Soviet war in Afghanistan

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Soviet war in Afghanistan
Part of the conflict in Afghanistan and the Cold War
Mortar attack on Shigal Tarna garrison, Kunar Province, 87.jpg
Mujahideen fighters in Kunar Province of Afghanistan in 1987
Date December 24, 1979 – February 15, 1989
(9 years, 1 month, 3 weeks and 1 day)
Location Afghanistan
Result Geneva Accords of 1988
Belligerents
Soviet Union Soviet Union

Afghanistan Democratic Republic of Afghanistan

Sunni Mujahideen:

Shia Mujahedeen:

Commanders and leaders
Soviet Union Leonid Brezhnev
Soviet Union Yuri Andropov
Soviet Union Konstantin Chernenko
Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev
Soviet Union Dmitriy Ustinov
Soviet Union Sergei Sokolov
Soviet Union Dmitriy Yazov
Soviet Union Valentin Varennikov
Soviet Union Igor Rodionov
Soviet Union Boris Gromov
Afghanistan Babrak Karmal
Afghanistan Mohammad Najibullah
Afghanistan Abdul Rashid Dostum
Afghanistan Abdul Qadir Dagarwal
Afghanistan Shahnawaz Tanai
Afghanistan Mohammed Rafie
Ahmad Shah Massoud
Abdul Haq
Abdullah Azzam
Ismail Khan
Gulbuddin Hekmatyar
Jalaluddin Haqqani
Mohammad Nabi
Naqib Alikozai
Abdul Rahim Wardak
Fazal Haq Mujahid
Burhanuddin Rabbani

Muhammad Asif Muhsini
Assef Kandahari
Sayeed Ali Begeshti
Mosbah Sade

Strength
Soviet Forces:

Afghan Forces:

Mujahideen:

200,000–250,000[14][15][16]

Casualties and losses
Soviet Forces:

14,453 Killed (total)

  • 9,500 killed in combat[17]
  • 4,000 died from wounds[17]
  • 1,000 died from disease and accidents[17]

53,753 Wounded[17]

265 Missing[18]

Afghan Forces:

18,000 killed[19]

Mujahideen:

75,000–90,000 killed, 75,000+ wounded (tentative estimate)[20]

Pakistan: 300+ killed
1 F-16 fighter jet shot down[21]

Iran: 2 AH-1J helis shot down
unknown killed[22]

Civilians (Afghan):

850,000–1,500,000 killed[23][24] 5 million refugees outside of Afghanistan
2 million internally displaced persons
Around 3 million Afghans wounded (mostly civilians)[25] Civilians (Soviet):
Around 100 dead

The Soviet war in Afghanistan lasted nine years from December 1979 to February 1989. Part of the Cold War, it was fought between Soviet-led Afghan forces against multi-national insurgent groups called the Mujahideen, mostly composed of two alliances – the Peshawar Seven and the Tehran Eight. The Peshawar Seven insurgents received military training in neighboring Pakistan and China,[9] as well as weapons and billions of dollars from the United States, United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, and other countries.[3][4][5][9][26] The Shia groups of the Tehran Eight alliance received support from the Islamic Republic of Iran. Early in the rule of the PDPA government, the Maoist Afghanistan Liberation Organization also played a significant role in opposition, but its major force was defeated by late 1979, prior to the Soviet intervention. The decade-long war resulted in the death of 850,000–1.5 million civilians[23][24] as well as causing millions of Afghans to flee the country, mostly to Pakistan and Iran.

In June 1975, militants from the Jamiat Islami party attempted to overthrow the government. In 1978, the Taraki government initiated a series of reforms, including a radical modernization of the traditional Islamic civil society.[27]. Between April 1978 and the Soviet Intervention of December 1979, thousands of prisoners, perhaps as many as 27,000, were executed. Large parts of the country went into open rebellion. The Afghan government, having secured a treaty in December 1978 that allowed them to call on Soviet forces, repeatedly requested the introduction of troops in Afghanistan in the spring and summer of 1979. They requested Soviet troops to provide security and to assist in the fight against the mujahideen rebels. Foreign ministers from 34 Islamic nations adopted a resolution which condemned the Soviet intervention and demanded "the immediate, urgent and unconditional withdrawal of Soviet troops" from the Muslim nation of Afghanistan.[28] The UN General Assembly passed a resolution protesting the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan by a vote of 104–18.[29]

