Samunin, who was a senior KGB operative in Afghanistan at the time, provides new details both on the run up to the introduction of Soviet troops at the end of 1979 – he says that Kabul repeatedly asked for them in the months before while Moscow resisted – and on conflicts among Soviet siloviki about how to act and what the prospects for a Moscow victory were.
According to him, both the KGB and the CPSU leadership opposed sending military forces to Afghanistan not only because they did not want to undermine the policies of détente and plans for the 1980 Olympiad but also because the leaders of the two still remembered the Cuban missile crisis and did not want a repetition.
The Soviet military, on the other hand, took a different view, not only because its leaders wanted to have a role in Afghanistan, something which until that time the KGB had monopolized, but also because they were persuaded by KGB reports that suggested that Moscow was confronted not just by local opposition but by the Central Intelligence Agency of the US.
Samunin says that he infuriated military personnel at the Soviet embassy a month before the invasion by telling them that the USSR would suffer the same fate in Afghanistan if it sent in troops that Great Britain had during three wars in the 19th century – namely, it would lose not only there but elsewhere as well.
The introduction of Soviet troops was not welcomed by a large swath of the Afghan population, he continues. “In the streets of Kabul, women came out holding bras, going up to soldiers of the Afghan army, and telling them that if they did nothing to oppose foreign soldiers, then they weren’t men and needed to put on bras.”
The situation of the Soviet military rapidly deteriorated not only because of the resistance of the Afghans, but because of a CIA-orchestrated propaganda war equal to the one “which in the 1920s and 1930s, British operatives launched in support of the Basmachi in Central Asia against the Soviet Union.”
That effort which told Afghans that the Soviets wanted to “deprive them of their Muslim faith, make all women common property, and carry off their children to the USSR had great success” and contributed mightily to the growth of the Afghan resistance, the former KGB officer says.
Samunin says he cannot comment on reports that the CIA was training Central Asians to go over the Soviet border and fight inside the USSR but does say that he knows “for sure” that there were CIA bases in Pakistan where the American intelligence service was preparing Afghan militants.
He says that the Afghan leadership by its extremism, obstreperousness, and poor choice of words did itself no favors. In 1986, Samunin says, Babrak Karmal attended the 27th CPSU congress and, after listening to Mikhail Gorbachev speak, said that “Gorbachev isn’t a communist” and needed to be overthrown.
“These words reached Gorbachev who said that if Comrade Karmal was saying such things, it means that he is seriously ill and needs treatment. After that, Karmal was pulled from Afghanistan and put in a sanitarium in Serebryany Bor where he remained in essence under house arrest. And this place was occupied by Mohammed Najibullah.”
Samunin says “that was the correct choice.” But it did represent another milepost along the road toward Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan.