The views and opinions expressed or implied in WBY are those of the authors and should not be construed as carrying the official sanction of the Department of Defense, Air Force, Air Education and Training Command, Air University, or other agencies or departments of the US government or their international equivalents.

Afghanistan Intelligence War

  • Published
  • By Ms. Diva Patang


Since the Saur Revolution of 1978, Afghanistan has suffered significantly from an intelligence war. The People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), which was founded in 1965, came to power with the assistance of the Russian Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (Committee for State Security, KGB) in 1978. The two most powerful factions in the PDPA at the time were the Khalq (majority from rural areas) and the Parcham (majority from urban areas), which were created by a party schism in 1967. The Khalq drew its membership predominantly from the economically and socially deprived classes and had huge influence within the armed forces. It had a greater provincial presence than the Parchamis.1 This latter group’s members predominantly came from urban areas and had close ties with the Soviet Union. They made every effort to facilitate the expansion of the relationship with the Soviet Union and wielded significant power and influence in policy decisions.2 Both factions distrusted and disliked the other and retained their separate organizations. The party schism occurred not only over policy differences but because of personality and ethnic differences and power-struggle rivalries. However, as a result of Soviet pressure, the party was reunited in 1977, but distrust and dislike continued to define the relationship between the factions and each retained their separate organizations.3

Currently, we are in a similar circumstance, Pres. Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive of the Unity Government Abdullah Abdullah are running the government but representing two different factions. A comparison between the way the pro-Soviet intelligence agencies carried out strategic interference against the political system in the past and the way the post-2001 pro-Western agencies are interfacing with the political process is important for understanding Afghan politics today. In some ways, there are remarkable similarities between the two periods, notably in the way that external and internal intelligence agencies continue to exercise considerable bearing on the political system in Afghanistan.


Afghanistan has a long and turbulent history. It is a landlocked country straddling Central and South Asia. Lord Curzon, viceroy of India, once remarked that Afghanistan was a state that owed its existence to its geographic position. Geography has influenced social and cultural developments in Afghanistan with political consequences as the country was drawn continuously into armed conflict in response to foreign invasions. Historically the collapse of the state army and central government has never resulted in a defeat of the nation or full control by invading forces.4 The Afghan people have mainly relied on their decentralized political, economic, and military potential to take over the fighting against such invaders. Afghanis have their distinctive assumptions and perceptions that may underpin their way of war.

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan and enhanced the capacity of the Afghan Khadamat-e Aetla’at-e Dawlati (State Intelligence Agency, KhAD). The Soviet regime established KhAD based on communist ideology, promoting party politics instead of protecting national security. After the fall of the Taliban regime in 2001, the United States entered Afghanistan and established the Riyasat-e Amniyat-e Milli (National Directorate of Security, NDS) on Western ideology to further Washington’s agenda in the region. The international community needed a strong and professional intelligence agency in Afghanistan to counter the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and collect essential information about the radicalized groups. NDS was very new and could not perform as a professional agency to respond to the espionage networks of the Taliban, violent extremist organizations (VEO), and neighboring states at the time.


(US Air Force photo by TSgt Sharida Jackson)

Figure 1. Afghanistan celebrates independence. US Army Gen John Nicholson, then commander of Resolute Support Mission and US Forces-Afghanistan, walks with Mohammad Masoom Stanekzai, then director of the National Security Directorate, prior to the start of an Afghanistan Independence Day ceremony at the Ministry of Defense 19 August 2018, in Kabul, Afghanistan.

The Afghan intelligence community has undergone several phases of political transition as KhAD and NDS both fought complex wars with regional and international dimensions with two cultures of intelligence and gained significant experience. With the beginning of the global war on terrorism led by the US and its NATO allies in Afghanistan, the NDS was still learning operational tactics and intelligence collection mechanisms. A decade later, it had gained solid experience in intelligence collection, process, and countering terrorism on Afghan soil. However, it is inarguable that the intelligence agencies in Afghanistan consistently failed to obtain and gather information of significant worth that could otherwise prove to be in the best interest of its national security. The NDS’s lack of effectiveness and its poor information gathering is due to undertrained intelligence personnel with limited access to advanced technology, which led to incorrect and ill-informed conclusions by policy makers and military commanders.5 The NDS still lacks experienced officers, and the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is unable to train sufficient personnel to correct this deficiency. This lack of untrained and inexperienced officers forced NDS to rely on old KGB-trained personnel.


