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The Kremlin and Kabul: The 1979 Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan in Retrospect

Throughout the course of history, Great Powers have foolishly chosen to engage in military adventures in countries of minute strategic importance, only to discover that they cannot so easily extract themselves from the theater of war once they have chosen to intervene. As a case in point, one of history’s most recent examples is the Soviet-Afghan War (1979-1989). Why did the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics invade Afghanistan in late December of 1979? Today, as the twentieth anniversary of the collapse of the Soviet Union draws near, it is important for academics and policymakers alike to understand the reasons why certain principal decision-makers in the Kremlin recommended to an ailing Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev that a military attack against a non-aligned and friendly communist government was the best course of action to pursue. This essay maintains that the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan proved to be a catastrophic mistake on behalf of the Kremlin, concluding with the Red Army’s humiliating retreat in 1989.


Charles J. Sullivan is a PhD candidate at the George Washington University. Mr. Sullivan specializes in the politics of the former Soviet Union and has published articles in the Journal of Central Asian Studies, The Washington Review of Turkish & Eurasian Affairs, and The Journal of Energy and Development. He has also written a chapter, Dealing with Despotic Regimes: U.S.-Central Asian Relations in the Post-9/11 Era for The Handbook of Central Asian Politics. Mr. Sullivan is a fellow at the Institute for European, Russian & Eurasian Studies in Washington. Email: cjs2@gwmail.gwu.edu

In order to understand why the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, it is necessary to analyze this decision by referring to several theories of foreign policy decision-making. First, this essay will provide a thorough background of the events leading up to the Soviet invasion. Thankfullyacademics are now able to access declassified top-secret documents describing the debate within the Kremlin over how to respond to the situation in Afghanistan in the aftermath of the 1978 Saur Revolution. In brief, these documents offer scholars a glimpse inside the Kremlin.

Second, this essay argues that the decision to invade Afghanistan was made by three high-ranking Soviet governing officials referred to from here on as the Troika (i.e. Chairman of the KGB Yuri Vladimirovich Andropov, Minister of Defense Dmitriy Fyodorovich Ustinov, and Minister of Foreign Affairs Andrei Andreyevich Gromyko). This essay initially assesses the Troika’s decision to recommend to Brezhnev an invasion policy from the perspective of prospect theory. In showing that the Troika (which initially voiced its unanimous opinion against militarily intervening in Afghanistan in the spring of 1979) began to view the Soviet Union vis-à-vis the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan through an alternative prism by the early autumn of 1979, this essay argues that these officials became more willing to engage in risk taking behavior despite their initial reservations. Thus, by referring to prospect theory we can begin to explain how and why the Troika came to endorse an invasion policy by the end of 1979.

Third, this essay will analyze the Troika’s decision to recommend to Brezhnev an invasion policy from the theoretical perspective of groupthink. Specifically, this essay posits that as the year 1979 passed and the Kremlin’s assessment of the situation in Afghanistan grew dire, the Troika began to argue on behalf of using military force and silenced other prominent figures who voiced opposition to such a policy. Moreover, it appears as if a sense of invincibility (possibly as a consequence of the successful Soviet military interventions in Hungary 1956 and Czechoslovakia 1968, coupled with U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s unwillingness to employ military force against Tehran in the midst of the 1979 U.S.-Iran hostage crisis) factored into the Troika’s evaluation of the situation in Afghanistan. Hence, by incorporating groupthink into our analysis we are able to better understand the reasons behind the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Fourth, this essay will conclude with an analysis of the Troika’s decision to recommend to Brezhnev an invasion policy from the perspective of schema theory. With respect to this theory, this essay concurs with George (1969) who (in referring to Leites’ “operational code”) posits that the Soviet code “serve(d)…as a prism that influence(d) the (Kremlin’s) perceptions and diagnoses of the flow of political events, (its) definitions and estimates of particular situations.”[1]

This essay thus posits that because the Troika came to see (i) all major political events outside of Afghanistan (such as the 1979 Iranian Revolution, the American military buildup in the Persian Gulf, and Washington’s rapprochement with Beijing), and (ii) the instability in Afghanistan as being driven by outside actors through a prism which projected the position of the United States in both the Middle East and South Asia as detrimental vis-à-vis the USSR, the Troika became inclined to support an invasion policy. In sum, by late 1979 invasion came to be the best option as a consequence of the Kremlin’s tendency to view itself as operating in the ‘domain of losses’, coupled with the influences of groupthink and ‘bounded rationality’.

Finally, it is important to note that although Brezhnev was the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the USSR during the time in which the decision was made to invade Afghanistan, the Soviet leader was simply not present at all of the high-level Kremlin meetings in which Afghanistan was the topic of discussion. Furthermore, although Brezhnev ultimately issued the order to invade Afghanistan in December 1979, the challenge of deciding which policy to endorse was left to the Troika on account of the fact that Brezhnev’s physical health was deteriorating at a rapid pace and his mental faculties were growing weaker by the day. Hence, by endorsing an invasion policy these men became the fathers of the Soviet-Afghan War.


On December 24, 1979 contingents of Soviet forces (particularly the 105th Guards Airborne Division) began landing at Kabul’s airport.[2] There was no response from the government of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan (DRA) to this development because Hazifullah Amin, the communist leader, and the Afghan military were unaware of the events about to unfold. On December 25th, the Red Army’s 357th and 66th motorized rifle divisions (MRDs) crossed over from the city of Kushka in the Turkmen S.S.R. into Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the 360th and 201st MRDs advanced from the city of Termez in the Uzbek S.S.R. into Afghanistan. Within a day the 360th MRD made its way to Kabul by advancing its column of vehicles along the Ring Road, while the 201st MRD settled in the city of Kunduz. In total, approximately 50,000 uninvited Soviet soldiers had entered into Afghanistan by December 27th.[3]

A great deal of mystery surrounds the events of what happened on December 27, 1979 at the Tapa-e-Tajbeg palace. It was at this location on the outskirts of Kabul where Hazifullah Amin (the Prime Minister of the DRA and General Secretary of the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan) hosted a luncheon in honor of a member of the PDPA Central Committee.[4]

As it turned out, KGB agents (in an attempt to remove the Afghan head of state with as little collateral damage as possible) poisoned Amin and the other guests present at the luncheon. It has been alleged that the KGB did not want to kill Amin but instead render him unconscious while a Soviet-sponsored coup took place. Upon regaining consciousness, Amin would then be given the option to either go into exile or remain in the DRA but no longer as acting head of state. The veracity of this account can be called into question, for one is inclined to believe that the Soviets attempted to murder Amin outright by poisoning him. However, Amin was able to receive medical treatment inside Tapa-e-Tajbeg, thus forcing the Soviets to take more extreme measures.[5] Shortly thereafter, Amin’s guards were overrun by Special Forces (Spetsnaz). Rumors abound as to how the Soviets breached Tapa-e-Tajbeg, with such claims that Spetsnaz troops used “some kind of nerve gas” in the assault. In the end, Amin and two of his sons were killed.[6]

In an attempt to cloak the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in an aura of legitimacy, Moscow maintained that it was “respond(ing) to a genuine request from a duly constituted Afghan authority.”[7] But what authority had requested the Kremlin to deploy the Red Army to Afghanistan? The figure who came to assume the DRA leadership post after Amin’s murder was Babrak Karmal, an Afghan communist who previously had been purged by Amin and was living in exile prior to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. The following day, the new communist head of state spoke on the radio to the Afghan people, stating “that he had asked the USSR for ‘urgent political, moral, and economic assistance, including military assistance’.” Thus, by citing the 1978 Treaty of Friendship and Good Neighborliness between the Soviet Union and Afghanistan, Babrak Karmal placed his own official stamp of approval on the Soviet invasion.[8]

Yet why did the Soviet Union ultimately invade Afghanistan in late 1979? Why was the decision made to remove Amin and install Babrak Karmal? Finally, what did the Kremlin hope to accomplish by invading Afghanistan and ousting Amin from power? In order to answer these questions, it is necessary to review the historical record on the lead-up to the Soviet-Afghan War in more detail.


Formal relations between the Soviet Union and Afghanistan date back to the early years of the twentieth century. In fact, the USSR was first to recognize Afghanistan as an independent country in 1919 while Kabul was first to recognize the Soviet Union under Bolshevik rule in turn.[9] That said, in order to analyze the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in its proper context we must initially focus on the nature of Soviet-Afghan relations during the later reign of King Zahir Shah (1933-1973). In the early years of the Cold War, the Soviets forged ties with Third World countries to strengthen the Kremlin’s influence across the globe.[10]

During this time, Afghanistan was ruled by Zahir Shah and his cousin, Prime Minister Mohammed Daoud Khan. In the 1950s the USSR began furnishing Afghanistan with a substantial amount of military and economic assistance (ranging from the provision of Soviet weaponry and the military training of Afghan officers stationed in the USSR to the issuing of loans for the construction of grain silos). However, Daoud’s political prestige soon fell by the wayside over a dispute between Afghanistan and Pakistan (involving forces from both countries fighting over the Pashtunistan issue) which resulted in the closure of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. As a consequence, the border closure jostled the economy, forcing Daoud, at Zahir Shah’s request, to resign in 1963.[11]

Looking back, Daoud’s ouster signaled the beginning of Afghanistan’s experiment with democracy under a quasi-liberal constitutional monarchy for nearly a decade. It was also during this time in which communism began to acquire a following in Afghanistan. Specifically, on January 1, 1965 Nur Mohammed Taraki founded the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA). On paper, the PDPA was committed to transforming Afghanistan into a communist country. Yet the party itself was divided over how to bring about a communist revolution. In response to this dilemma, the PDPA split into two rival factions known as Khalq (Masses) and Parcham (Banner). The Khalqis aspired to rapidly restructure Afghanistan into a communist country, whereas the Parchamis argued on behalf of adhering to a more gradualist approach.[12]

Unfortunately for Zahir Shah, the liberal years of his reign proved to be trying and short. Faced with an economic slowdown, famine, rising deficits, strikes, and student protests, Zahir Shah proved that he was ill-equipped to manage Afghanistan’s complex affairs. Thereafter, on July 17, 1973 Daoud instigated a coup and relieved Zahir Shah of his duties as head of state.[13] The democratic experiment thus ended when Daoud usurped power while Zahir Shah was overseas in Italy. Upon re-assuming office, however, Daoud began to distance his country away from the USSR, much to Moscow’s dismay. Simultaneously, Daoud began jailing dissidents, censoring the press, and purging PDPA members from the government.[14] Yet the King’s estranged cousin overstepped his bounds when he sanctioned the murder of Mir Akbar Khyber, a communist activist whose funeral procession later turned into an anti-government demonstration. Sensing a threat to his rule, Daoud imprisoned the PDPA leadership. In response, the Afghan military instigated a coup d’état. Thus, April 27, 1978 marked the onset of the Saur Revolution.[15]

Daoud’s violent death and the PDPA’s usurpation of authority marked the beginning of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan. Yet the Saur Revolution was not a revolution per se but more a spontaneous military coup in which political power was handed over to the PDPA after its leaders were released from prison. Interestingly, the PDPA did not boast a very large base of support at the dawn of its reign (for the KGB estimated that only 11,000 Afghans and 2,000+ soldiers were members of the new ruling party at the time).[16] Still, Kabul’s new powerbrokers were determined to remake Afghanistan in their own idealized image into a communist utopia.


In late April of 1978, the PDPA found itself at the helm of power in Kabul. Guided by the tenets of Marxism-Leninism, the party sought to reform Afghanistan so that it evolved into a communist country. The main obstacle facing the PDPA at the outset, however, was that the historical relationship between Kabul and the Afghan tribes was one in which the state played a limited role in society. In discussing state-society relations, Roy (1990) argues, “The Afghan tribes…see the central power as their representative; it manages on their behalf the conquests that they have made together…the tribes see the state as existing on the periphery…”[17] Thus, Kabul (up until 1978) had always governed indirectly over the countryside. This quote serves to further clarify the nature of the relationship shared between the Kabul government and the tribes:

Even though the state was born out of conquest, it did not impose itself by brute force. On the one hand, it used the traditional networks of power in order to connect up with society and to transform the way those networks operated. On the other hand, it manipulated legitimizing symbols which were recognized as such by the peasants.[18]

Hence, by forging ties with local powerbrokers Kabul had successfully managed Afghanistan’s political affairs for centuries. The PDPA, by contrast, chose to not respect the historical relationship and instead sought to centralize power and usher in a communist-style revolution.

