Structure and Scope of the Foreign Relations Series

This volume is part of a Foreign Relations subseries that documents the most important foreign policy issues of the administration of Jimmy Carter. This volume focuses on U.S. policy in response to the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan, a process that began with Moscow’s growing involvement in Afghan politics following the Communist revolution in April 1978 and culminating with the mass influx of Soviet military forces in December 1979. Until the Communist coup that overthrew President Mohammed Daoud Khan, U.S. diplomatic and strategic interest in Afghanistan was minor, and focused largely on stanching the flow of illegal narcotics through that country. Prior to 1978, Washington viewed Afghanistan as a relatively stable and non-aligned country that did not figure prominently in the global Cold War competition. Accordingly, Afghanistan was not a major focal point for the first year and a half of the Carter administration. By 1978, at the first sign that Afghanistan may fall into the Soviet orbit, Washington’s interest in Afghanistan increased dramatically.

By the time Moscow launched a military takeover of the Afghan government at the end of 1979, the Afghanistan crisis rose to the top of the President’s foreign policy agenda as the administration sought ways to coerce the Soviets to withdraw. In the days following the invasion, the President and his foreign policy team adopted a triple-pronged strategy of diplomatic pressure, economic sanctions, and covert aid to the Mujahidin, the Afghan resistance fighters, with the help of Pakistan. Carter’s policy laid the groundwork for what would become the largest covert operation in U.S. history during the Reagan administration, ending with the withdrawal of the last Soviet forces from Afghanistan nearly a decade after the invasion.

Readers who wish to understand the broader context of the Carter administration’s policy in Afghanistan should consult the chapter on Pakistan in Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, Volume XIX, South Asia. Because of Pakistan’s close coordination with the United States to fight against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan (due in large part to its leaders’ fears that Moscow sought domination of Pakistan), this chapter is indispensable for understanding Washington’s strategic interest in limiting Moscow’s threat to the region, and its tactical coordination with Pakistan to support Afghanistan’s anti-Soviet resistance movement. Readers should also consult Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, [Page VIII] Volume VI, Soviet Union for a broader view of U.S.-Soviet relations during this period; the crisis in Afghanistan, coming already at a low point in relations between the United States and the Soviet Union, is heavily documented in this volume. Also of interest are Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, Volume XXV, Global Issues, which documents the multi-national boycott of the 1980 Olympic Games in protest of the Soviet intervention of Afghanistan, and Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, Volume XXVII, Western Europe, which includes material on how the Carter administration coordinated its Afghanistan policy with its closest allies.

Focus of Research and Principles of Selection for Foreign Relations, 1977–1980, Volume XII

This volume documents the major foreign policy decisions taken by the Carter administration in response to the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan. Documentation in this volume includes memoranda; records of discussions within the U.S. policymaking community as well as with foreign officials; cables to and from U.S. diplomatic as well as intelligence posts; and papers that set forth policy issues and options and that show decisions or actions taken. The documentation emphasizes both the process by which U.S. policy developed and the major consequences of its implementation.

The most striking feature of this volume’s organization is chronological. Until the spring of 1978 and from the standpoint of U.S. foreign policy, Afghanistan was a relatively stable, non-aligned country. Before then, events in Kabul rarely registered in the Oval Office and the National Security Council, and cables to and from the Embassy and the Department of State were relatively few and did not contain much of high-level concern. It therefore follows that only a tiny percentage of this volume’s documentation covers the first sixteen months of the Carter White House. But with the communist-led overthrow of President Khan during the spring of 1978, and the obvious implications this had on the Cold War, Washington’s concern and interest in the internal workings of Afghanistan grew in lockstep with the Soviet Union’s political and ultimately military intervention in that country. Beginning with telegram 3239 from Kabul, April 27, 1978, which reported that President Daoud was “gone completely and forever,” the crisis in Afghanistan steadily rose in importance for U.S. policymakers over the next year and a half. With relations improving between the new Afghan regime and the Soviet Union throughout the remainder of 1978, the Pakstani government grew concerned. Pakistan’s border with Afghanistan, long a source of tension, now meant that any conflict could draw Islamabad into direct confrontation with a military superpower. In August, Pakistani President Muhammed Zia Ul-Haq sought guarantees from Washington as a deterrent against what he considered [Page IX] Soviet-backed Afghan encroachments on Pakistani territory. By the end of the year, Pakistan’s fears of expanding Soviet influence in Afghanistan were substantiated: Kabul and Moscow signed a “friendship treaty” in December affirming economic, military, and political cooperation. Meanwhile, U.S.-Afghan relations deteriorated sharply, from which they never recovered, in the wake of the kidnapping and death of Ambassador Adolph Dubs, who was abducted in February 1979 by Afghan extremists in Kabul and eventually killed during a botched rescue attempt commanded by Afghan and Soviet authorities. Shortly after this tragic incident U.S. officials considered options to assist Afghan insurgents opposed to the communist regime in Kabul. At this juncture, lethal aid was considered too risky. A revolt against the regime was already underway in the Afghan countryside, and Pakistan was increasingly tolerant of insurgent activity along its border with Afghanistan, and with the destabilization of the central government came increased likelihood that Moscow would resort to military intervention. In July, Washington committed to a covert program to aid Afghan insurgents by funneling communications equipment, non-lethal combat materiel, and cash through Pakistan. It was a modest beginning to an operation that would ultimately become the longest and largest in U.S. history to that point.

