Soviet War In Afghanistan

The Soviet war in Afghanistan was a nine-year war between the Soviet forces and the anti-government Mujahideen insurgents that were fighting to depose Afghanistan's Marxist People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) government. The Soviet Union supported the government while the insurgents found support from a variety of sources including the United States and Pakistan.

The initial Soviet deployment of the 40th Army into Afghanistan took place on December 25, 1979, and the final troop withdrawal took place between May 15, 1988, and February 2, 1989. On February 15, 1989, the Soviet Union announced that all of its troops had departed the country.

The region today called Afghanistan has been an Islamic country since 642 AD, shortly after the spread of Islam across Arabia and into Central Asia.

The country's nearly impassable mountainous and desert terrain is reflected in its ethnically and linguistically singular population. Pashtuns are the most dominant ethnic group, along with Tajiks, Hazara, Aimak, Uzbeks, Turkmen and other small groups.

Mohammad Zahir Shah succeeded to the throne and reigned from 1933 to 1973. Zahir's cousin, Mohammad Daoud Khan, served as Prime Minister from 1953 to 1963. The Marxist People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) was credited for significant growth in these years. In 1967, the PDPA split into two rival factions, the Khalq (Masses) faction headed by Nur Muhammad Taraki and Hafizullah Amin and the Parcham (Banner) faction led by Babrak Karmal.

Former Prime Minister Daoud seized power in an almost bloodless military coup on July 17, 1973 through charges of corruption and poor economic conditions. Daoud put an end to the monarchy but his attempts at economic and social reforms were unsuccessful. Intense opposition from the factions of the PDPA was sparked by the repression imposed on them by Daoud's regime. With the purpose of ending Daoud's rule, the factions of the PDPA reunified.

On April 27, 1978, the PDPA overthrew and executed Daoud along with members of his family. Nur Muhammad Taraki, Secretary General of the PDPA, became President of the Revolutionary Council and Prime Minister of the newly established Democratic Republic of Afghanistan.

After the revolution, Taraki assumed the Presidency, Prime Ministership and General Secretary of the PDPA. In reality, the government was divided along partisan lines, with President Taraki and Deputy Prime Minister Hafizullah Amin of the Khalq faction against Parcham leaders such as Babrak Karmal and Mohammad Najibullah. Within the PDPA, conflicts resulted in exiles, purges and executions.

During its first 18 months of rule, the PDPA applied a Marxist-style program of reforms. Decrees setting forth changes in marriage customs and land reform were misunderstood by a population deeply immersed in tradition and Islam. Thousands of members of the traditional elite, the religious establishment and intelligentsia were persecuted.

By mid-1978, a rebellion began in the Nuristan region of eastern Afghanistan and civil war spread throughout the country. In September 1979, Deputy Prime Minister of Afghanistan Hafizullah Amin seized power after a palace shootout that resulted in the murder of President Taraki. Over 2 months' instability overwhelmed Amin's regime as he moved against his opponents in the PDPA and the growing rebellion.

In December 1978, Moscow and Kabul signed a bilateral treaty of friendship and cooperation that permitted Soviet deployment in case of an Afghan request. Soviet military assistance increased and the PDPA regime became increasingly dependent on Soviet military equipment and advisers.

The regimes of the Soviet Union and Afghanistan enjoyed comfortable diplomatic relations. Prior to the Soviet deployment, up to 400 Soviet military advisers were dispatched to Afghanistan in May 1978. On July 7, 1979, the Soviet Union sent an airborne battalion with crews in response to a request from the Afghan government for such a delivery. Subsequent requests by the Afghan government related more broadly to regiments rather than to individual crews.

However, by October 1979 relations between Afghanistan and the Soviet Union soured somewhat as Amin dismissed Soviet advice on stabilizing his government. Islamic guerrillas in the mountainous countryside harassed the Afghan army to the point where the government of President Hafizullah Amin turned to the Soviet Union for increased amounts of aid.

With Afghanistan in a dire situation during which the country was under assault by an externally supported rebellion, the Soviet Union deployed the 40th Army in response to previous requests from the government of Afghanistan. The 40th Army consisted of two motorized rifle divisions, an airborne division, an assault brigade, and two separate motorized rifle regiments.

