them out effectively in the field. Others are primarily concerned about what they consider to be inevitable leaks which will cause the Administration to back down, even if it does launch some of this activity, and leave CIA again exposed as well as embarrassed abroad.” Henze’s memorandum is attached to Document 48, but not printed.
  2. See Documents 43 and 44.