In Afghanistan, virtually every regime up to modern times employed internal spies to keep the government informed of plots against it. After World War II, several overlapping intelligence services were established, both civilian and military, to uncover plots and monitor each other. None of these agencies were effective.6

American Negligence and Soviet Opportunism

From the end of World War II to 1955, Washington neither had the vision nor the will to become a serious rival of the Soviets in Afghanistan. As Louis Dupree noted, most nations jumped on the American gravy train but did so more from their own selfish national interests than to help prevent the spread of international communism.7 Some military officials wanted to join the US security camp but demanded assurance that they would be defended by the United States if any country were to attack them. Given the perception that Afghanistan was not geostrategically crucial, US military planners decided against providing such assurances to Kingdom of Afghanistan.

In 1954, Afghan prime minister Mohammed Daoud Khan made the final such request for US military aid to Pres. Dwight Eisenhower. After two months, Washington replied, saying that “after careful consideration, extending military aid to Afghanistan would create problems not offset by the strength it would generate. Instead of asking for arms, Afghanistan should settle the Pashtunistan dispute with Pakistan.”8 A copy of this reply was sent to Pakistan’s ambassador in Washington, which was perceived as an insult to the Afghan government. Therefore, Daoud Khan accepted a Soviet offer of military assistance that he had previously rejected.

The Soviets’ successful wooing of Afghanistan started when Washington failed to respond to the real economic and security needs of a friendly and pro-Western nation and to understand the internal Afghan politics of the Pushtunistan problem. For the next two decades, the United States watched with remarkable calmness as the Soviets gradually increased their Afghan presence, dictating to the KhAD, training the army, getting a foothold in the education system, building a strategic highway system, gaining control of resource development, and ultimately achieving an economic hammerlock on the country.

A quarter of a century later, Afghanistan was the only country in the region that fought a bloody war against Soviet communism and forced the Soviet army out. It was also in Afghanistan that the United States waged the longest covert war against the Soviet Union in the region. Less than a half-century later, Afghanistan was the country from which the United States was attacked on 9/11, forcing Washington to invade Afghanistan.

Soviet Objectives

Up to the mid-1960s, Soviet objectives were described as seeking to strengthen Afghan independence and economic development.9 By the 1970s, the objectives of strengthening Afghan independence were arguable. The historical records suggest that the Soviets had four main objectives. Firstly, they wanted to ensure that Afghanistan did not become an unfriendly border state with close American ties. Secondly, Moscow wanted to draw Afghanistan into a dependent relationship, vulnerable and responsive to Soviet pressure. Thirdly, the Soviets wanted to gain economic advantage from aid projects and trade. Finally, the Kremlin wanted to nourish the PDPA and reunite the two factions into a unified communist front. These objectives were consonant with the long-standing Soviet aim of spreading pro-Soviet international communism. US president John Kennedy warned Prince Mohammad Naim in September 1962, “Afghanistan could not long exist in a position of growing dependency on the USSR.”10 However, that is exactly the relationship that developed between Kabul and Moscow.

A half-century of relative peace and foreign assistance helped Afghanistan build modern state institutions and economic infrastructure. On 17 July 1973, Daoud Khan came to power after leading a military coup against his cousin King Zahir Shah. This ended the constitutional monarchy and ostensibly transformed Afghanistan into a republic. The forces that assisted President Daoud Khan in overthrowing the monarchy consisted of young leftist officers from the Khalq and Parcham factions.11 The president, however, surrounded himself mainly with Parchamis, who spared no efforts to target their archrivals, the Islamists. The government jailed many Khalq leaders and forced them to exile. Pakistan’s ISI trained and armed these insurgents to cause trouble for Daoud Khan and to create spheres of influence for Islamabad inside Afghanistan.12 This strengthened the Soviet Union’s hand in its efforts to keep Afghanistan dependent on Moscow.