The former director of the CIA, Robert Gates, stated in his memoirs "From the Shadows", that American intelligence services began to aid the opposing factions in Afghanistan 6 months before the Soviet deployment. On July 3, 1979, US President Jimmy Carter signed a directive authorizing the CIA to conduct covert propaganda operations against the revolutionary regime.

Carter advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski stated "According to the official version of history, CIA aid to the Mujahadeen began during 1980, that is to say, after the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan, 24 Dec 1979. But the reality, secretly guarded until now, is completely otherwise." Brzezinski himself played a fundamental role in crafting U.S. policy, which, unbeknownst even to the Mujahideen, was part of a larger strategy "to induce a Soviet military intervention." In a 1998 interview with Le Nouvel Observateur, Brzezinski recalled proudly:

"That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Soviets into the Afghan trap..." [...]"The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter. We now have the opportunity of giving to the Soviet Union its Vietnam War.

This information has led to renewed debate over the beginning of the war. Supporters of the US intervention, citing the Brezhnev Doctrine, claim that the Soviet Union's intentions to control Afghanistan were already clear. Opponents assert that the US deliberately gave the Soviet Union casus belli to lure them into a conflict that could not be won —at the expense of almost two million Afghan soldiers and civilians.

The Soviet Union decided to provide aid to Afghanistan in order to preserve its regime's revolution, but felt that Amin, as the Afghan leader, was incapable of accomplishing this goal. Soviet leaders, based on information from the KGB, felt that Amin destabilized the situation in Afghanistan. The KGB station in Kabul had warned following Amin's initial coup that his leadership would lead to "harsh repressions, and as a result, the activation and consolidation of the opposition."

The Soviets established a special commission on Afghanistan, of KGB chairman Yuri Andropov, Ponomaryev from the Central Committee and Dmitry Ustinov, the Minister of Defence. In late October they reported that Amin was purging his opponents, including Soviet sympathisers; his loyalty to Moscow was false; and that he was seeking diplomatic links with Pakistan and possibly China. The clear implication was that Amin would have to be replaced with a pro-Soviet leadership capable of commanding broader popular support in Afghanistan.

The last arguments to eliminate Amin were information obtained by the KGB from its agents in Kabul; supposedly, two of Amin's guards killed the former president Nur Muhammad Taraki with a pillow, and Amin was suspected to be a CIA agent. The latter, however, is still disputed: Amin always and everywhere showed official friendliness to the Soviet Union.

There were, however, some skeptics. Among them, Soviet General Vasily Zaplatin, a political advisor at that time, claimed that four of the young Taraki's ministers were responsible for the destabilization. Even after the execution of Amin and two of his sons, his wife claimed that she and her remaining two daughters and a son only wanted to go to the Soviet Union, because her husband was its friend. She did eventually go to the Soviet Union to live. However, Zaplatin failed to emphasize this enough.

On December 22, the Soviet advisors to the Afghan Armed Forces advised them to undergo maintenance cycles for tanks and other crucial equipment. Meanwhile, telecommunications links to areas outside of Kabul were severed, isolating the capital. With a deteriorating security situation, large numbers of Soviet airborne forces joined stationed ground troops and began to land in Kabul. Simultaneously, Amin moved the offices of the president to the Tajbeg Palace, believing this location to be more secure from possible threats.

On December 27, 1979 700 troops, including 54 KGB spetsnaz special forces troops from the Alpha Group and Zenith Group, dressed in Afghan uniforms occupied major governmental, military and media buildings in Kabul, including their primary target - the Tajbeg Presidential Palace.

That operation began at 7:00 P.M., when the Soviet spetsnaz (Zenith Group) blew up Kabul's communications hub, paralyzing Afghani military command. At 7:15, the storm of Tajbeg Palace began, with the clear objective to depose or kill President Hafizullah Amin. The operation ended with the death of Amin, and lasted 45 minutes. Simultaneously, other objects were occupied (e.g. the Ministry of Interior at 7:15). The operation was fully complete by the morning of December 28.

The Soviet military command at Termez, in Soviet Uzbekistan, announced on Radio Kabul that Afghanistan had been liberated from Amin's rule. According to the Soviet Politburo they were complying with the 1978 Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Good Neighborliness that former President Taraki signed. Moscow calculated that Amin's ouster would end the factional power struggle within the PDPA and also reduce Afghan discontent.