To further complicate matters, shortly after the Saur Revolution the PDPA (which had briefly united to partake in the ouster of Daoud) split again into its Khalq and Parcham factions.[19] This time around, however, the Khalqis (under the leadership of Taraki) purged the Parchamis by ‘awarding’ some with ambassadorships and sending others to prison to face execution.[20]

Additionally, the Khalqis began implementing a series of radical reforms with an astounding ignorance as to how such policies would be received by the population. With regards to economics, the Khalqis introduced decrees which sought to redistribute land and abolish the practice of usury. A marriage decree was also promoted which banned the practice of “bride price”, established legal ages for marriages, and ordered all marriages to be entered into voluntarily. Moreover, the Khalqis were intent on teaching communism via literacy campaigns, which meant that the PDPA considered the education of both men and women a top priority.[21]

Aside from the notion that such policies were widely considered to be alien to Afghan society, the Khalqis did not win the support of the population in the early days of the Saur Revolution because they implemented their reforms in an extremely brutal manner, resulting in the arrests and killings of many Afghans. In essence, the Khalqis (much like the Bolsheviks) viewed their homeland as a backward country in which the PDPA would have to use a considerable amount of coercion in order to remake Afghanistan into a modern communist society.[22] In response, the Afghans wholly rejected the Khalqis’ reformist agenda. This quote provides an apt summation as to why most Afghans remained vehemently opposed to Khalq rule:

The new Khalq regime in fact had little popular support. Indeed, its behavior aroused much opposition that eventually turned into a rebellion in the countryside. Taraki’s overzealous efforts to assert the central government’s authority in remote areas that had traditionally been autonomous, to redistribute land, and to impose taxes on a society unused to paying them alienated landlords, tribal leaders, and the peasantry. The new government offended also by its overtly secularist propaganda which called for a workers’ state committed to material achievement rather than faith in Islam.[23]

In sum, the PDPA came to power in Afghanistan because the Afghan military removed Daoud from power in April of 1978 in a bloody coup. Yet once the Khalqis began implementing radical reforms and brutalizing the population in an effort to restructure the social system, the Afghans began to revolt. Around this time, the Kremlin also began to pay more attention to political developments taking place within Kabul as well as throughout the Afghan countryside.


Once Khalqis began implementing reforms, the population started rebelling against the communist government. The following quote reveals the full extent of the countrywide uprising:

Nooristan was the first province to revolt, followed by Hazarajat, Badakhshan, Paktiya, Nangarhar, Kapisa, Uruzgon, Parwan, Bagdghiz, Bulkh, Ghazni, and Farah…According to one estimate, the resistance controlled 23 of 28 provinces in December 1979…[24]

Looking back, the Kremlin (which Zubok (2007) argues did not spark the Saur Revolution) was taken by surprise when Daoud was overthrown and the PDPA rose to power.[25] Afterwards, the Kremlin became more involved in monitoring developments on the ground in Afghanistan after the March 1979 Herat uprising. It was during this incident in which a garrison of the DRA military mutinied to join the rebellion and nearly one hundred Russian civilians (men, women, and children) were systematically tortured and murdered.[26] Initially, the Troika argued on behalf of a policy of military intervention in Afghanistan to “save the Kabul regime”.[27] However, the Troika’s view on how to handle the situation changed soon thereafter.

According to recently declassified Kremlin documents, the Troika (which initially advocated an interventionist policy to stabilize the situation in Afghanistan) began arguing on behalf of an altogether different strategy. In one particular meeting convened on March 17, 1979 (in which Brezhnev was conspicuously absent), the Troika unanimously argued against a Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan. These transcripts express the timely opinions of the Troika:


Comrades, I have considered all these issues in depth and arrived at the conclusion that we must consider very, very seriously, the question of whose cause we will be supporting if we deploy forces into Afghanistan. It’s completely clear to us that Afghanistan is not ready at this time to resolve all of the issues it faces through socialism. The economy is backward, the Islamic religion predominates, and nearly all of the rural population is illiterate. We know Lenin’s teaching about a revolutionary situation. Whatever situation we are talking about in Afghanistan, it is not that type of situation. Therefore, I believe that we can suppress a revolution in Afghanistan only with the aid of our bayonets, and that is for us entirely inadmissible. We cannot take such a risk.


I completely support Comrade Andropov’s proposal to rule out such a measure as the deployment of our troops into Afghanistan. The army there is unreliable. Thus, our army, when it arrives in Afghanistan, will be the aggressor. Against whom will it fight? Against the Afghan people first of all, and it will have to shoot at them. Comrade Andropov correctly noted that indeed the situation in Afghanistan is not ripe for a revolution. And all that we have done in recent years with such efforts in terms of détente, arms reduction, and much more – all that would be thrown back…All the non-aligned countries will be against us. In a word, serious consequences are to be expected from such an action…


The situation in Herat today is somewhat better. It is calm in the city. Technical assistance, of course, will be necessary for us to send. We will send a great deal of it. We are forming two divisions in the Turkestan military district, and one division in the Central Asian military district. We have three regiments that could arrive in Afghanistan in literally three hours. But I am saying this, of course, only to emphasize our state of readiness. Like the rest of my Comrades, I do not support the idea of deploying troops to Afghanistan…I must say that the Afghan leadership is poorly handling very many matters, and that working under such conditions is very difficult for our advisers.[28]

Furthermore, recently declassified documents confirm that Taraki called upon the Kremlin in the aftermath of the Herat uprising to deploy soldiers from other socialist countries to Afghanistan to assist Kabul in reasserting control over the Afghan countryside.[29] Taraki also stated on one occasion in a telephone conversation with the Chairman of the Council of Ministers Alexei Kosygin that he did not believe the Saur Revolution would endure unless the USSR deployed its military forces to quell the countrywide uprising. Still, the Troika remained steadfastly united in its view that the DRA would have to institute its own repression campaign.[30]


It thus seems as if Andropov, Gromyko, and Ustinov all perceived the use of military force in Afghanistan as too risky as an option for the Kremlin to even consider in the spring of 1979. Yet the Red Army’s southwardly advance in late December reveals that the Troika must have experienced a change of heart with regards to the situation in Afghanistan. In order to understand why the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in late 1979, it is first necessary to explain this highly unexpected development by incorporating prospect theory into our analysis.

