Preferred Citation: Kakar, M. Hassan Afghanistan: The Soviet Invasion and the Afghan Response, 1979-1982. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1995 1995.

Genocide in Districts Around Kabul

Massacre in Logar

Following the invasion, the mujahideen expelled party members and government officials from Logar and extended control over the road passing through it. Only Pul-e-Alam, the headquarters of the province, remained in the government’s hands. When the Soviets undertook their first military operation there is unknown. Units of their army had clashed with the mujahideen a number of times, and civilians had been among the victims. After the mujahideen defeated a unit of the invading army along the Logar road on 2 October 1980, the Soviets responded strongly. My diary entry for 10 October 1980 reads, “The recent operations of the Russians in the region were barbarous. On 5 October a Russian armored unit on the way to Logar killed or wounded anyone who happened to be on the road or within range of it from Beni Hissar up to Pul-e-Alam”—that is, from the southern outskirt of the city to the provincial capital, a distance of eighty-six kilometers. After the incident a delegation of elders from Logar raised the matter in Kabul with two members of the politburo, Saleh Mohammad Zeray and Nur Ahmad Nur. An elder of the delegation from the Surkhab Valley of Logar said to them, “Since you are no longer able to govern, you should either quit or join us so that together we can expel the Russians from our fatherland.” It might seem incredible that anyone would dare make such a bold statement in a police regime whose KhAD agents could not tolerate outspoken critics; nevertheless, on such occasions Afghan elders become bolder than usual. In another instance, an elderly man from Logar, Haji Sharif, had been imprisoned in Pul-e-Charkhi because one of his sons was a successful commander. The government offered to release him if he dissuaded his son from opposing the government, but Haji Sharif replied, “While you have a superpower behind you, and the mujahideen have no such supporter, let my son be with them.” In any case, the delegation failed in its purpose. Its mission was tactical, a reflection of the view among the Islamic Revolutionary Movement commanders that while carrying on the jehad they intended to maintain at least the façade of a relationship with the government.[1]

After the meeting, greater calamities befell not only the people of Logar but the people in most parts of the country. In November Karmal returned to Kabul from his first state visit to Moscow; thereafter, the government adopted a tougher stand. In late November, Karmal announced that the government had planned to hold military exercises in the provinces of Kabul, Parwan, and Ningrahar. These “military exercises” were in fact major military operations intended to suppress the resistance before Ronald Reagan took office as president of the United States on 20 January 1981 so that his rumored assistance in weapons to the mujahideen could not materialize. The winter season favored the well-protected mechanized army units over the poorly supplied mujahideen. As already noted, the KGB had predicted that “the spring and summer of 1981 will be decisive for the final and complete defeat of the forces of the counterrevolutionaries.” The operations that the Soviets undertook in Logar afterward were the biggest and widest in the area.

A typical pattern of military operations developed. A slow-flying reconnaissance plane would precede the operations. Afterwards, helicopter gunships would fire rockets into certain places and villages where the mujahideen were suspected to be. Sometimes as many as thirty helicopter gunships would bombard targets. Targets would also be hit by rocket launchers mounted on tanks. Then units of tanks would surround a village or a group of villages. During major operations armored units would appear in Logar from four directions: from Kabul, from Gardez (provincial capital of Paktia), from the Maidan area in the west, and from Pul-i-Alam, the only place in the province under the government’s control. After an area was thus encircled and believed cleared of the defenders, armed groups of the invading army, accompanied by KhAD guides, would descend on it and search houses for weapons, draft dodgers, and persons suspected as mujahideen or antiregime activists. Soon, though, the intruders exerted themselves more in looting valuables and Western and Japanese gadgets than they did in performing their assigned job. With nightfall they would assemble in a distant desert or return to their headquarters.

In military operations the civilians were the main victims, although the Russians also lost many men. The casualties of the mujahideen were the least in number. In spite of the severity of the operations the invading army and their Afghan henchmen failed to suppress the resistance. However, they did succeed in keeping the road from Kabul to Gardez open at least temporarily, but they had to guard it with units of tanks stationed along the way for the 125 kilometers to Kabul. They also vandalized Logar and denuded a considerable area of it. My diary entry for 21 November reads: “The actual number of the casualties is unknown. It is said that they were beyond calculation. In many places dead bodies lay here and there. No one dared to bury them. Dogs have consumed many. They have decomposed and have an offensive odor. Some houses have been destroyed while others are closed because of the destruction of their inhabitants.” The people were unable to cope with the enormous problems relating to casualties, and many left their homes to take refuge in Pakistan.

