77. Memorandum From the Director of the Strategic Warning Staff, Central Intelligence Agency (MacEachin) to the National Intelligence Officer for Warning, Central Intelligence Agency (Lehman)1

[memorandum number not declassified]


  • USSR-Afghanistan

1. We are concerned that in the month that has elapsed since the USSR-Afghanistan Alert Memorandum and the IIM Soviet Options in Afghanistan were issued,2 the Soviets appear to have put themselves in position to move a larger ground combat force into Afghanistan in less time and affording less advance warning than was believed possible at the time those papers were written. [classification marking not declassified]

2. Activity at the Soviet ground force installation at Kushka, some five kilometers from the Afghanistan border, indicates that the readiness of the motorized rifle division whose units are located there has been substantially increased. Indeed, the evidence suggests that through the last month at least some elements probably have been fleshed out with reservists to full combat strength. This division sits on the best surface route into Afghanistan. With full manpower and equipment, it could move by road in armed convoy from its present location to as far as, for example, Kandahar in Afghanistan in about 24 hours. [classification marking and codeword not declassified]

3. The Soviet motorized rifle division units at Termez, also located directly adjacent to the Afghanistan border at a major crossing point, have been unusually active recently. The activity there has not been as extensive in either scale or duration as that at Kushka. This division would not be able to move by surface routes into Afghanistan as easily as the one at Kushka because it would have to cross the Oxus by barge. Nevertheless, if the division is at increased manning and readiness, as the evidence suggests, at least major elements could move into the Mazar-i-Sharif area of Afghanistan in 24–48 hours. [classification marking and codeword not declassified]

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4. In sum, if those two Soviet motorized divisions located on the Afghanistan border are now manned at higher states of readiness, as the evidence suggests they may be, the Soviets would be able, within about a 48 hour period, to insert an airborne division (the 105th at Fergana) into Kabul, a motorized rifle division into Kandahar, and at least major elements of a motorized rifle division into Mazar-i-Sharif. A major ground force intervention along these lines would not need to be preceded by much if any visible mobilization of army and front level support elements. [classification marking not declassified].

5. At the time the IIM Soviet Options in Afghanistan was being drafted the consensus of community analysts was that the Soviets could insert an airborne division and possibly some individual combat units of battalion or regimental size while affording us little warning but that any major military action beyond that probably would have to be the kind of multi-division action that would be clearly indicated well in advance. While that judgement may have been consistent with the situation at the time, we do not believe it remains valid. [classification marking not declassified]

6. Adding to our concern in this regard is information we recently obtained [less than 1 line not declassified] indicating that activity seen in imagery of Kushka and Termez, in the spring of this year, and which was interpreted to be exercise activity of the units normally garrisoned there, actually was an augmentation—albeit apparently of a temporary nature—with additional forces originally located several hundred kilometers from the Afghanistan border. This evidence points to the difficulty of interpreting [1½ lines not declassified] the significance of activities of ground force units in and around major garrisons. [classification marking and codeword not declassified]

7. Another factor that bears on the Soviet ability to quickly move larger forces into Afghanistan is the extent to which major terminals in Afghanistan, particularly the air terminals, have been improved. We do not know, in fact, the full extent of what has taken place in the two months that the Pavlovskiy mission has been in Afghanistan. Recent imagery, however, does show that at Bagram airbase parking areas are being blacktopped and a new heightfinder radar now is operational there. Both of these improvements raise the traffic handling capacity of the airfields. We also have unconfirmed information [less than 1 line not declassified] that the Soviets have virtually “taken over” Kandahar airport, which already has been the best equipped in Afghanistan in terms of air traffic capacity. According to [less than 1 line not declassified] the cargo of much of the extensive airlift that has been underway in the last two months has been construction materials. [classification marking and codeword not declassified]