According to Kahneman and Tversky (1979), prospect theory highlights how actors make decisions via emphasizing how they perceive or frame the “domain” in which they find themselves operating. Thus, if an actor is facing a situation in which a decision needs to be made on an issue and the actor must select from one of several choices, Kahneman and Tversky contend that the domain in which the actor perceives it is operating (be it positive or negative), coupled with “the certainty effect”, will determine which choice the actor selects, as well as whether the actor will engage in risk-averse or risk-seeking behavior. In quoting these scholars:

In the positive domain, the certainty effect contributes to a risk averse preference for a sure gain over a larger gain that is merely probable. In the negative domain, the same effect leads to a risk seeking preference for a loss that is merely probable over a smaller loss that is certain. The same psychological principle – the overweighing of certainty – favors risk aversion in the domain of gains and risk seeking in the domain of losses.[31]

To serve as an example, if an actor (i.e. the Kremlin) is facing a certain situation (i.e. mass uprisings occurring throughout Afghanistan in response to the Khalqis’ implementation of radical reforms) in which a decision has to be made and the actor perceives itself as operating in the domain of gains (i.e. the situation in Afghanistan is not so dire that the PDPA will fall from power), then prospect theory posits that the actor will endorse a risk-averse policy (i.e. not commit Soviet soldiers to Afghanistan). According to prospect theory, this example explains why the Kremlin chose not to send Soviet forces into Afghanistan in the aftermath of the 1979 Herat uprising. Specifically, the aforementioned declassified documents show that the Kremlin was not interested in sending Soviet forces to Afghanistan, for such a policy was deemed to be too risky at the time. Additionally, another recently declassified document discloses that Kosygin (in speaking on the Kremlin’s behalf to Taraki) did not perceive the situation in Afghanistan as so dire that it necessitated the deployment of Soviet forces to assist the DRA in restoring order. Specifically, Kosygin informed Taraki that the situation in Afghanistan could be brought under control (as it had been in Herat) if the DRA effectively utilized all the resources at its disposal.[32]

Hence, the Kremlin was not willing to send Soviet forces into Afghanistan in the spring of 1979 because it did not perceive itself as operating in the domain of losses at the time. Instead, the Kremlin saw itself operating in the domain of gains which, according to prospect theory, led the USSR to endorse a risk-averse policy (i.e. the sending of military aid to assist the DRA). However, a major development took place in the early autumn of 1979 that seriously altered the Kremlin’s outlook on the situation in Afghanistan. On September 10, 1979 Taraki (who had recently attended a non-aligned conference in Cuba) traveled to Moscow to meet with Brezhnev. The exact details of what was discussed between Brezhnev and Taraki remain a mystery, but it is believed that Brezhnev ordered Taraki to remove Amin from power.[33]

Amin, after all, was seen by the Kremlin as the primary reason for the failings of the Saur Revolution to date.[34]

Upon Taraki’s return to Kabul, an attempt was made on Amin’s life. Unfortunately for Taraki, however, Amin (who was most likely tipped-off about the plot) survived the assassination attempt and had Taraki placed under arrest. Afterwards, on October 10, 1979 Amin announced that Taraki had died of an illness. In actuality, Taraki had been strangled to death on Amin’s orders.[35]

Thus, in the aftermath of this incident the Kremlin was no longer operating in the domain of gains but instead in the domain of losses. The following quote describes the new domain in which the Soviets found themselves after the murder of Taraki at the hands of Amin:

The Soviets were thus left with the worst of all possible worlds. They were stuck with Amin, who was now completely in charge and supported by relatives and personal adherents in key positions, and who was convinced that the Soviets had been implicated in the attempt on his life.[36]

In the aftermath of Taraki’s murder, the Kremlin began to prepare for an invasion of Afghanistan. Interestingly, it is important to point out that the situation on the ground regarding the insurgency had not changed to such a degree that the Saur Revolution was in jeopardy of failing. In fact, Halliday and Tanin (1998) maintain that “Amin’s regime was not about to collapse” for “it retained the loyalty of the Khalqi military and had cowed the civilian population in the major cities.”[37]

So, why did the USSR decide to invade Afghanistan on such short notice? Put simply, the Kremlin did not trust Amin. In a declassified letter addressed to the Central Committee of the CPSU, the Troika opined “Recently there have been noted signs of the fact that the new leadership of Afghanistan intends to conduct a more “balanced policy” in relation to the Western powers.”[38]

The KGB also believed that Amin was trying to reorient Afghanistan into Washington’s respective sphere of influence. Furthermore, in a secret memoranda addressed to Brezhnev, Andropov likened Amin to Egyptian President Anwar Sadat (who had reversed Cairo’s foreign policy course under Nasser and aligned Egypt closer to the West). Overall, although Andropov in his letter did not recommend sending Soviet forces to Afghanistan at the time, the message conveyed to Brezhnev seemed to support the notion that the need to remove Amin from power was growing more imminent.[39]

In reality, Amin was merely trying to shore-up relations with the U.S. (a prudent move given Amin’s belief that the Kremlin had sponsored the attempt on his life). The truth of the matter is that Amin did not request any aid from Washington but simply wanted to institute “friendly relations”. To be certain, Brezhnev was personally insulted when Taraki (who had just been seen embracing the General Secretary at one of Moscow’s airports in the media) was murdered by Amin.[40]

Yet the Soviets were most concerned about the possibility of Amin moving Afghanistan out of the USSR’s sphere of influence and into the U.S.’s respective sphere. However, it appears that such a development would never have been possible at that point in time in light of the fact that Amin remained a communist at heart.

In sum, prospect theory contends that when an actor believes it is operating in the domain of losses it will be more willing to engage in risky behavior. After Taraki was killed, the Soviets perceived the situation in Afghanistan through such a prism. Accordingly, the Kremlin did not want to continue dealing with a head of state it believed was trying to distance the country away from Moscow. Moreover, the Soviets thought that if Amin were removed from power, then the Saur Revolution would be preserved and Afghanistan would remain within the USSR’s sphere of influence. Of course, there was the risk that the Soviets would suffer consequences if they removed Amin by force (for the Troika had already discussed why sending Soviet forces into Afghanistan could prove to be extremely costly). But there also existed the possibility that the situation in Afghanistan could be fully resolved if the Kremlin were to adopt such a risky policy.