Beginning in 1976, Daoud Khan attempted to wean the nation from political and military dependence on the Soviet Union. This alarmed Moscow, and as a result, the Soviets intervened to reunify the two PDPA factions. This worried Daoud Khan, who viewed the Soviet intervention as hostile to the Afghanistan republic.13 Therefore, in a meeting in April 1977, President Daoud Khan strongly objected to Soviet leader Leonid Breshnev’s complaint about the presence of experts from NATO countries in Afghanistan. Daoud Khan directly challenged the remarks of his host and, in a critical tone, reminded Brezhnev that:

We will never allow you to dictate to us how to run our country and whom to employ in Afghanistan. How and where we employ the foreign experts will remain the exclusive prerogative of the Afghan state. Afghanistan shall remain poor, if necessary, but free in its acts and decisions.14

On Daoud Khan’s return to Afghanistan, he publically announced that “imported ideologies,” a reference to communism, were not what Afghanistan needed.15 He shifted his vision and his policies, which included removing the resolute leftists from the government, asserting his absolute power as president, and freeing the country from its sole dependency on the Soviet Union.

The Saur Revolution

On 27 April 1978, the Saur Revolution, staged by the Afghan army and air force, opened the most destructive chapter in Afghanistan’s history. The Soviet Union indicated that the coup happened by surprise;16 however, the KGB sources report that its two Afghan military leaders and Soviet agents, Mohammad Rafi (codenamed Niruz) and Sayed Mohammad Gulabzoy (codenamed Mamad) had given advanced warning of the coup to Soviets.17 According to Alexander Morozov, who served as the deputy KGB chief in Kabul, the KGB was not aware of the order given by Amin, but they were aware of the plan for a coup.18 Once the coup took place, the Soviet Union could only choose to give its full support.

Soon after the 27 April 1978 coup d’etat that brought the small communist party to power, the American embassy in Kabul cabled Washington: “The Russians have finally won the Great Game.”19 Immediately, the Soviet Union recognized the new government, which was labeled the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan. Massive economic and military aid from the Soviet Union followed in short order.

The Soviets made more substantial achievements in their underground intelligence war than what they had accomplished on their combat fronts. The Soviet intelligence agencies, including KGB and the Russian Glavnoje Razvedyvatel'noje Upravlenije (Main Intelligence Directorate, GRU), waged this clandestine war. One of the main objectives of the KGB was the establishment of a new and effective Afghan security service modeled on the KGB.

Post-Revolution Afghanistan Intelligence Agencies

After the 1978 revolution, leaders placed a high priority on developing an effective secret police service. During Pres. Nur Muhammad Taraki’s administration, the secret police agency was established as the Afghanistan Gattho Satoonkai Aidara (Department for Safeguarding the Interests of Afghanistan, AGSA). Assadullah Sarwari, who used to amuse himself by touring interrogation cells and stubbing out his cigarettes in the eye sockets of political prisoners, led the new organization.20 Due to the differences between President Taraki and his deputy Hafizullah Amin, the administration dissolved the AGSA. Shortly thereafter Taraki was assassinated, and the new president, Amin, re-formed the secret police as the Kargari Astekhbarati Muassessa (Workers Intelligence Service, KAM). Within six months of his assuming the presidency, the Soviets assassinated Amin and invaded Afghanistan. Following the invasion, the Soviets installed Babrak Karmal, who had once been a deputy to Taraki, as president. Karmal renamed the secret police service to KhAD, naming Dr. Mohammad Najibullah as director. With the close assistance and support from the KGB, the KhAD greatly expanded in size and became a dreaded and pervasive organ of government repression.

Karmal had earlier described Amin’s intelligence service as a “machinery of terror and suppression, tyranny and torture.”21 However, just six months later, Karmal’s government was following the practices of its predecessors: torture, trumped-up confessions, and executions without trial. Initially, Karmal emptied jails of most political prisoners; however, he soon filled them up again—this time with his political enemies. The primary agent for political coercion and human rights violations was the KhAD.