The initial Soviet deployment of the 40th Army in Afghanistan began on December 24, 1979, under Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev.[30] The first phase began with the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan and their first battles with various opposition groups.[28] The war developed into a new pattern: the Soviets occupied the cities and main axis of communication, while the mujahideen, (which the Soviet Army soldiers called 'Dushman,' meaning 'enemy')[31] divided into small groups, waged a guerrilla war. Almost 80 percent of the country escaped government control.[32] In 1985, the size of the LCOSF (Limited Contingent of Soviet Forces) was increased to 108,800 and fighting increased throughout the country, making 1985 the bloodiest year of the war. In the mid-1980s, the Afghan resistance movement, assisted by the United States, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom, Egypt,[10] the People's Republic of China and others, contributed to Moscow's high military costs and strained international relations. Contingents of so-called Afghan Arabs, foreign fighters who wished to wage jihad against the atheist communists. Notable among them was a young Saudi named Osama bin Laden, whose Arab group eventually evolved into al-Qaeda.[33][34][35]

Through most of the war, the Soviet air force was able to control the skies. With the introduction of the Su-25 ground-attack jet and the Mi-24 attack helicopter, the Soviets had aircraft that were impervious to Mujahideen attacks, as both aircraft were armored to withstand even large calibre machine gun fire. After the Stinger was introduced to the war, the Mujahideen shot down on average more than one aircraft per day. By mid-1987 the Soviet Union announced it would start withdrawing its forces. The arrival of Mikhail Gorbachev on the scene in 1985 and his 'new thinking' on foreign and domestic policy was probably the most important factor in the Soviets' decision to leave. The final troop withdrawal started on May 15, 1988, and ended on February 15, 1989. Due to the interminable nature of the war, the conflict in Afghanistan has sometimes been referred to as the "Soviet Union's Vietnam War" or the "Bear Trap".[36][37][38]

Background

The Democratic Republic of Afghanistan was formed after the Saur Revolution on April 27, 1978. The government was one with a pro-poor, pro-farmer and socialistic agenda. It had close relations with the Soviet Union. On December 5, 1978, a friendship treaty was signed between the Soviet Union and Afghanistan. On July 3, 1979, United States President Jimmy Carter signed the first directive for covert financial aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul.[39]

Russian military involvement in Afghanistan has a long history, going back to Tsarist expansions in the so-called "Great Game" between Russia and Britain. This began in the 19th century with such events as the Panjdeh Incident, a military skirmish that occurred in 1885 when Russian forces seized Afghan territory south of the Oxus River around an oasis at Panjdeh. This interest in the region continued on through the Soviet era, with billions in economic and military aid sent to Afghanistan between 1955 and 1978.[40]

In February 1979 the United States Ambassador to Afghanistan, Adolph Dubs, was kidnapped by Setami Milli militants and was later killed during an assault carried out by the Afghan police, assisted by Soviet advisers. The death of the U.S. Ambassador led to a major degradation in Afghanistan–United States relations.[41]

In the Middle East drastic changes were taking place concurrent with the upheavals in Afghanistan caused by the Saur Revolution. In February 1979, the Islamic Revolution ousted the American-backed Shah from Iran, making the U.S. lose one of its most powerful allies.[42] The United States then deployed twenty ships to the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea including two aircraft carriers, and there was a constant stream of threats of warfare between the US and Iran.[43] March 1979 marked the signing of the U.S.-backed peace agreement between Israel and Egypt. The Soviet leadership saw the agreement as a major advantage for the United States. One Soviet newspaper stated that Egypt and Israel were now "gendarmes of the Pentagon". The Soviets viewed the treaty not only as a peace agreement between their erstwhile allies in Egypt and the U.S.-supported Israelis but also as a military pact.[44] In addition, the U.S. sold more than 5,000 missiles to Saudi Arabia and also supplied the Royalist rebels in the North Yemen Civil War against the Nasserist government. Also, the Soviet Union's previously strong relations with Iraq had recently soured. In June 1978, Iraq began entering into friendlier relations with the Western world and buying French and Italian-made weapons, though the vast majority still came from the Soviet Union, its Warsaw Pact allies, and China.