In early December of 1979, Andropov dispatched a secret letter to Brezhnev, the contents of which listed the rationales for sending the Red Army into Afghanistan to do away with Amin:

After the coup and the murder of Taraki in September of this year, the situation in Afghanistan began to take an undesirable turn for us. The situation in the party, the army and the government apparatus has become more acute, as they were essentially destroyed as a result of the mass repressions carried out by Amin…The diplomatic circles in Kabul are widely talking of Amin’s differences with Moscow and his possible anti-Soviet steps…In the course of our contact with (Babrak) Karmal and (Asadullah) Sarwari, it became clear (and they informed us of this) that they have worked out a plan for opposing Amin and creating new party and state organs…Babrak and Sarwari…have raised the question of possible assistance, in case of need, including military.[41]

Andropov also stated that, “the implementation of the given operation would allow us to decide the question of defending the gains of the April Revolution, establishing Leninist principals in the party and state leadership of Afghanistan, and securing our positions in this country.”[42]

In the following days, a meeting was convened (December 8, 1979) in which the Troika and Brezhnev were in attendance. Overall, despite the fact that the Politburo officially ratified its decision to deploy Soviet forces to Afghanistan to remove Amin on December 12, 1979, the actual decision to do so was adopted at the aforementioned meeting on December 8th.[43]

In order to further explain why Brezhnev issued the order to deploy Soviet military forces to Afghanistan, it is necessary to incorporate groupthink into our analysis. According to Janis (1982), groupthink is defined as “a mode of thinking that people engage in when they are deeply involved in a cohesive in-group, when the members’ striving for unanimity overrides their motivation to realistically appraise alternative courses of action.”[44]

With regards to the Kremlin’s decision-making in the lead-up to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the historical record reveals that groupthink played a role in influencing the Troika to adopt such a policy. In particular, it has been argued that Ustinov was the first Troika member to support the idea of a Soviet military exercise in Afghanistan. Zubok (2007) argues that the change in Ustinov’s initial stance on how the Kremlin should respond to the situation in Afghanistan occurred around the time of the seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran by radical Islamists. Afterwards, Zubok argues that Ustinov began seeing all U.S. actions in the Persian Gulf region through a zero-sum lens. Zubok goes on to argue that Andropov (who had obviously been reading the cables coming in from the KGB office in Kabul about Amin’s alleged attempt to strengthen ties with Washington) soon afterwards sided with Ustinov and began to support the invasion policy.[45] With regards to Gromyko, Grinevsky (1998) maintains that the Soviet Foreign Minister “did not want to go against Andropov and Ustinov” by stating, “even though he may have well been against the invasion, he never argued openly with Andropov or Ustinov.”[46]

In further support of groupthink, the historical record reveals that certain individuals who did not support an invasion policy were ignored by the Troika or not permitted to attend the high-level meetings in which the decision to invade Afghanistan was finalized. Specifically, in a high-level meeting on December 10, 1979 the Chief of the General Staff of the USSR Nikolai Vasilyevich Ogarkov voiced his disapproval of the invasion policy in stating, “We would align the entire Islamic East against us and suffer political damage around the world.” Yet Ogarkov’s words fell on deaf ears as Andropov replied to the Chief of the General Staff of the USSR by yelling, “Focus on military affairs! Leave policymaking to us, the Party, and Leonid Ilyich!”[47] Lastly, it is interesting to note that Kosygin, who had been against the sending of troops to Afghanistan as far back as the Herat uprising, did not attend the Politburo meeting on December 12th in which the policy was formally adopted.[48]

By incorporating groupthink into our analysis we are able to gain a better understanding of why the decision was made to invade Afghanistan. After the murder of Taraki, the Troika continued to play a dominant role in advising Brezhnev on how to respond to the situation in Afghanistan. It was this group of individuals, however, that discarded their initial reservations on deploying the Red Army to Afghanistan and recommended an invasion policy to Brezhnev. To be sure, there were dissenters who disagreed with the Troika’s endorsement of such a policy. Yet these individuals, who were either shouted down or not invited to attend the high-level meetings in which the invasion policy was adopted, were in the end unable to affect the policy outcome.

On an aside note, a variation of groupthink may also have played a role in influencing the Troika to recommend an invasion policy to Brezhnev in December 1979. According to ’t Hart (1991), when forced to make a critical decision on an issue, actors may look upon it with a certain degree of hubris because they perceive the issue at-hand as an opportunity instead of a crisis. On this point, ’t Hart contends that “the desire to maximize success by determined action in an opportunity situation…can easily lead to adventurism and collective overconfidence.”[49] With regards to the Kremlin’s decision to invade Afghanistan, it can be argued that despite the fact that the Kremlin saw itself as operating in the domain of losses following the murder of Taraki, the Troika may well have still believed that it could easily resolve the situation in Afghanistan. On this point, it has been argued that because of the successful Soviet military incursions in Hungary circa 1956 and Czechoslovakia circa 1968, the Troika felt that it could forcefully intervene in Afghanistan, restore order, and extricate the Red Army in short time.[50] Andropov, in fact, had been “one of the architects of the Hungarian invasion of 1956”, so it seems plausible that the KGB chief’s past experience in a similar scenario would have played a prominent role in his assessment of the situation in Afghanistan.[51] As well, Tanner (2002) contends that because the Troika perceived the Carter administration as ‘weak’ in comparison to previous U.S. administrations, they (presumably) figured that the United States at that specific point in time (particularly after the seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran and muted response from the White House) would not respond to a Soviet military exercise in Afghanistan.[52] Thus, the Soviet military interventions in Hungary circa 1956 and Czechoslovakia circa 1968, as well as the perceived weakness of the Carter administration in the midst of the Iranian hostage crisis, may have also partially influenced the Troika into endorsing an invasion policy for Afghanistan.


Lastly, in order to fully understand why the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in late 1979, we must incorporate schema theory into our analysis. On this point, proponents of rational choice believe that all actors, when faced with a decision, engage in a thorough cost-benefit analysis of all the available solutions to a given problem and select the solution which boasts the largest gains and holds out the smallest losses for them. In contrast to this view, Simon (1985) argues that, “if we take into account the limitations of knowledge and computing power of the choosing organism, then we may find it incapable of making objectively optimal choices.”[53] In other words, Simon posits that when human beings make decisions, they do so in an environment in which their rationality is “bounded” in the sense that they can never completely assess a given situation in a wholly objective manner where all available information is taken into account and weighed according to a perfect cost-benefit analysis. Similarly, scholars such as Axelrod (1973) maintain that because the world is so complex, people are forced to process incoming information through schemas in order to make sense of their surroundings. Axelrod goes on to define a schema as “a pre-existing assumption about the way the world is organized” and contends, “When new information becomes available, a person tries to fit the new information into the pattern which he has used in the past to interpret information about the same situation.”[54] Thus, if an actor (i.e. the Kremlin) is trying to assess a certain political development (i.e. the situation in Afghanistan since the onset of the Saur Revolution) and make a decision on how to respond, it seems that the actor’s response will be influenced to a great extent by its own schema.

