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visit to Kabul of Nikita Khrushchev

During the visit to Kabul of Nikolay Bulganin, the Soviet premier, and Nikita Khrushchev, first secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union,
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61 years ago today (December 16, 1955) Soviet top leaders, Party Secretary General Nikita Khrushchev and Prime Minister Nikolai Bulganin, began a three day visit to Kabul (December 16-18) where they voiced support for Afghanistan’s position on Pashtunistan and offered all-round assistance to Afghanistan including a credit of one hundred million dollars for economic development. The visit came in the wake of the convention the Afghan Loya Jirga (grand Assembly) to make vital national decisions on the issue of Pashtunistan and enhancing the Afghan army’s capacity of fighting foreign invasion. The gathering authorized the government to pursue the issue of Pashtunistan and acquire modern weapons and military hardware from any available sources. Following the visit of the Soviet leaders, Moscow also announced an unspecified range of military assistance which over the years increased incrementally.

Kabul, 1955:
Nikolai A. Bulganin, Chairman of the Council of Ministers of USSR, and Nikita S. Khrushchev, member of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR, visited Afghanistan at the invitation of the royal government. In the photo they’re seen leaving the Kabul Museum

Soon Afghanistan received approximately 25 million dollars’ worth of Russian military hardware. In addition, the Soviet bloc also began construction of military airfields in Bagram, Mazar-i-Sharif, and Shindand. By the 1960s, Soviet assistance became apparent in the structure, armament, training, and command and control arrangements of the military. During the next ten years Afghanistan adopted the Soviet military training and operational military doctrine system that required translation and adaptation of hundreds of Soviet Armed Forces tactical and field manuals; technical pamphlets, text books and methodology of training for military operations. Instead of fitting the new armament and equipment into the existing Army and air force structure the very organization of the armed forces was changed to make it compatible with the new Soviet style doctrine in tactics, operational art and strategy. Soviet assistance enabled Afghanistan to improve the structure, armament, training and command and control system of the armed forces. The strength of the military in the 1960s reached 98,000 including 90,000 in the army and 8,000 in the air force. The reserve in the mid-1970s was estimated at 150,000-200,000. The army was organized into three army corps and four separate divisions, three armored brigades, two mountain brigades, one artillery brigade and other combat support and service formations. The air force had 250 combat, transport and training aircraft and helicopters. The air force regiments were based in Kabul, Bagram, Shindand, Mazar-i- Sharif and some units were also based in Jalalabad. The armed forces also included a 21,000 strong gendarmerie organized in battalions and regiments and a 25,000 strong Public Works Force organized in companies, battalions and construction units.

During the visit to Kabul of Nikolay Bulganin, the Soviet premier, and Nikita Khrushchev, first secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union,

While modernization of Afghanistan armed forces evolved over more than two decades the Afghan-Pakistan conflict continued to flare up from time to time. One of the major escalations came in October 1961 when Afghanistan sent tribal lashkars with advisors from the Afghan armed forces to Bajaur agency in support of a pro-Afghan tribal chief opposed to a Pakistani-backed local Khan. The situation led to bloody clashes with losses on both sides, forcing the Afghan lashkars to retire to Kunar. The tension somewhat eased following the resignation of Prime Minister Daud Khan in 1963 and the initiation of a détente policy by King Zahir Shah during the so-called “decade of democracy.” The thaw in relations was manifested in Kabul’s military restraint during Pakistani wars with India in 1965 and 1971 when Pakistan was militarily vulnerable on its western border. Afghanistan had given advance assurance to Pakistan that Kabul would not exploit the situation when Pakistan was in war and its western border was thinly covered by its army.

(Excerpts from A. Jalali’s “A Military History of Afghanistan from the Great Game to the Global War on Terror)

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