Welcome to Kabul
Kabul is an ancient city that Alexander the Great passed through in 330 B.C. while enroute to India. The largest city in Afghanistan, it had a population of 435,202 in 1969. Three major mountains push through the city in various directions, and the Kabul river cuts the city in half. Like other Central Asian cities, Kabul’s center is composed of ancient adobe buildings set in a rabbit-warren of narrow streets and narrower passages. This tight, teeming bazaar is divided into separate sections where large groups of specialists live in an Eastern version of the medieval guild. Leather workers, jewelers, brass workers, and carpet merchants all have their own time-honored section of the bazaar for production and sales. Individual artisans and factories also produce items for sale in the town bazaars and for export. In 1979, the government officials normally lived in the “new city” where the ministries, foreign embassies, hotels, restaurants and cafes are located. The “new city” is generally north and southwest of the center. The “microrayon” is a region in the northeast of the city consisting of Soviet-style prefabricated buildings that were produced in a Soviet-constructed factory. At the time of the invasion, these multi-storied concrete buildings pierced the skyline, and new restaurants, stores, supermarkets and garages catered to the foreign colony and the growing Afghan middle class. The city was electrified, although power was unstable and problematic. Running water was not potable, although the Japanese were constructing such a system for Kabul. Modern plumbing was confined to the new sections of the city. By regional standards, Kabul was a liberal and open city where women in cosmopolitan mini-skirts contrasted with those completely covered and veiled, and discotheques blared Western and Eastern music into the early hours.
On the eve of the Soviet invasion, it was winter in Afghanistan, and the snow was belt-deep in parts of the capital. Far to the north, at 0700 on 25 December 1979, two Soviet pontoon bridge regiments began guiding their floating bridges into position on the Amu Darya River in the vicinity of Termez, a Soviet city on the Afghan border. Meanwhile, the 40th Army commander, General Lieutenant Yuri Vladimirovich Tukharinov, met with the Chief of Operations of the DRA General Staff, General Baba Jan, in Kunduz, Afghanistan to coordinate actions in the deployment area.
By noon, the Soviet forces had received their orders signed by the Soviet Minister of Defense, Marshal of the Soviet Union Dmitri Fedorovich Ustinov. These orders directed that the 40th Army and Soviet Air Force planes would begin crossing the borders of the DRA at 1500 (Moscow time) on 25 December. The Soviet forces began their incursion precisely at the established time. The scouts and air-assault battalion of Captain L. V. Khabarov were the first to cross. They were tasked with seizing the Salang pass, a crucial choke point on the road to Kabul (twelve Soviet scouts would die in ambush at the pass). The remainder of the 108th Motorized Rifle Division followed the troops across the pontoon bridges.
Simultaneously, Soviet Military Transport Aviation aircraft crossed the border carrying elements of the 103rd Airborne Division (commanded by General Major I. F. Ryabchenko) and the 345th Separate Parachute Regiment to airfields in the capital and nearby Bagram. It took a total of 343 flights and 47 hours to transport the paratroopers and their vehicles and gear. The first aircraft touched down at 1615 on 25 December and the last touched down at 1430 on the 27th. General Colonel I. D. Gaydaenko directed the military air transport operation. The effort did not occur without casualties. At 1933 on the 25th, an IL-76 piloted by Captain V.V. Golovchin crashed into a mountain and burned during its approach landing. All thirty-seven paratroopers and seven crew members were killed.
On the 25th, the chief Soviet advisers to the Afghan military met in Kabul. They were ordered to prevent any Afghan units, which were opposed to the Soviet presence, from approaching Kabul. Those military advisers and technicians who worked with the DRA air defense forces were directed to prevent actions against the air movement of the paratroopers by taking control of all the air defense systems and their ammunition storage bunkers. The advisers temporarily disabled some air defense systems by removing the sights or physically locking them. Consequently, the Soviet air armada flew into Afghanistan unopposed.
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