The US State Department described the KBG role in mentoring the KhAD as follows:

KGB officers are assigned to every major department of KhAD from the director's office down, and all major KhAD operations required Soviet approval before implementation. KhAD is the law in Kabul and other cities and towns controlled by the regime. It has become an increasingly efficient agent of terror and repression and a prime tool for Soviet control of the Afghan population.22

According to the archives of the former KGB operative Vasili Mitrokhin, the Soviet secret service had been involved in recruiting agents in Afghanistan since the early 1950s. These agents later helped establish the communist party known as the PDPA.23 Future Afghan presidents Taraki and Karmal were among those recruited by the KGB.

KGB involvement in violations of human rights was evident soon after the 1978 coup. Until May 1982, Soviet soldiers guarded the Pul-e-Charkhi Prison (Afghan National Detention Facility) and were in charge of interrogations and executions. According to the US Department of State, Soviet advisers often were present when torture was applied.24 A British correspondent at the time described the KhAD as “increasingly efficient and dangerous.”25 Tens of thousands of political prisoners perished under the hands of the KhAD, and their bodies were buried in ditches dug by tractors.26 Among the more common abuses were the use enhanced interrogation techniques, the burning of political prisoners’ eyes by putting cigarettes in their eye sockets,27 and the removing of captured resistance fighters’ eyes.28 The civil war triggered by the Soviets invasion claimed an estimated one to two million Afghan lives.

Intelligence agencies by their very nature present a tough challenge for researchers, since they hide what needs to be hidden, and what little they do reveal is often meant to influence and misinform. The KhAD was the primary security and intelligence agency of Afghanistan and also served as the secret police during the Soviet occupation. Following the Soviet invasion of December 1979, the KhAD replaced the KAM. While the KhAD was nominally part of the Afghan state, it was firmly under the control of the Soviet KGB until 1989.

The KGB trained, organized, and primarily financed the KhAD, which proved to be more brutal than its predecessor by applying the lessons of its Stalinist mentors.29 The KGB provided 250 million convertible rubles to pay the KhAD’s salaries.30

Most KhAD records were either taken by the KGB in the wake of the Soviet withdrawal in 1989 or destroyed by the Taliban during the ensuing civil war. Those records taken to Moscow largely remain classified to this day—notably, the documents that outline the membership, informants, and assignments with Soviet or KGB personnel. However, in 2001, the Council of European Relations reviewed available Afghan intelligence under the KhAD from an historical perspective. In this well-researched report, fresh information about the function of the secret services was revealed. During the Karmal administration, on 11 January 1980, the government announced that KhAD would replace KAM. KhAD was removed from the Khalqi dominated Ministry of Interior and made a department of the Office of the Prime Minister and was still later transformed into the Wazarat-e-Amniat-e-Daulat (Ministry of State Security, WAD) in 1986.31 According to one estimate, by 1987, the WAD employed 15,000 to 30,000 professionals and about 100,000 paid informers, and each KhAD official had one or more KGB advisers.32 At roughly the same time, Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) trained about 83,000 mujahedeen between 1983 and 1993 with the support of the CIA and sent them to Afghanistan to fight against the Soviet Union and its proxy regime in Kabul.33

The KhAD reported directly to the president and probably also to the Soviet embassy. Its budget was enormous, said to be larger than the entire government budget of the preceding 10 years.34 The employees of KhAD were among the highest paid civil servants in the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan (DRA). Many were sent abroad to learn interrogation and torture techniques.35 Great attention was given to making KhAD employees loyal and dedicated communists. During a PDPA conference, Dr. Najibullah said that the KhAD’s slogan was “a weapon in one hand, a book in the other”—referencing its commitment to torture and indoctrination.36

Within the government, KhAD had no intelligence service rivals. The national police force continued to exist under the Ministry of Interior, but its functions were limited to simple law-and-order duties. The function of military intelligence was removed from control of the armed forces and given to the KhAD. Dr. Sayd Majrooh, former director of the Peshawar-based Afghan Information Centre, stated “KhAD has its own police, prison, and torture chambers. It is a state within a state.”37

KhAD activities were to detect and eradicate domestic political opposition, subvert armed resistance, penetrate opposition groups abroad, and provide military intelligence to the armed forces via its military wing. The organization’s primary function was to make sure that DRA-controlled territory was properly acquiescent. KhAD’s informers were mainly based in schools and government offices to monitor the loyalty of students and employees.38 This created a pervasive atmosphere of mutual suspicion and fear.39 Furthermore, KhAD was also to penetrate and subvert foreign-based opposition organizations.