By the end of 1979 the insurgency was threatening to depose the central government in Kabul, and the Kremlin had lost confidence in the recently ascended Afghan leader Hafizullah Amin. Citing the Brezhnev Doctrine, which held that once a country had turned communist, Moscow would resolve to keep it in the “revolutionary” camp, the Soviet leadership decided to execute a full political and military takeover of Afghanistan. On December 25, 1979, Soviet forces invaded the country and killed Amin in Kabul at the Presidential Palace. Two days later President Carter approved a new covert action to send lethal aid to the Afghan Mujahidin insurgents, rebuked the invasion in a strongly worded letter to Brezhnev, and undertook an array of diplomatic and economic sanctions in consultation with U.S. allies to protest Soviet policy.

Just as the dearth of documentation covering 1977 and the first third of 1978 illustrate the unimportance of Afghanistan along the broad spectrum of U.S. foreign policy, the brief period of the immediate run-up and aftermath of the late-December Soviet invasion quickly became one of the tensest periods of the Carter presidency. The documentation covering the period two weeks prior and following the Soviet invasion accounts for approximately a quarter of the entire volume; this portion comprises intelligence reports, memoranda of conversation, and minutes of meetings which together show Washington’s somewhat chaotic and reactive response to the crisis.

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As numerous documents in this volume demonstrate, U.S. officials were well aware of the possibility of a Soviet invasion at least a year before the actual event. Documentation in the last half of the volume, covering 1980, is devoted almost exclusively to the administration’s multi-layered policy challenging the Soviets in Afghanistan. Although the Carter administration’s stated goal was to make the Soviets regret the intervention, and ultimately compel a withdrawal, this policy also had the immediate objective of deterring the Soviets from threatening Pakistan. This portion of the compilation shows close cooperation between Washington and Islamabad and a consequent strengthening of the Afghan insurgency. The Soviets in turn protested that they would leave Afghanistan once the United States ceased “meddling” in that country’s internal affairs.

By the end of the volume the documents show that this pattern had become well-established. Following the immediate crisis atmosphere after the Soviet invasion, President Carter’s attention was once again drawn elsewhere; notably to the Iranian hostage crisis. Although the compilation concludes with Carter’s presidency, U.S. policy in Afghanistan should be seen as a continuum into the Reagan era; two volumes covering the Reagan administration and the first month of the Bush administration (at which point Soviet forces withdrew from Afghanistan) should be consulted when they are published. Together, readers should ultimately consult this trilogy of volumes spanning three presidential administrations which will show a remarkable continuity of policy and U.S. resolve across a ten-year span.


The editors wish to thank officials at the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library, the National Archives and Records Administration (Archives II) at College Park, Maryland, the Library of Congress, the National Security Council, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Department of Defense. The editors also wish to give special thanks to Dr. Steve Galpern, a former member of the Office of the Historian and current analyst in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, who coordinated work and storage space vital for the completion of this volume. David Zierler collected and selected documentation and edited the volume under the supervision of David Geyer, Chief of the Europe Division, and Adam Howard, General Editor of the Foreign Relations series. David Geyer and Stephen P. Randolph reviewed the volume. Kerry Hite and Dean Weatherhead coordinated the declassification review, under the supervision of Carl Ashley, Chief of the Declassification and Publishing Division. The editors wish to thank the Historical Programs Staff/FRUS Coordination Staff at CIA for their assistance in the declassification review of this volume, as well as the Defense Office of Prepublication and Security Review (DOPSR), for coordinating the re [Page XI] view within the Department of Defense. Margaret Ball, Rita Baker, and Kerry Hite did the copy and technical editing under the supervision of Mandy A. Chalou, Chief of the Editing and Publishing Division.

David Zierler, Ph.D.