The Saur Revolution

Main article: Saur Revolution

King Mohammed Zahir Shah ascended to the throne and reigned from 1933 to 1973. Zahir's cousin, Mohammad Daoud Khan, served as Prime Minister from 1954 to 1963. The Marxist People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan's (PDPA's) strength grew considerably 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 (Flag) faction led by Babrak Karmal.[45]

Former Prime Minister Daoud seized power in a military coup on July 17, 1973, after allegations of corruption and poor economic conditions against the King's government. Daoud put an end to the monarchy, and his time in power was widely popular amongst the general populace but unpopular amongst PDPA supporters.

Intense opposition from factions of the PDPA was sparked by the repression imposed on them by Daoud's regime and the death of a leading PDPA member, Mir Akbar Khyber.[46] The mysterious circumstances of Khyber's death sparked massive anti-Daoud demonstrations in Kabul, which resulted in the arrest of several prominent PDPA leaders.[47]

On April 27, 1978, the Afghan army, which had been sympathetic to the PDPA cause, overthrew and executed Daoud along with members of his family.[48] 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.

Factions inside the PDPA

After the revolution, Taraki assumed the Presidency, Prime Ministership and General Secretaryship of the PDPA. The government was divided along factional 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 of Parcham members.[49]

During its first 18 months of rule, the PDPA applied a Soviet-style program of modernizing reforms, many of which were viewed by conservatives as opposing Islam.[50] Decrees setting forth changes in marriage customs and land reform were not received well by a population deeply immersed in tradition and Islam, particularly by the powerful land owners who were harmed economically by the abolition of usury (though usury is prohibited in Islam) and the cancellation of farmers' debts. By mid-1978, a rebellion started with rebels attacking the local military garrison in the Nuristan region of eastern Afghanistan and soon civil war spread throughout the country. In September 1979, Deputy Prime Minister Hafizullah Amin seized power, arresting and killing President Taraki. Over two months of instability overwhelmed Amin's regime as he moved against his opponents in the PDPA and the growing rebellion.

Soviet–Afghan relations

The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) had been a major power broker and influential mentor in Afghan politics, ranging from civil-military infrastructure to Afghan society.[51] In the 1980s, many Afghans were proficient in the Russian language.[51] Since 1947, Afghanistan had been under the influence of the Soviet government and received large amounts of aid, economic assistance, military equipment training and military hardware from the Soviet Union.

The economic assistance and aid had been provided to Afghanistan as early as 1919, shortly after the Russian Revolution and when the regime was facing the Russian Civil War. Provisions were given in the form of small arms, ammunition, a few aircraft, and (according to debated Soviet sources) a million gold rubles to support the resistance during the Third Anglo-Afghan War. In 1942, the USSR again moved to strengthen the Afghan Armed Forces, by providing small arms and aircraft, and establishing training centers in Tashkent (Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic). Soviet-Afghan military cooperation began on a regular basis in 1956, and further agreements were made in the 1970s, which saw the USSR send advisers and specialists. The Soviet Union built an extensive amount of infrastructure, notably giving assistance building the Kabul University, Polytechnical institutes, hospitals, civilian infrastructure, power plants, and local schools. During the 1980s, Soviets established the universities in Blakhe, Herate, Takhar, Nangarhar and Fariyab provinces. Russian faculty soon joined the universities, teaching Afghan students in Russian language proficiency.

