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The Changed Role of the Afghan Army

The Afghan army did not initially oppose the invasion, but afterward it opted for a host of pro-mujahid, antigovernment, and anti-Russian activities, which upset the Soviets’ calculations concerning the force needed to pacify the country. The Afghan army’s changed attitude helped the resistance movement and affected the political situation despite (or because of) the presence of the invading army.

As noted earlier, the Parchamis in the army were not many. They also had no known officers in the army when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. No Parchami officer had taken part in the invasion. This is not to suggest that they did not want to cooperate with the Russians, but because the Khalqis had suppressed them, they were unable to do so. Not all Khalqi officers supported the invasion, despite their opposition to the radical Islamists. The noncommunist elements in the army, whether officers or ordinary soldiers, were against the invasion. All this suggests that the army was not prepared to help the Parchami regime enforce its authority.

Desertions, which were frequent, took two forms: individual and group. During the invasion the whole division of Baghlan had deserted. After the invasion smaller units deserted, notably those of Nahreen and Hussaynkot. More widespread were desertions by individual soldiers. Soldiers who had almost completed their terms deserted, particularly following the Kabul uprisings. By then the view had become widespread that the regime could not last long. By mid-March 1980, of the nearly two thousand troops of the brigade stationed in Maidan Shahr only about four hundred remained. By that time the whole army, which numbered under 100,000 before the communist coup, had been reduced to about 20,000. In May the number was said to have been further reduced to about 10,000.

A number of consequences followed. The regime was completely dependent on the invading army, which found itself involved not only in military operations but also in the internal politics of the country, despite the declarations of its masters that the Soviet army was sent to repulse foreign aggression. The building of a new army by the pursuance of a policy of recruitment through conscription as well as by the employment of mercenaries and others was stressed, no matter how unpopular the policy and how serious the consequences. Along with the official party, the Parchami regime had to build a power of its own: it therefore chose to enhance KhAD (the intelligence agency).

The regime also had strained relations with the Khalqis who dominated the army. The Khalqi officers had not resisted the invasion, but the regime could not count on them to serve as pliable instruments. Besides, Khalqi officers from rural areas were sometimes more patriotic than communist. Some were Muslims, and many of these officers secretly assisted the mujahideen. The early successes of the mujahideen were partly due to the assistance rendered them by nationalist officers.

A month after the invasion the army officers of the major division of Khost in the province of Paktia made it known to the regime that if either the Russian army or Parchami officers were sent there, they would join the mujahideen. Its commander declined a summons to Kabul on the grounds that his absence would lead to disturbances in the division. Closer to Kabul, the commander of the Qargha division warned that because of the presence of the Soviet army the division was on the brink of rebellion. The regime’s plan of replacing the Khalqi officers of the Kandahar division was rebuffed. Some Parchami officers who had gone there for that purpose in March were done away with. Officers of the two factions clashed, and the Parchami officers had the worst ofthe clashes. The situation deteriorated still further when, in June 1980, the regime executed first Amin’s brother and nephew and later three of his senior ministers and a few officers.


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