President Karmal’s government also initiated the practice of staffing its diplomatic establishment abroad with many secret police employees to conduct espionage. In the mid-1980s, the KhAD enjoyed a formidable measure of autonomy in relation to the Afghan state institutions. It gained a fearsome reputation as the eyes, ears, and scourge of the regime. Its influence was pervasive, and its methods ruthless.

In 1986, the Soviets forced Karmal to step down, and Najibullah emerged from his powerbase within the intelligence community to assume the presidency. The new president had been one of the most important and greatest feared leaders in the Karmal regime. Now, just as the Soviet Union were preparing to withdraw from Afghanistan, Najibullah assumed the reins of government. Despite the Soviet Union withdrawal in 1989, Moscow continued to assist President Najibullah in Kabul’s struggle against the Pakistan- and US-supported mujahedeen. The Soviet left behind a few thousand KGB officers and military advisers to prop up the Najibullah regime.

In 1990, when the constitution was amended, President Najibullah initiated a reconciliation process in coordination with the United Nations. However, the mujahedeen leaders rejected his continuous efforts and proposals, finally forcing him finally to resign the presidency in 1992.

Najibullah continued to live in the United Nations headquarters until 1996, when the Taliban movement took Kabul. Taliban fighters shot and killed Najibullah and his brother before hanging his body from a traffic post. Initially, many Afghanis disliked Najibullah due to his actions as the head of KhAD and his relationship with Moscow. However, in the twenty-first century, public opinion changed, and he is now viewed as a strong and patriotic leader—a result of his firm stance against Pakistan’s interference in Afghanistan.

The various Afghan intelligence agencies were established with the technical support of the KGB and GRU to make the war effective against the mujahedeen. The WAD and KhAD had established friendly relations with the KGB and GRU because these Russian organizations had a deep influence on Afghan intelligence operations. From 1980 to 1992 these secret agencies played a vital role in countering insurgency in Afghanistan, but after the fall of Dr. Najibullah’s government in 1992 and the collapse of the whole infrastructure of the state, Afghanistan lost its state intelligence agencies.40 However, even after the fall of the Soviet-backed government in 1992, the KhAD acted as the intelligence arm of the United Front of the Northern Alliance during the civil war in Afghanistan.

Mujahedeen and Taliban (1992–1996)

The mujahedeen took power in April 1992, but very soon fighting among the different factions ensued, leading to the nearly complete destruction of Kabul. The country’s institutions ceased to function, and the infrastructure was destroyed. Afghanistan became a failed state, with ethnic conflict at the center of the ongoing civil war, which provided sufficient room for regional countries’ intelligence agencies, mainly from Pakistan and Iran, to interfere.

The Soviet withdrawal did not end the war in Afghanistan; instead, the war entered a different stage, as the Kremlin continued to supply and support the government while Islamabad and Washington backed the Mujahedeen. As from the beginning, the CIA continued to channel its aid to the mujahedeen through Pakistan’s ISI. Both sides were heavily armed as a result of the long years of war with superpowers’ involvement.