For a long time no major operation was reported to have taken place in Logar, although sporadic bombing was routine. On 7 May 1981 a caravan of the invaders, as a result of encounters with the mujahideen in Mohammad Agha and Mosayee, lost about thirty tanks and a large number of Parchamis as well as KhAD agents. Usually the mujahideen, particularly in the Mohammad Agha district, would destroy around twenty tanks of a convoy on the Logar road. It is estimated that on this road alone the invaders lost about one thousand tanks during the occupation. This front, particularly its Bini Sharafgan locality, was the toughest in the province. The invaders also lost men in large numbers after they ascended a mound where they were shelled simultaneously by the mujahideen and the outraged Afghan soldiers. The aftermath was terrible. My diary entry for 14 May 1981 reads: “Following the incident, when the Soviets assaulted many villages with their armored units they showed no mercy to any human being.”

The massacre that the invaders committed in an underground irrigation canal came to be known in the West through an American anthropologist, Mike Barry, who visited the area in September 1982. Such canals are wide and deep enough to accommodate many people. In my diary I noted that an unknown number of people perished somewhere in a cave where they had taken refuge; informed by a proregime villager, Soviet soldiers burned petroleum products in its entrance. The “cave” was the underground irrigation canal Karez-e-Baba, which passes through the Padkhab-e-Shana village in Logar. Mike Barry writes:

According to eyewitness reports,…villagers who fled spoke of soldiers wearing gas masks, pouring mysterious things into an underground irrigation canal where villagers including children were hiding. Our investigation showed that the soldiers had actually used gasoline, diesel fuel and an incendiary white powder, an evil-smelling [substance] designed to ensure that the gasoline would properly burn in a tunnel with little oxygen. After the 105 people including the little children were burned to death, the population in a panic decided to run away to Pakistan.[2]

In the second week of August 1981 the Soviets massacred people in the village of Dadokhel in Logar. This event happened when a unit of the Soviet army was forced to retreat after trying to enter the small village of Babus. In revenge for the loss of four drunken Soviet and Cuban officers who had separated from the main convoy in the region of Kulangar, the village of Dadokhel was razed by attacks from the air and ground; about forty-five villagers perished.[3] In the third week of October 1981 a Soviet army unit of about three hundred tanks and other vehicles again visited Logar, accompanied as usual by helicopter gunships. At this time the main road was under the control of the mujahideen, and the invading army had to go instead through the deserts of Babus and Kulangar, after they spread rumors that a huge force was about to visit Logar. The mujahid commanders, who at the time were more disunited than before, desisted from opposing the enemy. The army surrounded many villages where children, women, and old people had remained. The draft dodgers had escaped. The mujahid commanders complained to their leaders in Peshawar of the inadequacy of their weapons when pitted against the superior weapons of their adversaries. They demanded antiaircraft weapons, but their leaders were unable to supply them at the time.

Before winter set in, when the well-protected units of the invading army had the upper hand, a delegation of about ninety elders of Logar visited Sulaiman Laweq, minister of tribal affairs, in Kabul to plead for the suspension of military operations. They told the minister, “Instead of being supplied with clothes, houses, and food, as promised, now the things in our possession are destroyed and our people are killed indiscriminately.” The Khalqi government, when Laweq was a member, had promised to provide the people with clothes, food, and homes. But Laweq now told the elders, “You are to blame for your own misfortune: you support the rebels, you do not want to pay taxes, and you are unwilling to cooperate with the government.” He told them further, “In defending our land against the United States of America, China, and Pakistan, we had to ask for Soviet military assistance. But,” added the minister, “if you really want to live in peace, cooperate with us, expel the rebels from your region, and pay your taxes, for which you will be granted local autonomy.”[4] The elders returned disappointed.

Earlier, a progovernment mulla had preached the same things to a gathering of the people of Logar whom the government had summoned. When the mulla promised that the Soviet forces would withdraw if the people cooperated with the government, an elderly man answered, “Unless the Soviet forces are withdrawn, we would not be willing to do any thing of the sort.”[5] The Soviets were, of course, unwilling to withdraw, and in June 1982, in the course of an unprovoked and unopposed operation that lasted for two days, their forces massacred 240 people of the district of Baraki Barak. In addition, of the 900 people whom they took with them, some they killed in a camp in the Kulangar region; others they imprisoned, and still others they pressed into the army. The perpetrators were all Russians. Zahir Ghazi Alam, who along with others had in the course of the operation taken refuge in an underground canal, writes:

This is written at a time when the dust of the bloody Soviet operation in the district of Baraki Barak is still unsettled. In every house there is wailing and weeping. In common graveyards new graves are dug, the dead are buried, and new flags are hoisted over the martyred. Barefoot and pale, mothers and sisters, men and women, are looking for their disappeared ones, hurrying through vineyards, streams, and fields. The Russians have perpetrated their most barbarous operation in the region. The eyes of the people of the world are closed, their ears deaf, and their tongues mute to this unprecedented crime of the Russians. Worse still is the fact that even in this third year of the war the Peshawar-based Islamic organizations are still astray from the path of jehad and distant from the Afghan spirit and values. They have let themselves be seized by the disease of disunity, personal interest, and ambition.[6]

The effect of these operations on Logar has been described by Borge Almqvist and Mike Barry, who visited the province in late summer and early fall 1982. The Swedish journalist Almqvist notes:

I entered into a country where every village has been bombed at least once since the war started or fired at by Soviet land forces. Many villages are deserted, there are whole areas where the entire population have run away to the camps in Pakistan out of fear of being killed in further air bombardments. These areas are so-called helicopter territories. When you move in them and you hear a helicopter you have 60 seconds to go. These areas have turned into the age before stone age. Civilization has gone back. This is before man entered Afghanistan in the very old times.[7]

Barry’s comments are even more sobering:

In our trip to Logar province,…we crossed 12 villages including Dobandi, 8 of these villages, including Dobandi, were completely uninhabited. One further village we saw destroyed virtually before our eyes. We were told that we should visit a village called Altamor, and in the fog, we saw a great flash in the distance.…And that evening and early the next morning the first wounded came into where we were from Altamor, telling us there is no more Altamor.[8]

As a result of these battles, the fertile Logar had become a place of ruins and graves, just as Herat had become after the conquest of Genghis Khan in the early thirteenth century. Almqvist continues:

Everywhere in the Logar province the most common sight except for ruins are graves. [At] the first sight you see when you enter the village, huge graveyards or a small one, and you can see which graves are new and which are [old, that is] before the war, because nowadays they [the people of Logar] have started like in the old days to put up flags like they did for holy men before, because the ones killed by the Russians are considered as holy people and according to Afghan Islamic belief they go to paradise if they were killed by the Karmal troops or the Russian troops.[9]

Again, in his words, “The Logar province in many areas looks like an archaeological site.”[10]

Almqvist provides frightening evidence about the frequency of the bombing. In one passage he describes seeking a shelter in the company of villagers, all of them in great panic from the danger of an imminent bombing:

We got to the village shelter which was a small grove of trees, the only shelter available for hundreds of people. After these bombardments within a week I saw two other bombardments.…Every morning the helicopters come from Kabul to the airbase and headquarters for the Soviet and Karmal troops in the Logar province, where they get the orders which village in the valley to bomb. That morning [when] they were bombing a village for thirty minutes, only 5 people died.[11]

In such a helpless situation people still lived, perhaps unable or unwilling to move out, hoping that the carnage would end. No one, however, was sure, and the fear of being killed in one’s own home haunted the inhabitants. Almqvist writes,“In the villages in the Logar province where people [still] live, they live under a constant fear, if next morning will be the last, if they will wake up to the sound of helicopter[s] zooming in over the rooftops, heavy machine gun fire, rockets and bombs exploding in the village.”[12]

Farms, too, were unsafe. Almqvist observed that “farmers working on in the fields were shot down by their helicopter gunships. They had no time to run away for shelter and guns, they were just gunned down unarmed.” Here Almqvist refers to a particular incident that happened in the village of Baraki Rajan in Logar on 19 June 1982, before Almqvist arrived in the area. In that locality, after a brief encounter with a group of retreating mujahideen, the army of “internationalist solidarity” embarked on a spate of “burning and looting and killing.” Looting was not an individual but a group act, common among the Russians in Logar. Almqvist writes, “I went to quite a few villages where people told me how the Russians had taken everything out of the houses, like radios, carpets, food, all sorts of household tools. These houses were completely empty.”[13] Even individuals had been robbed. During the winter of 1982 I met a number of inmates in the prison each of whom had been looted simultaneously by a number of Russian soldiers in Logar. According to the victims, the soldiers acted as if they were competing with one another in robbing the same person.