In 1978, after witnessing India's nuclear test, Smiling Buddha, President Daud Khan initiated a military buildup to counter Pakistan's armed forces and Iranian military influence in Afghan politics. A final pre-war treaty, signed in December 1978, allowed the PDPA to call upon the Soviet Union for military support.[52]

Following the Herat uprising, President Taraki contacted Alexei Kosygin, chairman of the USSR Council of Ministers, and asked for "practical and technical assistance with men and armament". Kosygin was unfavorable to the proposal on the basis of the negative political repercussions such an action would have for his country, and he rejected all further attempts by Taraki to solicit Soviet military aid in Afghanistan.[54] Following Kosygin's rejection Taraki requested aid from Leonid Brezhnev, the general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and Soviet head of state, who warned Taraki that full Soviet intervention "would only play into the hands of our enemies – both yours and ours". Brezhnev also advised Taraki to ease up on the drastic social reforms and to seek broader support for his regime.[55]

In 1979, Taraki attended a conference of the Non-Aligned Movement in Havana, Cuba. On his way back, he stopped in Moscow on March 20 and met with Brezhnev, foreign minister Andrei Gromyko and other Soviet officials. It was rumoured that Karmal was present at the meeting in an attempt to reconcile Taraki's Khalq faction and the Parcham against Amin and his followers. At the meeting, Taraki was successful in negotiating some Soviet support, including the redeployment of two Soviet armed divisions at the Soviet-Afghan border, the sending of 500 military and civilian advisers and specialists and the immediate delivery of Soviet armed equipment sold at 25 percent below the original price; however, the Soviets were not pleased about the developments in Afghanistan and Brezhnev impressed upon Taraki the need for party unity. Despite reaching this agreement with Taraki, the Soviets continued to be reluctant to intervene further in Afghanistan and repeatedly refused Soviet military intervention within Afghan borders during Taraki's rule as well as later during Amin's short rule.[56]

Initiation of the insurgency

Soviet infantry at the time of deployment.

Afghanistan cemented regional problems with Pakistan, after Daoud pressed his hard-line Pashtunistan policies to Pakistan.[57] Pakistan retaliated, and Prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto authorized a covert operation under M.I.'s Major-General Naseerullah Babar.[57] In 1974, Bhutto authorized another secret operation in Kabul where the ISI and the AI extradited Burhanuddin Rabbani and Gulbadin Hekmatyar to Peshawar, amid fear that Rabbani and Hekmatyar might be assassinated by Daoud.[57] According to Baber, Bhutto's operation was an excellent idea and it had hard-hitting impact on Daoud and his government which forced Daoud to increase his desire to make peace with Bhutto.[57] Another part of this operation was to train hard-line Jamiat-e Islami militants against the Daoud's secular government.[57] However, this operation went into cold-storage after Bhutto was removed from power.[57]

In June 1975, militants from the Jamiat Islami party attempted to overthrow the government. They started their rebellion in the Panjshir valley (a part of the greater Parwan province), in the present day Panjshir province, some 100 kilometers north of Kabul, and in a number of other provinces of the country. However, government forces easily defeated the insurgency and a sizable portion of the insurgents sought refuge in Pakistan where they enjoyed the support of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto's government, which had been alarmed by Daoud's revival of the Pashtunistan issue.[58]

Soviet forces after capturing some Mujahideen.
40th Army headquarters, Tajbeg Palace, 1986.
Soviet soldiers conducting training.

In 1978, the Taraki government initiated a series of reforms, including a radical modernization of the traditional Islamic civil and especially marriage law, aimed at "uprooting feudalism" in Afghan society.[59] The government brooked no opposition to the reforms[49] and responded with violence to unrest. Between April 1978 and the Soviet Intervention of December 1979, thousands of prisoners, perhaps as many as 27,000, were executed at the notorious[60] Pul-e-Charkhi prison, including many village mullahs and headmen.[61] Other members of the traditional elite, the religious establishment and intelligentsia fled the country.[61]

Large parts of the country went into open rebellion. The Parcham Government claimed that 11,000 were executed during the Amin/Taraki period in response to the revolts.[62] The revolt began in October among the Nuristani tribes of the Kunar Valley in the northeastern part of the country near the border with Pakistan, and rapidly spread among the other ethnic groups. By the spring of 1979, 24 of the 28 provinces had suffered outbreaks of violence.[63][64] The rebellion began to take hold in the cities: in March 1979 in Herat, rebels led by Ismail Khan revolted. Between 3,000 and 5,000 people were killed and wounded during the Herat revolt. Some 100 Soviet citizens and their families were killed.[65][66] In 1979, the contentious law and order situation led to a serious diplomatic incident involving United States, Soviet Union and Afghanistan when U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Adolph "Spike" Dubs was kidnapped by four militants belonging to radical communist faction, Settam-e-Melli (lit. National Oppression).[67] The National Operation demanded the release of their communist leader Badruddin Bahes, which the Afghan government denied holding and refused categorically to negotiate with the militants, in spite of the U.S. embassy's demands.[67] The U.S. increased pressure on the Afghan government and the Soviet Union forcefully demanding for peaceful negotiations for the release of their ambassador.[68]

