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Digital Archive International History Declassified

March 17, 1979


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    Transcript of Telephone Conversation Between Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin and Afghan Prime Minister Nur Mohammed Taraki discussing the situation in Afghanistan and agreeing that the Soviet Union should deliver military equipment to help with the Islamic radicals
    "Transcript of Telephone Conversation Between Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin and Afghan Prime Minister Nur Mohammed Taraki," March 17, 1979, History and Public Policy Program Digital Archive, Moscow Russian Television Network in Russian, "Special File" program, 14 July 1992, as translated in FBIS-SOV-92-138 (17 July 1992), pp. 30-31
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Kosygin: Ask Comrade Taraki, perhaps he will outline the situation in Afghanistan.
Taraki: The situation is bad and getting worse.
Kosygin: Do you have support among the workers, city dwellers, the petty bourgoisie, and the white collar workers in Herat? Is there still anyone on your side?
Taraki: There is no active support on the part of the population. It is almost wholly under the influence of Shiite slogans - follow not the heathens, but follow us. The propaganda is underpinned by this.
Kosygin: Are there many workers there?
Taraki: Very few--between 1,000 and 2,000 people in all.
Kosygin: What are the prospects?
Taraki: We are convinced that the enemy will form new units and will develop an offensive.
Kosygin: Do you not have the forces to rout them?
Taraki: I wish it were the case.
Kosygin: What, then, are your proposals on this issue?
Taraki: We ask that you extend practical and technical assistance, involving people and arms.
Kosygin: It is a very complex matter.
Taraki: Iran and Pakistan are working against us, according to the same plan. Hence, if you now launch a decisive attack on Herat, it will be possible to save the revolution.
Kosygin: The whole world will immediately get to know this. The rebels have portable radio transmitters and will report it directly.
Taraki: I ask that you extend assistance.
Kosygin: We must hold consultations on this issue. Do you not have connections with Iran's progressives? Can't you tell them that it is currently the United States that is your and their chief enemy? The Iranians are very hostile toward the United States and evidently this can be put to use as propaganda. What foreign policy activities or statements would you like to see coming from us? Do you have any ideas on this question, propaganda-wise?
Taraki: Propaganda help must be combined with practical assistance. I suggest that you place Afghan markings on your tanks and aircraft and no one will be any the wiser. Your troops could advance from the direction of Kushka and from the direction of Kabul. In our view, no one will be any the wiser. They will think these are Government troops.
Kosygin: I do not want to disappoint you, but it will not be possible to conceal this. Two hours later the whole world will know about this. Everyone will begin to shout that the Soviet Union's intervention in Afghanistan has begun. If we quickly airlift tanks, the necessary ammunition and make mortars available to you, will you find specialists who can use these weapons?
Taraki: I am unable to answer this question. The Soviet advisers can answer that.
Kosygin: Hundreds of Afghan officers were trained in the Soviet Union. Where are they all now?
Taraki: Most of them are Moslem reactionaries. We are unable to rely on them, we have no confidence in them.
Kosygin: Can't you recruit a further 50,000 soldiers if we quickly airlift arms to you? How many people can you recruit?
Taraki: The core can only be formed by older secondary school pupils, students, and a few workers. The working class in Afghanistan is very small, but it is a long affair to train them. But we will take any measures, if necessary.
Kosygin: We have decided to quickly deliver military equipment and property to you and to repair helicopters and aircraft. All this is for free. We have also decided to deliver to you 100,000 tons of grain and to raise gas prices from $21 per cubic meter to $37.
Taraki: That is very good, but let us talk of Herat. Why can't the Soviet Union send Uzbeks, Tajiks, and Turkmens in civilian clothing? No one will recognize them. We want you to send them. They could drive tanks, because we have all these nationalities in Afghanistan. Let them don Afghan costume and wear Afghan badges and no one will recognize them. It is very easy work, in our view. If Iran's and Pakistan's experience is anything to go by, it is clear that it is easy to do this work, they have already shown how it can be done.
Kosygin: You are, of course, oversimplifying the issue. It is a complex political and international issue, but, irrespective of this, we will hold consultations again and will get back to you.
Taraki: Send us infantry fighting vehicles by air.
Kosygin: Do you have anyone to drive them?
Taraki: We will find drivers for between 30 and 35 vehicles.
Kosygin: Are they reliable? Won't they flee to the enemy, together with their vehicles? After all, our drivers do not speak the language.
Taraki: Send vehicles together with drivers who speak our language--Tajiks and Uzbeks.
Kosygin: I expected this kind of reply from you. We are comrades and are waging a common struggle and that is why we should not stand on ceremony with each other. Everything must be subordinate to this.

[The first page has a hand-written footnote: At the Central Committee Politburo's sitting on 19 March, Comrade Kosygin read the transcript of these conversations in the presence of Central Committee secretaries.]