A broadcast allegedly from the Kabul radio station (but identified as actually coming from a facility in Soviet Uzbekistan) announced that the execution of Hafizullah Amin was carried out by the Afghan Revolutionary Central Committee.

That committee then elected as head of government former Deputy Prime Minister Babrak Karmal, who had been demoted to the relatively insignificant post of ambassador to Czechoslovakia following the Khalq takeover, and that it had requested Soviet military assistance.

Soviet ground forces entered Afghanistan from the north on December 27. In the morning, the Vitebsk parachute division landed at the airport at Bagram City and the deployment of Soviet troops in Afghanistan was underway.

Overall, Brezhnev turned down 18 official requests for military help from Afghanistan's government before actually ordering deployment of Soviet troops to Afghanistan. The operation by the Soviets was not legally considered an invasion, and the Soviet Union claimed that the labelling of it as such was only as a result of anti-Soviet US propaganda. The United States claimed that the Soviet government had used the bilateral treaty as a pretext to invade Afghanistan and execute its leader.

The initial force entering the country consisted of three motor rifle divisions (including the 201st), one separate motor rifle regiment, one Airborne Division, 56th Separate Air Assault Brigade, and one separate airborne regiment. Following the deployment, the Soviet troops were unable to establish authority outside Kabul. As much as 80% of the countryside still escaped effective government control. The initial mission, to guard cities and installations, was expanded to combat the anti-communist Mujahideen forces, primarily using Soviet reservists.

Early military reports revealed the difficulty which the Soviet forces encountered in fighting in mountainous terrain. The Soviet Army was unfamiliar with such fighting, had no anti-guerrilla training, and their weaponry and military equipment, particularly armored cars and tanks, was sometimes ineffective or vulnerable in the mountainous environment. Heavy artillery was extensively used when fighting rebel forces.

The Soviets used helicopters (including Mil Mi-24 Hind gunships) as their primary air attack force, which is regarded as the most formidable helicopter in the world, supported with fighter-bombers and bombers, ground troops and special forces. In some areas just as Americans did in Vietnam, they conducted a scorched earth campaign destroying villages, houses, crops, livestock etc.

International condemnation arose due to the alleged killings of civilians in any areas where Mujahideen were suspected of operating. The inability of the Soviet Union to break the military stalemate, gain a significant number of Afghan supporters and affiliates, or to rebuild the Afghan Army, required the increasing direct use of its own forces to fight the rebels. Soviet soldiers often found themselves fighting against civilians due to the elusive tactics of the rebels.

U.S President Jimmy Carter indicated that the Soviet incursion was "the most serious threat to the peace since the Second World War." Carter later placed an embargo on shipments of commodities such as grain and high technology to the Soviet Union from the US. The increased tensions, as well as the anxiety in the West about masses of Soviet troops being in such proximity to oil-rich regions in the gulf, effectively brought about the end of detente.

The international diplomatic response was severe, ranging from stern warnings to a boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow. The invasion, along with other events, such as the revolution in Iran and the US hostage stand-off that accompanied it, the Iran-Iraq war, the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, the escalating tensions between Pakistan and India, and the rise of Middle East-born terrorism against the West, contributed to making the Middle East an extremely violent and turbulent region during the 1980s.

Babrak Karmal's government lacked international support from the beginning. The foreign ministers of the Organization of the Islamic Conference deplored the invasion and demanded Soviet withdrawal at a meeting in Islamabad in January 1980. The United Nations General Assembly voted by 104 to 18 with 18 abstentions for a resolution which "strongly deplored" the "recent armed intervention" in Afghanistan and called for the "total withdrawal of foreign troops" from the country.

Action by the United Nations Security Council was impossible because the Soviets had veto power, but the United Nations General Assembly regularly passed resolutions opposing the Soviet occupation.

By the mid-1980s, the Afghan resistance movement, receptive to assistance from the United States, United Kingdom, China, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and others, contributed to Moscow's high military costs and strained international relations. Thus, Afghan guerillas were armed, funded, and trained mostly by the US and Pakistan. It also included contingents of so-called Afghan arabs, foreign fighters recruited from the Muslim world to wage jihad against the communists.