Dubs was held in Room 117 of the Kabul Hotel (now called Kabul Serena Hotel), the United States sent its embassy and diplomatic staff at the Kabul Serena Hotel where the negotiation with the communist faction and the U.S. was started.[67] During this time, the Afghan security forces, accompanied by the Russian advisers swarmed the hallway and surrounding rooftops, but negotiations stalled, leading to an intense exchange of cross fire, after Russian advisers ordered an assault.[68] Documents released from the Soviet KGB bureau archives by Vasily Mitrokhin in the early 1990s clearly showed that the Afghan government clearly authorized the assault and that the KGB adviser on scene, Sergei Batrukihn, may have recommended the assault, as well as the execution of a kidnapper before U.S. experts could interrogate him.[69] All attempts were failed, and U.S. Ambassador Adolph Dubs was caught between the cross fire leading to his death.[68] Afterwards the United States formally expressed to Soviet Union its disapproval of the assault by the security forces, putting more stress on U.S.-Soviet relations.[70]

Despite these drastic measures, by the end of 1980, out of the 80,000 soldiers strong Afghan Army, more than half had either deserted or joined the rebels.[63]

1979: Soviet deployment

The headquarters of the Soviet 40th Army in Kabul, 1987. Before the Soviet intervention, the building was Tajbeg Palace, where Hafizullah Amin was killed.

The Afghan government, having secured a treaty in December 1978 that allowed them to call on Soviet forces, repeatedly requested the introduction of troops in Afghanistan in the spring and summer of 1979. They requested Soviet troops to provide security and to assist in the fight against the mujahideen rebels. On April 14, 1979, the Afghan government requested that the USSR send 15 to 20 helicopters with their crews to Afghanistan, and on June 16, the Soviet government responded and sent a detachment of tanks, BMPs, and crews to guard the government in Kabul and to secure the Bagram and Shindand airfields. In response to this request, an airborne battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel A. Lomakin, arrived at the Bagram Air Base on July 7. They arrived without their combat gear, disguised as technical specialists. They were the personal bodyguards for President Taraki. The paratroopers were directly subordinate to the senior Soviet military advisor and did not interfere in Afghan politics. Several leading politicians at the time such as Alexei Kosygin and Andrei Gromyko were against intervention.

After a month, the Afghan requests were no longer for individual crews and subunits, but for regiments and larger units. In July, the Afghan government requested that two motorized rifle divisions be sent to Afghanistan. The following day, they requested an airborne division in addition to the earlier requests. They repeated these requests and variants to these requests over the following months right up to December 1979. However, the Soviet government was in no hurry to grant them.

Soviet ground forces in action while conducting an offensive operation against the Islamist resistance, the Mujahideen.

Based on information from the KGB, Soviet leaders felt that Prime Minister Hafizullah Amin's actions had destabilized the situation in Afghanistan. Following his initial coup against and killing of President Taraki, the KGB station in Kabul warned Moscow that Amin's leadership would lead to "harsh repressions, and as a result, the activation and consolidation of the opposition."[72]

The Soviets established a special commission on Afghanistan, comprising KGB chairman Yuri Andropov, Boris Ponomarev from the Central Committee and Dmitriy Ustinov, the Minister of Defence. In late April 1978, the committee reported that Amin was purging his opponents, including Soviet loyalists, that his loyalty to Moscow was in question and that he was seeking diplomatic links with Pakistan and possibly the People's Republic of China (which at the time had poor relations with the Soviet Union). Of specific concern were Amin's secret meetings with the U.S. chargé d'affaires, J. Bruce Amstutz, which, while never amounting to any agreement between Amin and the United States, sowed suspicion in the Kremlin.[73]