In his study of the Soviet Union, George (1969) maintains that the Kremlin (like any other political actor) is influenced by its own ‘belief system’ when it engages in making decisions on issues. In fact, George explains how any actor (such as the Kremlin) drafts a policy:

In everyday life…problem solving often requires deliberate or unwitting simplification of a more complex reality. This applies also to the political actor, for he too must somehow comprehend complex situations in order to decide how best to deal with them. In doing so, the actor typically engages in a “definition of the situation”, i.e. a cognitive structuring of the situation that will clarify for him the nature of the problem, relate it to his previous experience, and make it amenable to appropriate problem-solving activities. The political actor perceives and simplifies reality partly through the prism of his “cognitive map” of politics. This includes the belief system that has been referred to in the past as the “operational code” of a political actor.[55]

Thus, in order to fully understand why the Troika recommended to Brezhnev an invasion policy and why Brezhnev ultimately signed-off on the invasion, it is necessary for us to enter into the Soviet “operational code” and uncover how these officials interpreted the major events unfolding around them during the lead-up to the December 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Looking back, the decision to invade Afghanistan was made during a time in which a series of political developments were occurring across the globe. First, the Shah of Iran had recently been overthrown by a conglomerate of forces, which resulted in a power vacuum in Iran that was quickly filled by the Ayatollah Khomeini. Naturally, this unexpected development sent shockwaves through the Kremlin, for Moscow began to fear that the Iranian Revolution would spread into Central Asia.[56] Realistically, the Kremlin should have never harbored such fears because the Sunni Muslims of Central Asia had little in common with the Shiite Muslims of Iran. Yet because the USSR perceived radical Islam in all its forms as a menace, Moscow saw a threat in the new Iranian leader spreading radical Islamic ideals into Afghanistan and possibly beyond.

Second, Washington decided to amass America’s military presence in the Persian Gulf after the U.S. embassy in Tehran was overrun and American diplomats were taken hostage. Obviously, the Carter administration deployed U.S. forces to the Persian Gulf because the White House was contemplating whether or not to mount a rescue mission effort. Strangely, however, the Soviet Union perceived America’s actions as a means to become more involved in Afghanistan. Thus, the Troika reasoned that because the U.S. had ‘lost’ Iran, America now wanted to ‘win’ Afghanistan. Ustinov and Andropov even went so far as to argue that if the Soviets did not intervene in Afghanistan soon, then the U.S. could install short-range (nuclear) missiles in the country which could target Soviet installations in the Kazakh SSR and Siberia.[57] Afghanistan at the time, however, was not even on the backburner in Washington. Lastly, U.S. President Carter had recently instituted full diplomatic ties with China under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping. This development further added to the Kremlin’s concerns of encirclement.[58]

To recap, all of these events influenced the Troika in its recommendation of an invasion policy, as well as Brezhnev’s decision to approve of this plan. The belief that outside actors (particularly Iran, Pakistan, and the U.S.) were already causing trouble in Afghanistan was also prevalent in the Kremlin at the time, possibly because Taraki had spoke of this issue earlier. Prior to his death, Taraki declared on March 20, 1979 that such states were meddling in Afghanistan by partaking in sabotage and subversive activities.[59] Such a belief also likely had an effect on the Kremlin’s decision to deploy the Red Army to Afghanistan on account of the notion that Moscow was extremely wary of America’s activities along the USSR’s southern border region.

Finally, it is important to note that for some time Soviet foreign policy had been based on what was known as the Brezhnev Doctrine. Accordingly, Soviet foreign policy under Brezhnev sought to ensure that socialism (once it took root in a country) would not fail, for failure would signify that socialism was not destined to succeed everywhere. Thus, in order to preserve socialism the Brezhnev Doctrine argued on behalf of the Soviet Union militarily intervening in any socialist country in which socialism appeared to be in retreat. Shockingly, the Troika and Brezhnev could not be dissuaded from the notion that socialism had taken root in Afghanistan with the occurrence of the 1978 Saur Revolution. Hence, despite the facts that Afghanistan was a preindustrial feudalistic country and the Khalqis had not succeeded in their efforts to follow in the footsteps of the Bolsheviks, the USSR could not just let the Saur Revolution end in failure.[60]


In late December 1979, the principal decision-makers in the Kremlin believed that the Red Army would achieve a quick and decisive victory in Afghanistan. Specifically, this meant removing Amin from power, installing Babrak Karmal as the new head of state, and ensuring that the communist government in Kabul would promote a more moderate version of the tenets of the Saur Revolution. Thus, a more refined and temperate Parcham-led PDPA would serve as the new vanguard for the Afghan people in their quest to establish a classless society. Judging from the Soviet Union’s earlier interventions in Hungary circa 1956 and Czechoslovakia circa 1968, the Troika felt sure that the invasion would be a success and any criticism on behalf of the international community leveled against Moscow would be negligible and dissipate with time.[61]

In retrospect, the Troika did not fully understand the sheer complexity of the situation in Afghanistan. The Khalqis’ radical reforms, brutal treatment of the population, and purging of the Parcham faction of the communist government had sent the country into an uncontrollable political tailspin. The relentless drive to centralize power and promote an atheist ideology was also perceived by the Afghan people as an affront to the historical relationship between Kabul and the tribes and to Islam, respectively. Yet the Troika refused to appreciate the severity of the situation and believed that Moscow could stabilize Afghanistan by removing Amin, who was depicted as the solitary obstacle standing in the way of the success of the 1978 Saur Revolution. It is also interesting to note that the Troika from the outset of the Kremlin’s discussions concerning the situation in Afghanistan never aspired to see the Red Army invade Afghanistan so as to engage in military combat against the Afghan rebels for an extended period of time. Instead, in intervening the Red Army sought “to stiffen the Afghan regime, not fight the Afghans themselves on their difficult homeground.”[62] What the Troika failed to fully consider, however, was how the Red Army would be perceived by the Afghan people as well as the world at large.

Tanner (2002) states that in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, President Carter halted grain sales to the Soviets, curtailed USSR fishing rights in U.S. waters, blocked the submission of the SALT II Treaty to Congress, and declared that America would not partake in the 1980 summer Olympic Games in Moscow.[63] It seems that Brezhnev was taken aback by Carter’s reaction. What is more surprising to academics and historians, however, is why Brezhnev believed Carter’s response to an unprovoked unilateral Soviet military invasion of a non-aligned country bordering revolutionary Iran and in close proximity to the oil reserves of the Persian Gulf would be muted. The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan thus marked the end of détente and a worsening of superpower ties.[64] Yet besides the fact that the USSR’s military expedition caused a rupture in U.S.-Soviet relations, the Red Army had also become a participant in a war.