In 1996, the Taliban achieved a major military victory against the mujahedeen who were spreading at the beginning the hope of a stable and peaceful Afghanistan. The Taliban successfully managed to take control of the country’s major cities and finally took over Kabul in October 1996. One of the Taliban’s first actions was Najibullah’s execution.41 The Islamist regime then forced upon the nation the strictest Islamic system in place anywhere in the world. Despite the initial hopes of peace, the war continued between the Northern Alliance headed by Prof. Burhanuddin Rabbani and his military chief, Ahmad Shah Massoud, and the Taliban. The Taliban’s stated policy was to disarm the opposition and unify the country with a strong central government under its leader Mullah Mohammad Omar. Neither of the groups had political legitimacy or administrative efficiency of a state. However, the mujahedeen kept contact with some of the former KhAD officers they had worked with, as some of them were serving as agents behind the Taliban lines. One of Massaud’s reporting agents was the head of all intelligence for the Taliban in Kabul.42

Accounts of the Taliban’s pre-9/11 intelligence infrastructure indicate that in addition to the Ministry of Intelligence, the Ministry of the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Intelligence possessed some 20,000 spies and 100,000 informants in 2001, with children or former KhAD agents constituting many of its informants. Informants were recruited on every city block to check neighborhoods and monitor foreign journalists.43

As a result of Taliban’s resistance to hand over the architect of the 9/11 attacks, Osama bin Laden, to the United States, Washington started its military operation in cooperation with ground forces of the Northern Alliance and overthrew the Taliban regime. The Bonn Conference paved the way for a new era in Afghan history but excluded the Taliban from the negotiation table. Hamid Karzai became the head of the new administration, with key ministries led by members of the Northern Alliance.

The Karzai Government and the NDS

After the establishment of Karzai-led interim government in December 2001, leaders reestablished an Afghan intelligence agency, dividing the duties between the National Directorate for Security for tactical intelligence and National Security Council (NSC) for strategic intelligence. The defense minister, Mohammed Fahim, who previously controlled the mujahedeen intelligence agency from 1992 to 1996, directly controlled the NDS. The CIA now had the opportunity to shape a US-friendly intelligence agency. As the Afghan state grew more centralized, the intelligence service built a network in villages and provincial capitals to ensure that the palace had early warning about political threats.

It is inarguable that the function of intelligence in Afghanistan consistently fails to obtain and gather information of significant worth which could otherwise prove to be in the best interest of its national security. The basic process to support policy making is the intelligence cycle,44 but the NDS is not well trained to follow this cycle. For instance, the Taliban captures of Kunduz in 2015 and Ghazni in 2018 were the worst kind of intelligence failure, where intelligence cooperation among the NDS, National Security Agency of Afghanistan (NSA), Ministry of Defence (MoD) and Ministry of Interior (MoI) was weak. This was due to the security alerts and intelligence reports regarding the Taliban’s plan of capturing the cities were not taken seriously but were just overlooked by the MoD and MoI.45 The capture of these two cities should not have come as a surprise given how much territory the Taliban was already controlling. However, the rapid fall and slow recapture of these cities were an intelligence failure: intelligence gathering, processing, and analysis have been a complicated problem ever since the establishment of the NDS.

After each terrorist attack, the only statement we hear from responsible security institutions is that attacks are constituted and planned from across the borders. It is very well known that Pakistan is a safe haven for terrorists, but Afghanistan’s intelligence institutions never take responsibility for their failures or incompetency within the NDS. Unfortunately, all Afghans are paying the price for the failure of intelligence and for fighting the war for others. Afghanistan became an object of charity and neglect for the United States and other major powers. Regional powers, particularly Pakistan, as well as private networks, smugglers, drug dealers, and terrorists treat Afghanistan as an open field for manipulation and exploitation. The failure of significant power to come to the aid of Afghanistan and strengthen its intelligence community created not only more extremism, radicalization, and terrorism but also insecurity. The Soviets were intensely involved in Afghan internal politics until 1978, seeking to overthrow the local ruling leaders to further their regional interests.46 Both the Soviets and Americans had very similar objectives; however, it is difficult to compare the CIA with the KGB, as they used completely different intelligence methodologies and approaches.

