Primary Sources

The Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan


On 25 December 1979, the Soviet Union deployed its army in Afghanistan, in support of the Afghan Communist government against a group of Muslim opponents. For the next nine years, only the active military involvement of the Soviet Union maintained any political control in Afghanistan, primarily through their control of the capital city of Kabul and its airport. With a long-drawn out military conflict that the Soviet army could not win, the Soviet-Afghan War was a constant embarrassment for Soviet military might. The expense of causalities and supplies was a constant drain on the already weak Soviet economy. As part of Mikhail Gorbachev's reforms, economically and through his support of disarmament, the Soviet Union began to withdraw its troops in May 1988, with total withdrawal to be completed by 15 February 1989. The following excerpt is from a Soviet Politburo planning session for the final stages of the withdrawal, which considered the entire conflict a Cold War loss to the U.S. government and its Middle East allies.


Eduard Shevardnadze to V. Chebrikov, "CPSU CC Politburo Decision," 24 January 1989, trans. D. Rozas, Cold War International History Project, Virtual Archive, CWIHP (accessed May 14, 2008).

Primary Source—Excerpt

On the measures pertaining to the impending withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan:

In the difficult situation characterizing the state of affairs in Afghanistan, one can increasingly feel the inner tension stemming from the impending withdrawal of the remaining units of Soviet troops. The attention of the regime and the forces of the opposition is totally focused on 15 February, when, in accordance with the Geneva accords, the term of stay of our military contingent must end. In addition, the given timetable for Kabul is even more constraining, as the last Soviet military units must leave the Afghan capital in the beginning of February. Practically throughout the entire country, military engagements between the government forces and the opposition continue to take place, in the course of which the government has essentially been able to maintain its positions, although with the help of Soviet aviation.


In the given situation there arise for us a number of difficult elements. On the one hand, our departure from decisions, which have been made and announced, to complete the withdrawal of our forces on 15 February may cause us extremely undesirable complications in the international arena. On the other hand, there is no assurance that shortly after our departure there will not arise a very serious danger to the regime that, throughout the world, is associated with us. Especially since the opposition, during the decisive period, may well manage to coordinate its actions for a given time, which is what the American and Pakistani military circles have been persistently urging them to do....

How to Cite this Source

Eduard Shevardnadze, "The Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan," Making the History of 1989, Item #137, (accessed May 28 2021, 3:26 pm).

Associated Files