"One Soviet adviser helped to arm an Afghan policeman. Two other Soviet police advisers and Bakhturin went out to the balcony. The tall, senior Soviet adviser then made hand signals from the balcony, presumably positioning the snipers across the street."
Then, according to a confidential State Department cable, Afghan police commandos poured heavy gunfire into the Kabul hotel room where U.S. Ambassador Adolph Dubs was being held hostage.
Horrified U.S. officials watched helplessly during the 40-second barrage, then burst into the shattered room to find Dubs dead.
Despite strong denials from the Afghanistan government that Soviet advisers were present at the assault on the hotel last week, the confidential 14-page cable, made available to The Washington Post, says that at least three advisers played "operation roles" in the unsuccessful Afghan effort to rescue Dubs.
Written two hours after Dubs' killing, and before controversy began to swirl around the Soviet role, the cable and the eyewitness accounts it contains underpin the administration's publicly stated anger at the Soviet Union and Afghanistan over the death of the 58-year-old envoy.
Evidently concerned about Soviet and Afghan reaction, the State Department continues to withhold the cable, signed by Dub's deputy, J. Bruce Amstutz, from publication. Government sources, distressed by the Afghan denials and U.S. news accounts featuring the denials, made the cable available on the condition that they would not be identified.
Details disclosed or amplified by the reporting of U.S. embassy officials who arrived at the hotel and at the Afghan national police headquarters on Feb. 14, shortly after Dubs was abducted by four men, include:
Russian advisers gave hand signals that began and halted the gunfire. After the 40-second volley, Afghan "police snipers across the street continued to fire until two Soviet advisers gave hand signals to cut it off."
Thoughout the siege, a Russian civilian was in the office of Maj. Daoud Taroun, the commander of the Afghan national police and the official who evidently gave the final orders for the assault.
Taroun refused to talk to a U.E. embassy official seated outside his office during and immediately after the siege, saying he was "too busy."
Two of the four terrorists who abducted Dubs were killed in the assault. U.S. officials saw a third gunman still alive being led away by police after the siege. The bodies of that man and a fourth "terrorist" were displayed at the morgue later in the day.
Afghan officials repeatedly refused to tell embassy officers that the assault was about to be launched in the minutes before it was ordered.
The story of Dubs' death in Room 117 of the drab, cavernous Kabul hotel is being portrayed by the Afghan government as a regrettable but unavoidable response to terrorists who had given police 10 minutes to meet an impossible demand...
But State Department officials who have read the cable and supporting documentation from the embassy in Kabul say they believe that the key to the story may be the harsh anti-terrorist tactics the Soviets use at home and appear to teach abroad.
The bloody results that those no-negotiating tactics were to bring unfold in flat, almost laconic prose in the cable's chronology, which begins at 8:45 a.m. on Feb. 14 with Dubs' limousine being stopped in downtown Kabul by a man in a traffic police uniform.
Four armed men then forced their way into the car and made the chauffeur drive to the hotel. The chauffeur then was ordered to go back to the embassy with news of the kidnaping. U.S. officials arrived at the hotel by 9 a.m., about the same time Afghan police got there.
"At about 9:20, the first Soviet police adviser, a tall, balding man with a black overcoat, arrived on the scene and immediately went into consultations with the Afghan officials," the cable reports. Ten minutes later, "there was a small conference among the Americans, the Afghan police and the Soviet adviser."
The description of this conference and later conversations that directly involved the Americans, Afghans and Soviets sharply contradicts Afghan accounts that blame confusion on language and communication problems experienced by the three nationalities.
Moreover, at that conference, and for the next three hours the Americans were told that the kidnapers had not made a specific threat on Dubs' life or established a deadline, according to the cable.
Embassy political officer Bruce Flatin pleaded with the Afghans and the Soviets at the hotel not to take any "precipitious" action, and to wait for advice that the embassy had requested from Washington. As he finished speaking, "two Soviet plain-clothesmen arrived on the scene, carrying several green canvas bags," the cable said.
At 10:15, Sergei Bakhturin, the Soviet embassy security officer, came to the hotel. He immediately assured the Americans of a strong Soviet interest in the ambassador's safety. One of the Afghan police officials "promised to defend the ambassador with his own life," according to the cable.
At that point, the Americans were uncertain how many men were holding Dubs. They subsequently learned that one gunman had come downstairs to look for a key, and had been overpowered and captured in the hotel lobby.
The embassy also dispatched political officer James E. Taylor to the ministry of interior to see Taroun, the police commander. Arriving at 11:15, he repeatedly sent messages in to Taroun asking that no move be made that would endanger Dubs' life. But Taroun refused to see Taylor, and kept him waiting outside his office.
The first signs of preparations for an assault came at 11:20, when Afghan troops with commando badges began sealing off streets and setting up ladders against the side of the hotel in full view of those in Room 117. Astonished Americans "once again asked the Afghan police force for patience," and no assault materialized.
Bakhturin emerges in the cable as the principal go-between. He told U.S. officers that the gunmen had demanded the return of their captured accomplice, a demand that was not met.
Shortly after telling Bakhturin that both he and Dubs spoke German as well as Russian and English, Flatin was taken upstairs by a police security officer and told to shout through ask what type of weapons the terrorists had, according to the cable.
"Flatin identified himself in German, and asked the ambassador how he was. The ambassador replied that he was all right," the cable states. "His voice sounded strained, but strong. Flatin, on the repeated requests of the police, then asked the ambassador what types of weapons his kidnapers had."
After saying "revolvers," Dubs "was silenced by the people in the room, who by that time were probably aware that a language other than one they understood was being used," the cable reports.
When the police asked Flatin to shout to Dubs to try to go to the bathroom or drop to the floor in 10 minues, Flatin refused, recognizing that the Afghans were readying an assault. The police officer in charge "became very upset and insisted that he was under orders to strike immediately," according to the cable.
It was shortly after noon at that point, and Bakhturin disclosed to Flatin for the first time that the police felt that a 1 p.m. deadline had been set by the kidnapers. The tragedy that was building becomes more visible in the cable's new tone of inevitability.
"Firemen with picks and axes arrived and joined the police. A photograph of the ambassador was displayed to all members of the security strike force. One of the commandos then asked, 'Is that the terrorist?' He was told that it was the ambassador, whom he was to avoid shooting," the cable states.
The Afghan forces appeared to the Americans to be receiving orders over a radio set up in a small room off the hotel lobby. The cable suggests that Taroun was directing the assult by radio from his office.
At 12:45, "one specially armed and armored policeman lay prone on the floor before the door, pointing his weapon at the door. The Soviet advisers then stepped forward into operation roles," handing a weapon from a green canvas bag to one of the Afghan soldiers and positioning the snipers, the cable says.
"At exactly 12:50, very heavy gunfire broke out in the corridor, in the room and from across the street. Both single-shot and automatic weapons were heard.
"The entryway into the hotel room was a 7-foot-long hall whose air was filled with dense cordite smoke," the American group reported. They found Dubs' body beside a wardrobe. He had a single small-caliber wound above the right eye and a large-caliber bullet wound in the heart area and had a wound in the left wrist.
The Americans hurriedly inspected the room for evidence, and took notes of the extensive damage. Three days later, when they returned for another inspection, they found that the room had been replastered and repainted, and that all traces of Adolph Dubs' killing had been erased.