The post 9/11 Taliban intelligence is currently operating professionally, and it uses a wide variety of human intelligence resources and techniques. Throughout the history of the post 9/11 insurgencies in Afghanistan, reports have emphasized the Afghan Taliban’s notable ability to collect and use intelligence successfully. Researchers and media outlets describe the Afghan Taliban as possessing a remarkable intelligence network, which performs numerous functions such as giving Taliban fighters early warning of US or Afghan National Army (ANA) patrols or providing US forces with deceptive intelligence.47

In addition, the Taliban continues to operate an extensive range of human intelligence and open-source intelligence based on collection methods, with the group’s signal intelligence capability to listen into the heavily encrypted radio transmissions of US troops; however, their current capabilities are much stronger. As during the pre-9/11 era, village- and neighborhood-level intelligence networks continue to give the Taliban a vast quantity of information on US and ISAF movements48 and probable spies or government collaborators, providing a population control function. Military authors have described the Taliban’s current intelligence collection structure as being one where local Taliban units collect intelligence and share it with neighboring units and the higher hierarchy, which provides top-down intelligence support.49


History suggests that the points at which the intelligence cycle most frequently breaks down are in the assessment process and the policy interface rather than in collection. It is essential that the NDS and its CIA mentors more clearly differentiate between the role of intelligence communities in authoritarian and democratic regimes. It is, of course, impossible to change the history of AGSA, KAM, KhAD, and WAD as Afghanistan regimes at the time were heavily dependent on those intelligence services.

Afghanistan fiercely resisted all the foreign military invasions, although it has suffered from decades of infighting, violence, displacement, and intrigue by its neighbors. The US intervention in 2001 came as an exception and was overwhelmingly welcomed and received with open arms as it removed the Taliban regime and forced al-Qaeda out of Afghanistan. The first couple of years after the fall of the Taliban offered the best window of opportunity for reconstruction and to build credible institutions and political muscle.

The failure of major powers to come to the aid of Afghanistan and strengthen its intelligence agencies created not only more extremism, radicalization, and terrorism but also insecurity beyond Central Asia and the Middle East. The Kunduz and Ghazni attacks laid bare capability gaps within the Afghan Security Forces. Therefore, change is never easy, and redirecting intelligence agencies to uphold a democratic process is a real challenge. While change is possible, it will be slow, frustrating, and painful as the number of intelligence agencies involved made the intelligence war very complicated. The reform of the intelligence agencies is therefore imperative, and the depoliticization of the intelligence process is as much an element of national reconciliation as of consolidation of power. Reforming the intelligence agencies requires not only a change in the state, but also a change of the state of mind of the actors involved, and it must be understood in the broader context of civil-military relations.

Ms. Diva Patang

Miss Patang is a PhD candidate in intelligence and security studies at the University of Buckingham. She is a new anchor for Radio Television of Afghanistan. Previously, she served in the Embassy of Afghanistan in London.


1 Anthony Arnold, Afghanistan’s Two-Party Communism: Parcham and Khalq (Stanford, CA: Hoover Institution Press, 1983), 29–30 and 34–36.

2 US Department of State, Soviet Dilemmas in Afghanistan, Special Report No 71 (Washington, DC: DOS, June 1980), 2.

3 Beverley Male, Revolutionary Afghanistan: A Reappraisal (London: Croom Helm, 1982), 59.

4 Ali Ahmad Jalali, A Military History of Afghanistan: From the Great Game to the Global War on Terror (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2017), xi.

5 The effectiveness of an intelligence agency is that effectiveness may be as much a matter of perception as of fact and that a range of sources of data should be used in combination with one another.

6 Arnold, Afghanistan’s Two-Party Communism, 84.

7 Louis Dupree, Afghanistan (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1973), 509.

8 Ibid., 149.

9 Roman Timofeevich Akhramovich, Outline History of Afghanistan after the Second World War, trans. by C. J. Lambkin (Moscow: Nauka Publishing House, 1966), 69.

10 J. Bruce Amstutz, Afghanistan: The First Five Years of Soviet Occupation (Washington, DC: NDU Press, 1986), 30.

11 Jalali, A Military History of Afghanistan, 348.

12 Ibid., 349.

13 Abdul Samad Ghaus, The Fall of Afghanistan: An Insider's Account (Washington, DC: Pergamon-Brassey’s, 1988), 171.

14 Ibid., 179.

15 Jalali, A Military History of Afghanistan, 351.

16 Rodric Braithwaite, Afgantsy: The Russians in Afghanistan, 1979–89 (London: Profile, 2011), 42.

17 Jalali, A Military History of Afghanistan, 354.

18 Diego Cordovez and Selig S. Harrison, Out of Afghanistan: The Inside Story of the Soviet Withdrawal (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 27.

