Chapter 17 – Taking on Soviet Imperialism in Afghanistan

drawal. Evidence that the Soviet Union is prepared to move toward an acceptable resolution of the Afghanistan problem on the basis of her prompt withdrawal would go far toward restoring international confidence and trust necessary for the improvement of East-West relations.8

Second and Third References to Afghanistan. Reagan’s Letter to Brezhnev—September 22, 1981 once again addresses “occupation forces in Afghanistan” and calls for “Soviet readiness to resolve the Afghanistan problem on the basis of a prompt withdrawal.” Reagan’s Letter to Brezhnev—November 17, 1981 includes strong words on Afghanistan, including the excerpts below.

Afghanistan remains a major obstacle to progress, beclouding the international atmosphere. It appears from recent communications that we both agree on the need for progress toward an internationally acceptable solution of this issue. We appear to agree on basic goals: a non-aligned, independent Afghanistan, free of any foreign military presence and guaranteed against any outside interference. This calls for a complete withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan at the earliest possible date. The United States is prepared to continue the exchange of views on questions that bear on a political settlement in Afghanistan.9

The above letters are examples drawn from a list of numerous Reagan letters to Soviet leaders, including others with references to Afghanistan, that are provided in this book’s Internet Document Library.

5. Reagan’s Public Statements and Reports on Afghanistan, Including Soviet Use of Chemical & Toxin Weapons—1981 to 1983

The discussion above reviews Reagan’s early pressure on the subject of Afghanistan and points to Reagan’s early discussions with his advisors on providing covert support to Afghan resistance forces. It is also known that he started communicating with resistance leaders, but the extent and process of this communication has not been declassified as in an October 1981 Department of State report, Afghanistan.

At the same time, Reagan early sought to build public understanding of the facts and stakes in Afghanistan. Reagan’s public statements and reports include strong language and graphic public diplomacy materials focused on several key themes. These include: the illegality and brutality of the Soviet invasion; the courage and commitment of the Afghan people; U.S. resolve in support of Afghan independence; and the reality of growing international support in opposition to Soviet imperialism.

Chemical and Toxin Weapons Uses. An increasingly important element of Reagan’s public messages on Afghanistan was to reinforce in as many venues as possible the administration’s findings on Soviet use of chemical and toxin weapons in violation of international arms control treaties. Reagan often contrasted these brutal actions with U.S. arms control proposals banning such weapons (see Chapter 15 on Soviet Violations), including strengthening the Geneva CBW Protocol of 1925 and the Biological Weapons Convention of 1972.

As the messages spread and refugee and media reports about brutal Soviet actions in Afghanistan increased, an international tribunal meeting in Stockholm in May 1981 condemned the Soviet aggression. Reagan Administration reports from this period include Afghanistan: 18 Months of Occupation, issued in August 1981 by the Department of State as Special Report No. 86—an update of an earlier Special Report on Afghanistan dated February 1981 (unavailable to the author). The August report summarized the situation in what the Soviets called the “Democratic Republic of Afghanistan” as follows:

After 1½ years of Soviet occupation, the Soviets and the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan (DRA) have not been able to make headway in establishing the authority of the Babrak regime. Indeed, they appear to be losing ground to the guerrilla freedom fighters (mujahidin), who are maintaining impressive momentum.

On the other hand, the Soviets show no signs of abandoning their long-term objective of legitimizing a pro-Soviet government in Afghanistan and suppressing the resistance. They acknowledge that it will take longer than originally anticipated but seem to believe time is on their side.10

Afghan Resistance and Independence—1982. A major Administration public diplomacy report on Afghanistan: The Struggle to Regain Freedom (with 50 pages of illustrated text) was issued early in 1982 on the basis of extensive interagency work by the U.S. International Communication Agency (USICA). Distributed

[Book pg. 407]