The Red Army invaded Afghanistan with the intention of removing Amin and propping up the DRA under the leadership of Babrak Karmal. However, although the Red Army was well-equipped to wage a conventional war against a conventional-style enemy, the Kremlin had sent Soviet soldiers into battle against an unconventional enemy. To quote Grau and Gress (2002):

The Soviets designed their armed forces to fight large-scale, high-tempo offensive operations exploiting nuclear strikes on the northern European plain and China. In this type of war, massed Soviet air and artillery fire would blast gaps through enemy positional defenses. Soviet armored columns would dash through these gaps and move deep within enemy territory…The war would be won on the operational level. Soviet force structure, weaponry, tactics, and support infrastructure were all designed to support this operational vision. These were all inappropriate for a long counterinsurgency effort in Afghanistan.[65]

Furthermore, aside from that the Red Army was not prepared to fight a war against a loosely affiliated guerrilla force (referred to as the Mujahedeen) composed of several insurgent groups (ranging from radical Islamists such as Gulbuddin Hekmatyar’s Hezb-i-Islami to Afghan nationalists such as Sebghatullah Mujadidi’s Jabha-i-Nejat-i-Melli) which operated from inside Pakistan,[66] the Soviets could not prevent outside states (such as Iran, Saudi Arabia, Britain, Egypt, China, and the U.S.) from interfering in Afghanistan’s affairs. Specifically, Pakistan under General Zia-ul Haq (with U.S. support) ordered the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency under Director-General Akhtar Abdur Rahman to provide equipment, finances, military training, and weaponry to the Mujahedeen groups so that they could wage jihad against the Red Army in Afghanistan. According to Yousaf and Adkin (2001), as much as 10,000 tons of weaponry and ammunition were filtered by ISI to the Mujahedeen in 1983. By 1987, the amount of weaponry and ammunition had reached 65,000 tons.[67] Moreover, the U.S. under President Ronald Reagan channeled vast sums of money to Pakistan for dispersal to the Mujahedeen. Accordingly, the U.S. had funneled $200 million by 1984, only to be matched by Saudi Arabia.[68]

By the mid-1980s it became apparent that the Kremlin had committed a colossal mistake. With Soviet forces bogged down and doing most of the fighting, the Troika’s nightmare scenario as envisioned in the spring of 1979 seemed to have become a grim reality with no light at the end of the tunnel in sight. The duration of the Soviet-Afghan War would last for more than nine years. Odom (1998) states that 13,136 Soviet soldiers died in combat in Afghanistan while 2,676 soldiers died in non-combat related incidences, leaving a total of 15,812 dead. As well, 23,258 Soviet soldiers were wounded in combat, whereas another 22,939 were either traumatized or mutilated in the war.[69] Upon assuming office, General Secretary of the Communist Party of the USSR Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev, who labeled the Soviet Union’s presence in Afghanistan as a “hopeless military adventure”, sought to bring the conflict to an end. On April 14, 1988 the Geneva Accords were signed, calling for the departure of all Soviet forces from Afghanistan by February 15, 1989. On this day, the last remaining Soviet troops departed from Afghanistan.[70]


This essay posits that the Kremlin’s tendency to view itself as operating in the domain of losses, coupled with the tandem influences of groupthink and ‘bounded rationality’, over the course of several months time led the Troika to endorse an invasion policy for Afghanistan by the end of 1979. In retrospect, the Soviet-Afghan War proved to be an extremely costly endeavor for the Kremlin, for not only was the aura of invincibility stripped away from the Red Army but so was Moscow’s desire to retain its imperialistic hold over Eastern Europe. Thereafter, in 1989 as East Europeans began calling for freedom, the Kremlin chose not to intervene at Gorbachev’s behest. This event would later spur certain SSRs to secede in the coming months, culminating in the unraveling of the Soviet economy, the delegitimation of Communism, and the disintegration of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Additionally, U.S. foreign policy vis-à-vis Afghanistan and South Asia throughout the course of the Soviet-Afghan War and during the 1990s yielded some serious unintended consequences as well, for America has for the past decade now sought to prop-up a quasi-legitimate pro-Western governing authority in Kabul. Still, it is the Afghan people who have suffered most since the dawn of the Soviet invasion. For as U.S. and coalition forces continue to battle against the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and Mujahedeen remnants in the graveyard of empires, the native population strives to cope with the ill-effects of more than three decades of uninterrupted civil strife and war. Tragically, it remains unknown when the people of Afghanistan will finally be given the opportunity to once again live in peace.




[1] Alexander George, “The Operational Code: A Neglected Approach to the Study of Political Leaders and Decision-Making”, International Studies Quarterly, Vol. 13, No. 2, 1969, p. 191.


[2] Martin Ewans, Afghanistan: A Short History of its People and Politics, (New York, NY: HarperCollins, 2002), p. 203.


[3] Stephen Tanner, Afghanistan: A Military History from Alexander the Great to the Fall of the Taliban, (Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2002), pp. 235-236. The Soviet Air Force also secured military bases in Bagram, Jalalabad, Kandahar, Shindand, and Herat (p. 237).


[4] M. Hassan Kakar, Afghanistan: The Soviet Invasion and the Afghan Response, 1979-1982, (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1995), pp. 21, 23.


[5] Ewans (2002), p. 204.


[6] Kakar (1995), pp. 25, 27.


[7] Ewans (2002), p. 204.


[8] Tanner (2002), p. 237.


[9] Ibid., p. 221.


[10] Ewans (2002), p. 154.


[11] Ibid., pp. 154-155, 160-163. Ewans also argues that King Zahir Shah sought to remove Daoud from power because the ruling monarch sensed that Daoud was trying to build his own power base via calling for reforms (162).


[12] Tanner (2002), p. 228.


[13] Ewans (2002), pp. 173-175.


[14] Tanner (2002), p. 229.


[15] Ibid., pp. 230-231.


[16] Ewans (2002), p. 188. Ewans states that there were “less than a thousand” party members in the Afghan army in April 1978, coupled with approximately 2,000 additional PDPA members labeled as “supporters” of the army (188).