Of particular significance was the donation of American-made FIM-92 Stinger anti-aircraft missile systems, which increased aircraft losses of Soviet Air Force. However, many field commanders including Ahmad Shah Massoud, stated that Stingers impact was much exaggerated. After all, Soviets were loosing their front line aircraft, slower than East Germans did in training. Also, guerillas were able to fire at aircraft landing at and taking off from airstrips and airbases, however, anti-missile flares limited their effectivness.

Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence and Special Service Group were actively involved in the conflict, and in cooperation with the CIA and the United States Army Special Forces supported the armed struggle against the Soviets. It is speculated that United Kingdom's Special Air Service also played an unpublicized role during the war.

In May 1985, the seven principal rebel organizations formed an alliance to coordinate their military operations against the Soviet army. Late in 1985, the groups were active in and around Kabul, unleashing rocket attacks and conducting operations against the communist government.

By mid-1987 Soviet Union announced it was withdrawing its forces. Sibghatullah Mojaddedi was selected as the head of the Interim Islamic State of Afghanistan, in an attempt to reassert its legitimacy against the Moscow-sponsored Kabul regime. Mojaddedi, as head of the Interim Afghan Government, met with then President of the United States George H.W. Bush, achieving a critical diplomatic victory for the Afghan Resistance.

Defeat of the Kabul government was their solution for peace. This confidence, sharpened by their distrust of the UN, virtually guaranteed their refusal to accept a political compromise.

The Soviet invasion of Aghanistan also posed a significant security threat to Pakistan from the north-west. United States President Jimmy Carter had accepted the view that Soviet aggression could not be viewed as an isolated event of limited geographical importance but had to be contested as a potential threat to the Persian Gulf region. The uncertain scope of the final objective of Moscow in its sudden southward plunge made the American stake in an independent Pakistan all the more important.

After the Soviet invasion, Pakistan's military ruler General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq started accepting financial aid from the Western powers to aid the Mujahideen. The United States, the United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia became major financial contributors to General Zia, who, as ruler of a neighbouring country, greatly helped by ensuring the Afghan resistance was well-trained and well-funded.

Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence and Special Service Group now became actively involved in the conflict against the Soviets. After Ronald Reagan became the new United States President in 1981, aid for the Mujahideen through Zia's Pakistan significantly increased. In retaliation, the KHAD, under Afghan leader Mohammad Najibullah, carried out (according to the Mitrokhin archives and other sources) a large number of operations against Pakistan, which also suffered from an influx of weaponry and drugs from Afghanistan. In the 1980s, as the front-line state in the anti-Soviet struggle, Pakistan received substantial aid from the United States and took in millions of Afghan (mostly Pashtun) refugees fleeing the Soviet occupation. Although the refugees were controlled within Pakistan's largest province, Balochistan under then-martial law ruler General Rahimuddin Khan, the influx of so many refugees - believed to be the largest refugee population in the world - into several other regions had a heavy impact on Pakistan and its effects continue to this day. Despite this, Pakistan played a significant role in the eventual withdrawal of Soviet military personnel from Afghanistan.

The toll in casualties, economic resources, and loss of support at home increasingly felt in the Soviet Union was causing criticism of the occupation policy. Leonid Brezhnev died in 1982, and after two short-lived successors, Mikhail Gorbachev assumed leadership in March 1985. As Gorbachev opened up the country's system, it became more clear that the Soviet Union wished to find a face-saving way to withdraw from Afghanistan.

The government of President Karmal, established in 1980 and identified by many as a puppet regime, was largely ineffective. It was weakened by divisions within the PDPA and the Parcham faction, and the regime's efforts to expand its base of support proved futile.

Moscow came to regard Karmal as a failure and blamed him for the problems. Years later, when Karmal’s inability to consolidate his government had become obvious, Mikhail Gorbachev, then General Secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, said:

The main reason that there has been no national consolidation so far is that Comrade Karmal is hoping to continue sitting in Kabul with our help.

In November 1986, Mohammad Najibullah, former chief of the Afghan secret police (KHAD), was elected president and a new constitution was adopted. He also introduced in 1987 a policy of "national reconciliation," devised by experts of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and later used in other regions of the world. Despite high expectations, the new policy neither made the Moscow-backed Kabul regime more popular, nor did it convince the insurgents to negotiate with the ruling government.

