July 30, 2021

August 3, 1986


Thirty-five years ago, in the August 3, 1986, issue of The Ukrainian Weekly, readers were informed about Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s decision to withdraw six regiments (roughly 6 percent of the estimated 120,000 stationed troops: one tank regiment, two motorized rifle regiments, three anti-aircraft units and all of their equipment) from Afghanistan by the end of 1986. The pull-out, Mr. Gorbachev said, would need to be accompanied by a cutback in “outside interference,” namely Western aid to Afghan guerrilla forces.

During the announcement, which was made at the end of July from Vladivostok, Russia, Mr. Gorbachev offered a noncommittal response to a letter sent to him by President Ronald Reagan on arms control and called for closer relations with China. The withdrawal, Mr. Gorbachev continued, “must be answered” by a reciprocal curtailment of Western aid to the Afghan guerillas, the Mujahideen. He added that the aforementioned regiments would return to their bases in the Soviet Union “in such a way that anyone who is interested will be able to confirm this.”

Western diplomats said the proposal was a token gesture that would not significantly change Soviet influence in Afghanistan, but could improve the atmosphere of efforts to achieve a political settlement.

Mr. Gorbachev warned that additional withdrawals would not occur without further cutbacks in Western support to the Mujahideen. A timetable for a complete withdrawal of Soviet forces was agreed to between the USSR and Afghanistan, which he said could be sped up if a political settlement was achieved. A Soviet proposed timetable of four years was deemed unrealistic by the Pakistani and U.S. governments. Pakistan had asked for a timetable of six months to one year.

The Reagan administration doubted the seriousness of the Soviet withdrawal, and called on the Soviets to present a shorter timetable in the next round of U.S.-sponsored proximity talks. In 1985, the United States provided the Mujahideen with $280 million in aid ranging from small arms and ammunition to clothing and equipment.

The final stage of the Soviet withdrawal was completed in under a year in 1989. The Soviets forces are accused of war crimes committed in Afghanistan, including the use of chemical weapons, intentionally targeting civilians and torturing prisoners. Some Afghans have referred to these crimes as genocide.

Source: “Soviets to withdraw 6,000 Afghan troops,” The Ukrainian Weekly, August 3, 1986.