[17] Olivier Roy, Islam and Resistance in Afghanistan, (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1990), p. 14.


[18] Ibid., p. 19.


[19] Tanner (2002), p. 231. Upon assuming the presidency and leadership of the DRA, Taraki (a Khalqi) shortly thereafter removed Karmal (a Parchami) from his post of Deputy Premier and replaced him with Amin (a Khalqi).


[20] Fred Halliday and Zahir Tanin, “The Communist Regime in Afghanistan 1978-1992: Institutions and Conflicts”, Europe-Asia Studies, Vol. 50, No. 8, 1998, p. 1361. Halliday and Tanin argue that several purge campaigns took place during the first year of communist rule, beginning with the purge of Parcham and later of other Khalq factions.


[21] Ewans (2002), p. 191.


[22] Thomas Hammond, Red Flag Over Afghanistan: The Communist Coup, the Soviet Invasion, and the Consequences, (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1984), p. 69.


[23] Minton Goldman, “Soviet Military Intervention in Afghanistan: Roots and Causes”, Polity, Vol. 16, No. 3, 1984, p. 386.


[24] Tahir Amin, “Afghan Resistance: Past, Present, and Future”, Asian Survey, Vol. 24, No. 4, 1984, p. 380.


[25] Vladislav Zubok, A Failed Empire: The Soviet Union in the Cold War from Stalin to Gorbachev, (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2007), p. 259.


[26] Ewans (2002), p. 197.


[27] Zubok (2007), p. 260.


[28] “Meeting of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union”, The George Washington University National Security Archives – Document 1, 17 Mar. 1979, pp. 13, 20.


[29] “Record of Meeting of A.N. Kosygin, A.A. Gromyko, D.F. Ustinov, and B.N. Ponomarev with N.M. Taraki”, The George Washington University National Security Archives – Document 3, 20 Mar. 1979, pp. 9-10.


[30] “Transcript of Telephone Conversation Between Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin and Afghan Prime Minister Nur Mohammed Taraki”, The George Washington University National Security Archives – Document 2, 18 Mar. 1979.


[31] Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, “Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk”, Econometrica, Vol. 47, No. 2, 1979, pp. 268-269.


[32] “Record of Meeting of A.N. Kosygin, A.A. Gromyko, D.F. Ustinov, and B.N. Ponomarev with N.M. Taraki”, The George Washington University National Security Archives – Document 3, 20 Mar. 1979, pp. 2-3.


[33] Ewans (2002), p. 199.


[34] Hammond (1984), pp. 80-82.


[35] Ewans (2002), pp. 199-200.


[36] Ibid., p. 200.


[37] Halliday and Tanin (1998), p. 1362.


[38] Andropov-Gromyko-Ustinov-Ponomarev Report to the CC CPSU on the Situation in Afghanistan”, The George Washington University National Security Archives – Document 6, 29 Oct. 1979. 


[39] Oleg Grinevsky, “Comparing Soviet and Russian Decision-Making in Afghanistan and Chechnya”, Contemporary Caucasus Newsletter, No. 6, 1998; Ewans (2002), p. 202.


[40] Hammond (1984), pp. 86-87.


[41] “Personal Memorandum from Andropov to Brezhnev”, The George Washington University National Security Archives – Document 7, Dec. 1979.


[42] Ibid.


[43] Ewans (2002), pp. 202-203.


[44] Irving Janis, Groupthink: Psychological Studies of Policy Decisions and Fiascoes, (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1982), p. 9; See also Glen Whyte, “GroupThink Reconsidered”, The Academy of Management Review, Vol. 14, No. 1, 1989, p. 41.


[45] Zubok (2007), p. 262.


[46] Grinevsky (1998).


[47] Zubok (2007), p. 264.


[48] Ewans (2002), p. 203.


[49] Paul ’t Hart, “Irving L. Janis’ Victims of GroupThink”, Political Psychology, Vol. 12, No. 2, 1991, p. 266.


[50] Tanner (2002), pp. 233-234.


[51] Matt Wolf, “Stumbling Towards War: The Soviet Decision to Invade Afghanistan”, Past-Imperfect, 2006, p. 11.


[52] Tanner (2002), pp. 234-235.


[53] Herbert Simon, “Human Nature in Politics: The Dialogue of Psychology with Political Science”, The American Political Science Review, Vol. 79, No. 2, 1985, p. 294.


[54] Robert Axelrod, “Schema Theory: An Information Processing Model of Perception and Cognition”, The American Political Science Review, Vol. 67, No. 4, 1973, p. 1248.


[55] George (1969), p. 200. In referring to Leites’ A Study of Bolshevism, George contends that the Soviets’ ”philosophical beliefs” consist of (i) an ingrained hostility towards capitalism and all capitalist states which seek to force communism into retreat, (ii) optimism towards the future, coupled with a sense of necessity to pay close attention to the present so as to ensure the advance of communism, and (iii) the ability of humankind to deliberately influence social developments, be they in the furtherance of the advance or retreat of communism (pp. 199-205).


[56] Tanner (2002), p. 234.


[57] Zubok (2007), pp. 262-263. Zubok also claims that NATO’s decision to deploy nuclear weapons in Europe (i.e. Pershing missiles) served as “the last straw that tipped the scales in favor of intervention…” for the Troika (p. 263).


[58] Joseph Collins, The Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan: A Study in the Use of Force in Soviet Foreign Policy, (United States: D.C. Heath and Company, 1986), p. 130.


[59] “Record of Meeting of A.N. Kosygin, A.A. Gromyko, D.F. Ustinov, and B.N. Ponomarev with N.M. Taraki”, The George Washington University National Security Archives – Document 3, 20 Mar. 1979.


[60] Hammond, (1984), pp. 135-137.


[61] Ibid., p. 139.


[62] Tanner (2002), p. 238.


[63] Ibid., p. 240.


[64] Zubok (2007), p. 264.


[65] Lester Grau and Michael Gress, eds. The Soviet-Afghan War: How a Superpower Fought and Lost, (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2002), p. 310.


[66] Ewans (2002), pp. 213-215.


[67] Mohammad Yousaf and Mark Adkin, Afghanistan – The Bear Trap: The Defeat of a Superpower, (Havertown, PA: Casemate, 2001), p. 98.


[68] Steve Coll, Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001, (New York, NY: Penguin, 2004), p. 89.


[69] William Odom, The Collapse of the Soviet Military, (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998), p. 249.


[70] Ewans (2002), pp. 232-236.

  • January 31, 2021