Informal negotiations for a Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan had been underway since 1982. In 1988, the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan, with the United States and Soviet Union serving as guarantors, signed an agreement settling the major differences between them known as the Geneva accords. The United Nations set up a special Mission to oversee the process.

In this way, Najibullah had stabilized his political position enough to begin matching Moscow's moves toward withdrawal. On July 20, 1987, the withdrawal of Soviet troops from the country was announced.

Among other things the Geneva accords identified the U.S. and Soviet non-intervention with internal affairs of Pakistan and Afghanistan and a timetable for full Soviet withdrawal. The agreement on withdrawal held, and on February 15, 1989, the last Soviet troops departed on schedule from Afghanistan. Their exit, however, did not bring either lasting peace or resettlement due in part to United States and Pakistan's violations of Geneva accords. On the other hand, Soviet Union did succeed in priventing the conflict from becoming as costly as Vietnam for Americans. The Soviets left Afghanistan in nice and orderly fashion,with an able government wich lasted for three and half years, as opposed to American's running from the rooftops on an Embassy. They Soviets did however repeat many of American mistakes, winning almost all of the conventional battles, but failing to control the countryside.

The civil war continued in Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal. The Soviet Union left Afghanistan deep in winter with intimations of panic among Kabul officials. The Afghan Resistance was poised to attack provincial towns and cities and eventually Kabul, if necessary.

Najibullah's regime, though failing to win popular support, territory, or international recognition, was able to remain in power until 1992. Kabul had achieved a stalemate which exposed the mujahedin's weaknesses, political and military. For nearly three years, Najibullah's government successfully defended itself against mujahedin attacks, factions within the government and had also developed connections with its opponents. According to Russian publicist Andrey Karaulov, the main reason why Najibullah lost power was the fact Russia refused to sell oil products to Afghanistan in 1992 for political reasons (the new Russian government did not want to support the former communists) and effectively triggered a blockade.

The defection of General Abdul Rashid Dostam and his Uzbek militia, in March 1992, seriously undermined Najibullah's control of the state. In April, Kabul ultimately fell to the mujahedin because the factions in the government had finally pulled it apart.

Najibullah lost internal control immediately after he announced his willingness, on March 18, to resign in order to make way for a neutral interim government. Ironically, until demoralized by the defections of its senior officers, the Afghan Army had achieved a level of performance it had never reached under direct Soviet tutelage.

Grain production declined an average of 3.5% per year between 1978 and 1990 due to sustained fighting, instability in rural areas, prolonged drought, and deteriorated infrastructure. Soviet efforts to disrupt production in rebel-dominated areas also contributed to this decline. Furthermore, Soviet efforts to centralize the economy through state ownership and control, and consolidation of farmland into large collective farms, contributed to economic decline.

During the withdrawal of Soviet troops, Afghanistan's natural gas fields were capped to prevent sabotage. Restoration of gas production has been hampered by internal strife and the disruption of traditional trading relationships following the dissolution of the Soviet Union.


1. Rambo III was an action movie with Sylvester Stallone set within the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
2. The Beast is a movie released in 1988 about the crew of a Soviet T-62 tank and their attempts to escape a hostile region, set during the invasion of Afghanistan in 1981.
3. Afghan Breakdown (Afganskiy Izlom), the first accurate and in-depth movie about the war, produced jointly by Italy and the Soviet Union, in full coperation with the Red Army, in 1991.
4. The 1987 James Bond movie The Living Daylights, with Timothy Dalton as Bond, was fictionally set in Soviet-occupied Afghanistan.
5. 9th Company, the biggest Russian box office success to date. Based upon true events (but largely fictionalized too), it details the 9th Company being left behind as the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan and was slaughtered before the withdrawing Soviets came to the rescue. Some versions available with subtitles.
6. The Road to Kabul ("الطريق الى كابول") Arabic television series. It explored Arab youth participation in the Afghan war.Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, with no Front-Cover Texts, and with no Back-Cover Texts.
Virtual Magic is a human knowledge database blog. Text Based On Information From Wikipedia, Under The GNU Free Documentation License. Copyright (c) 2007 Virtual Magic. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.1 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled "GNU Free Documentation License".

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