19 Amstutz, Afghanistan, 3.

20 John Fullerton, The Soviet Occupation of Afghanistan (Hong Kong: South China Morning Post, 1983), 33.

21 DRA Ministry of Foreign Affairs, White Book: Foreign Policy Documents of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan (Kabul: MOFA, 1981), 24–25.

22 US Department of State, Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1982 (Washington, DC: GPO, 1982), 1072.

23 The Mitrokhin Archive is a collection of handwritten notes made secretly by KGB Major Vasili Mitrokhin during his 30 years as a KGB archivist in the foreign intelligence service.

24 US Department of State, Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1982, 1075.

25 Fullerton, Soviet Occupation of Afghanistan, 126.

26 Babrak Karmal, statement, “Middle East and North Africa Daily Report,” FBIS, 7 January 1980.

27 Fullerton, Soviet Occupation of Afghanistan, 33.

28 Amstutz, Afghanistan, 269.

29 Christopher M. Andrew and Oleg Gordievsky, KGB: The Inside Story of Its Foreign Operations from Lenin to Gorbachev (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1990), 578–79.

30 Vasili Mitrokhin, “The KGB in Afghanistan,” Cold War International History Project no. 40 (working paper, Wilson Center, 2002), 147,

31 Fullerton, Soviet Occupation of Afghanistan, 4.

32 Robin. R Barnett, The Fragmentation of Afghanistan (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2002), 133.

33 Sudhakar Raje, Pakistan’s Intelligence: Export House of Terror (New Delhi: Manas Publications, 2012), 25.

34 Edward Girardet, “The KHAD—USSR's Secret Weapon against Afghan Rebels,” Christian Science Monitor, 29 September 1983.

35 Ibid., and Fullerton, Soviet Occupation of Afghanistan, 119.

36 Kabul Radio, “South Asia Daily Report,” news release, 24 March 1982.

37 William Branigin, “Afghanistan Inside a Soviet War Zone,” Washington Post, 21 October 1983.

38 Fullerton, Soviet Occupation of Afghanistan, 119.

39 US Department of State, Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1982, 1073.

40 Panagiotis Dimitrakis; et al, The Secret War in Afghanistan: The Soviet Union, China and Anglo-American Intelligence in the Afghan War (London : IB Tauris, 2013).

41 Nadjma Yassari and Mohammad Hamid Saboory, “Sharia and National Law in Afghanistan,” in Sharia Incorporated: A Comparative Overview of the Legal Systems of Twelve Muslim Countries in Past and Present, ed. Jan Michiel Otto (Leiden: Leiden University Press, 2011), 273–317.

42 Steve Coll, Directorate S: The C.I.A. And America’s Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, 2001–2016 (New York: Penguin Random House, 2018), 19.

43 Julian West, “Child-Spy Network a Key Weapon in Intelligence War,” Telegraph, 31 October 2001.

44 Philip H. J. Davies and Kristian C. Gustafson, eds., Intelligence Elsewhere: Spies and Espionage Outside the Anglosphere (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2013.

45 Abdul Zuhir Qayomi, “Fall of Kunduz City: Nabil Apologizes to Nation, Tells Lawmakers Intelligence Reports Were Overlooked,” Afghanistan Times, 30 September 2016,

46 Rosanne Klass, Afghanistan: The Great Game Revisited (New York: Freedom House, 1987), 238.

47 C. J. Chivers, “In Eastern Afghanistan, at War with the Taliban’s Shadowy Rule,” New York Times, 6 February 2011,

48 “Afghanistan’s Hidden Taliban Government,” New York Times, 6 February 2011.

49 Shahid Afsar, Chris Samples, and Thomas Wood, The Taliban: An Organizational Analysis (Monterey, CA: Naval Postgraduate School, 2008),

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