Information obtained by the KGB from its agents in Kabul provided the last arguments to eliminate Amin. 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 repeatedly demonstrated official friendliness to the Soviet Union. Soviet General Vasily Zaplatin, a political advisor at that time, claimed that four of President Taraki's ministers were responsible for the destabilization. However, Zaplatin failed to emphasize this enough.[74]

Also during the 1970s, the Soviet Union reached the peak of its political influence in comparison to the U.S.[citation needed] as the SALT I treaty was created to cooperate in matters of nuclear weapons and technology between the two nations. A second round of talks between Soviet premier Brezhnev and President Carter yielded the SALT II treaty in June 1979. (The United States Senate failed to ratify the treaty). This process would eventually culminate and lead up to the buildup and intervention in Afghanistan in December 1979 to preserve, stabilize and militarily intervene on behalf of the communist regime there.[citation needed]

1979: Soviet intervention

The Soviet intervention

On October 31, 1979 Soviet informants to the Afghan Armed Forces who were under orders from the inner circle of advisors under Soviet premier Brezhnev, relayed information for them to undergo maintenance cycles for their 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 on December 25. Simultaneously, Amin moved the offices of the president to the Tajbeg Palace, believing this location to be more secure from possible threats. According to Colonel General Tukharinov and Merimsky, Amin was fully informed of the military movements, having requested Soviet military assistance to northern Afghanistan on December 17.[75][76] His brother and General Dmitry Chiangov met with the commander of the 40th Army before Soviet troops entered the country, to work out initial routes and locations for Soviet troops.[75]

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

Soviet paratroopers aboard a BMD-1 in Kabul

That operation began at 19:00 hr., when the KGB-led Soviet Zenith Group destroyed Kabul's communications hub, paralyzing Afghan military command. At 19:15, the assault on Tajbeg Palace began; as planned, president Hafizullah Amin was killed. Simultaneously, other objectives were occupied (e.g., the Ministry of Interior at 19:15). The operation was fully complete by the morning of December 28, 1979.

The Soviet military command at Termez, Uzbek SSR, 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 and Amin had been "executed by a tribunal for his crimes" 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 announced that it had requested Soviet military assistance.[77]

Soviet ground forces, under the command of Marshal Sergei Sokolov, entered Afghanistan from the north on December 27. In the morning, the 103rd Guards 'Vitebsk' Airborne Division landed at the airport at Bagram and the deployment of Soviet troops in Afghanistan was underway. The force that entered Afghanistan, in addition to the 103rd Guards Airborne Division, was under command of the 40th Army and consisted of the 108th and 5th Guards Motor Rifle Divisions, the 860th Separate Motor Rifle Regiment, the 56th Separate Airborne Assault Brigade, the 36th Mixed Air Corps. Later on the 201st and 58th Motor Rifle Divisions also entered the country, along with other smaller units.[78] In all, the initial Soviet force was around 1,800 tanks, 80,000 soldiers and 2,000 AFVs. In the second week alone, Soviet aircraft had made a total of 4,000 flights into Kabul.[79] With the arrival of the two later divisions, the total Soviet force rose to over 100,000 personnel.

International positions on Soviet intervention

Foreign ministers from 34 Islamic nations adopted a resolution which condemned the Soviet intervention and demanded "the immediate, urgent and unconditional withdrawal of Soviet troops" from the Muslim nation of Afghanistan.[28] The UN General Assembly passed a resolution protesting the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan by a vote of 104–18.[80]

Weapons supplies were made available through numerous countries; the United States purchased all of Israel's captured Soviet weapons clandestinely, and then funnelled the weapons to the Mujahideen, while Egypt upgraded their own army's weapons, and sent the older weapons to the militants, Turkey sold their World War II stockpiles to the warlords, and the British and Swiss provided Blowpipe missiles and Oerlikon anti-aircraft guns respectively, after they were found to be poor models for their own forces.[26] China provided the most relevant weapons, likely due to their own experience with guerrilla warfare, and kept meticulous record of all the shipments.[26]