Mike Barry describes how the Russian soldiers denuded the “enormous” village of Aochakan of its wealth. The invaders had apparently undertaken the whole operation for that purpose:

On August 30th 1982, the whole village was surrounded in the classical way by tanks, helicopters flying above. Young men of military age had been able to run away into the mountains on time, so all the people who were collected by the Soviet troops were elderly villagers, farmers’ women and children. The soldiers did not kill anybody this time, they simply stripped every single person in the village that they could lay their hands on of anything valuable he had on, whether jewelry or wrist watches. Houses were searched, and all transistor radios were confiscated. The granaries were emptied, all sacks of grain reloaded on to the lorry vehicles, and finally all the sheep, all the goats, and all the cattle were loaded on to the military lorries and taken away.[14]

The village was also emptied of its inhabitants since there was nothing left for them to live on. Barry continues, “I saw an enormous village by moonlight which had not been bombed, and yet there [was] not a single human being left alive in it. It was already snowing, and you could tell that there were no footsteps in the snow. It was a freezing night, and with my companions I explored the village, and all we found living in the village was a single dog.”[15]

The villagers had fled to Pakistan, but flight abroad in the cold winter could be deadly, especially for families with children. It was so for the people of Dehsabz, a cluster of villages northeast of Kabul. Again in Mike Barry’s words:

The villagers…were told by Parcham communist officials, “Get up, go away”—“Where are we supposed to go?”—“We do not care, go away, we are going to kill you, go away.” And the people then were subjected to bombardment. All during the succeeding days bombs fell on the village, and the population began to run away at night. 450 families reached Pakistan after 7 or 8 days;…50 children froze to death on the march over the mountains, and 150 people had to be amputated for frost-bitten limbs in Peshawar hospitals. The population has collapsed on a mud field under the rain, no tents, no shelter. They are told they must now go towards the Indian border, they do not want to go, they are obstinate, they want to stay, but are getting desperate, and it seems that now we are reaching the breaking point.[16]

Almqvist has also noted the accounts of local witnesses about genocide committed by the Soviets. In one incident the Russians first looted then set fire to shops; when the shops were ablaze, they threw a number of old people into them. They burned the shops after they had looted them. Quoting a witness, Almqvist writes, “At Ghulam Raza’s house in Baraki Rajan they [the Soviet soldiers] forced nine people out and killed them.”[17] This was probably the end of the whole family. The account of another witness is more revealing: “I was on the roof of my house on watch. The Russian forces were attacking the village of Baraki Rajan. The attack was both from the air and the ground.…The Russian forces and their allies started to search the houses. Men, women and children were forced out of their homes and shot. [I] myself did see 8 people being murdered. I did see myself from the roof how the Russian soldiers threw mines out into the wheatfields.” According to the same witness, the Soviet soldiers forced some locals to go in front of their tanks so that the mujahideen would not fire on them. During the three days of operations in the village of Baraki Rajan, 298 people were killed, 25 of whom were children, and 203 resistance men.[18] The latter were caught unaware while working in the fields. This was a big loss to the mujahideen, since usually their casualties were not so high.

The Soviets also poisoned drinking water to make the civilians sick or do away with them. According to one witness, “They put medicine in the well and we cannot drink the water, because it is poisoned. We turn sick.” Many villagers told Almqvist that the Soviets had poisoned their food in the course of searching houses. That the Soviets would destroy heaps of ready crops in fields was common. When the crops were ready, the mujahideen would refrain from opposing the invaders, saying, “We cannot defend this village now, because if we do, we will have our food burnt. They shoot with machine guns, with Kalashnikovs or Kalakovs at the heaps of wheat or whatever on the fields so that they catch fire.”[19] Small butterfly mines were also thrown here and there in Logar, but not in as large numbers as in other isolated areas.

These operations made the people of Logar believe that “it is a normal way of fighting when a European occupation force comes into the country to shoot and kill people in many, many different ways.” Since the Soviet soldiers felt free to kill as they pleased, common Afghans called them with the awe-inspiring names of “Rus” and “barbarians.” Even children held this opinion. They would scream at the sight of the blond Swedish Almqvist, who looked like the Russians. Parents apologized to him, saying, “Very sorry, but you have blond hair you know, you look like a Russian. And they have never seen a camera before. They have seen so many new guns in this area, they are small kids, they do not understand that it is a camera, they think it is a new gun and that you want to kill them.” Almqvist wrote in conclusion: “When I left Afghanistan I felt like a traitor leaving all these people behind.”[20]

Genocide in Districts Around Kabul

Preferred Citation: Kakar, M. Hassan Afghanistan: The Soviet Invasion and the Afghan Response, 1979-1982. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1995 1995.