8. Adding to the ominous nature of these military developments are:

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a. The recent mutiny of at least elements of an Afghan army division near Kabul. Based on reports of the duration and scale of the measures to suppress it, this latest mutiny appears to be the most serious break yet in the cohesiveness of the Afghan army. Whether and where another uprising might take place must concern the Soviets. The worst case they probably envisage is a defection (as opposed to a mutiny) of one or two whole divisions to the Muslim insurgency. A military coup could be accommodated by the Soviets, but a major defection could cause the entire situation to become unravelled, making the Soviet options even more unpleasant than they are at present. [classification marking not declassified]

b. Information that on 17 October, shortly after the mutiny, a meeting of the highest [less than 1 line not declassified] was held to discuss Afghanistan. [classification marking and codeword not declassified]

c. Information that Pavlovskiy was still in Afghanistan on 19 October apparently awaiting some decision or orders. [classification marking and handling restriction not declassified]

Activity at Kushka and Termez

9. Beginning in [less than 1 line not declassified] imagery of the Kushka ground force installation began to show substantial amounts of ground force equipment in the nearby rail transshipment area. Initially, it was difficult to ascertain whether equipment was coming in or going out. By early September, however, it appeared that the entire garrison had been vacated. While a full interpretation must await a detailed imagery analysis, the types and amounts of equipment suggest that at a minimum a motorized rifle regiment, an artillery unit, an anti-aircraft unit, and some combat support units had moved out. The destination was unknown at the time, but later evidence indicated that a major field training exercise was underway. About [less than 1 line not declassified] later, the same types of units appeared to have begun returning to the garrison. By [less than 1 line not declassified] all units apparently were back. [classification marking and codeword not declassified]

10. [1 line not declassified] SWS cannot make any firm judgements as to what transpired. While the activity appears to be only exercise-related, we also believe the evidence suggests the forces at Kushka may have been augmented. [classification marking and codeword not declassified]

11. In any event, the units at Kushka were believed to be in a Category III (or Cadre) manning status prior to the recent activity. To undergo a field training exercise of the scale and duration of what appears to have taken place in the last month would have required the call-up of a substantial number of reservists. In a sense, the units were in a “mobilized” status at least for the past month. We believe a [Page 217] detailed study of imagery should be undertaken in an effort to see if the overall status of the division has been upgraded on a permanent basis. [classification marking and codeword not declassified]

12. At Termez, a motorized rifle regiment appeared to be vacating its garrison on [less than 1 line not declassified] in a convoy headed towards a railroad loading area. [less than 1 line not declassified] the activity at the garrison seemed normal, with the vehicles apparently returned to their sheds. However, a camp of 110 tents was still set up in a training area some seven kilometers away. As is the case with the units at Kushka, a major field training exercise probably would require some call-up of reservists. Moreover, we cannot determine whether the tent camp belongs to the motorized rifle regiment that apparently came out of the Termez garrison on [less than 1 line, classification, and codeword not declassified]

Evidence of Previous Augmentation of Border Divisions

13. [3 lines not declassified] After one week, the regiment was transferred by railroad via Alma Ata to Termez where it remained for about two weeks, then transferred to a tent camp in Kushka. The reasons for the mobilization type call-up and move, according to [1 line not declassified] was the unsettled situation in Iran and Afghanistan. [classification marking not declassified]

14. From information furnished [less than 1 line not declassified], the MR was at Termez during the period 13–27 March and at Kushka from 27 March to 15 April. [less than 1 line not declassified] the Kushka Army Barracks installation during this timeframe revealed a high level of activity at the installation and in the surrounding training areas. Equipment was observed in four bivouac areas north, south, east and west of the installation from [less than 1 line, classification marking, and codeword not declassified]

15. There was no reason on the basis only of imagery to identify this activity as involving elements that were not drawn from the motorized rifle division normally based in the Kushka area. [1 line, classification marking, and codeword not declassified]

16. We believe this information also is significant in that it reveals that divisional combat units were fleshed out with reservists and moved several hundred kilometers to the Afghanistan border in one week with no clear indication of what had transpired. [classification marking not declassified]

Douglas J. MacEachin3
  1. Source: Central Intelligence Agency, National Intelligence Council Files, Job 93T01324R, Box 4, Afghanistan. Top Secret; [codeword and handling restriction not declassified]. Attached but not printed are an October 29 covering memorandum from MacEachin, a map of Afghanistan, a distribution list, and a memorandum from [text not declassified] to MacEachin, October 30, registering INR’s endorsement of MacEachin’s memorandum.
  2. See Documents 62 and 67.
  3. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.