December 1979 – February 1980: Occupation

The first phase began with the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan and their first battles with various opposition groups.[28] Soviet troops entered Afghanistan along two ground routes and one air corridor, quickly taking control of the major urban centers, military bases and strategic installations. However, the presence of Soviet troops did not have the desired effect of pacifying the country. On the contrary, it exacerbated a nationalistic feeling, causing the rebellion to spread further.[81] Babrak Karmal, Afghanistan's new president, charged the Soviets with causing an increase in the unrest, and demanded that the 40th Army step in and quell the rebellion, as his own army had proved untrustworthy.[82] Thus, Soviet troops found themselves drawn into fighting against urban uprisings, tribal armies (called lashkar), and sometimes against mutinying Afghan Army units. These forces mostly fought in the open, and Soviet airpower and artillery made short work of them.[83]

March 1980 – April 1985: Soviet offensives

Main article: Panjshir offensives
A mujahideen fighter in Kunar uses a communications receiver.

The war now developed into a new pattern: the Soviets occupied the cities and main axis of communication, while the mujahideen, (which the Soviet Army soldiers called 'Dushman,' meaning 'enemy')[84] divided into small groups, waged a guerrilla war. Almost 80 percent of the country escaped government control.[85] Soviet troops were deployed in strategic areas in the northeast, especially along the road from Termez to Kabul. In the west, a strong Soviet presence was maintained to counter Iranian influence. Incidentally, special Soviet units would have[clarification needed] also performed secret attacks on Iranian territory to destroy suspected mujahideen bases, and their helicopters then got engaged in shootings with Iranian jets.[86] Conversely, some regions such as Nuristan, in the northeast, and Hazarajat, in the central mountains of Afghanistan, were virtually untouched by the fighting, and lived in almost complete independence.

Mujahideen with two captured artillery field guns in Jaji, 1984.

Periodically the Soviet Army undertook multi-divisional offensives into mujahideen-controlled areas. Between 1980 and 1985, nine offensives were launched into the strategically important Panjshir Valley, but government control of the area did not improve.[87] Heavy fighting also occurred in the provinces neighbouring Pakistan, where cities and government outposts were constantly under siege by the mujahideen. Massive Soviet operations would regularly break these sieges, but the mujahideen would return as soon as the Soviets left.[36] In the west and south, fighting was more sporadic, except in the cities of Herat and Kandahar, that were always partly controlled by the resistance.[88]

The Soviets did not, at first, foresee taking on such an active role in fighting the rebels and attempted to play down their role there as giving light assistance to the Afghan army. However, the arrival of the Soviets had the opposite effect as it incensed instead of pacified the people, causing the mujahideen to gain in strength and numbers.[89] Originally the Soviets thought that their forces would strengthen the backbone of the Afghan army and provide assistance by securing major cities, lines of communication and transportation.[90] The Afghan army forces had a high desertion rate and were loath to fight, especially since the Soviet forces pushed them into infantry roles while they manned the armored vehicles and artillery. The main reason though that the Afghan soldiers were so ineffective was their lack of morale as many of them were not truly loyal to the communist government but simply collecting a paycheck. Once it became apparent that the Soviets would have to get their hands dirty, they followed three main strategies aimed at quelling the uprising.[91] Intimidation was the first strategy, in which the Soviets would use airborne attacks as well as armored ground attacks to destroy villages, livestock and crops in trouble areas. The Soviets would bomb villages that were near sites of guerrilla attacks on Soviet convoys or known to support resistance groups. Local peoples were forced to either flee their homes or die as daily Soviet attacks made it impossible to live in these areas. By forcing the people of Afghanistan to flee their homes, the Soviets hoped to deprive the guerillas of resources and safe havens. The second strategy consisted of subversion which entailed sending spies to join resistance groups and report information as well as bribing local tribes or guerrilla leaders into ceasing operations. Finally, the Soviets used military forays into contested territories in an effort to root out the guerillas and limit their options. Classic search and destroy operations were implemented using Mil Mi-24 helicopter gunships that would provide cover for ground forces in armored vehicles.

The Afghan village left in ruins after being destroyed by Soviet forces.

To complement their brute force approach to weeding out the insurgency, the Soviets used KHAD (Afghan secret police) to gather intelligence, infiltrate the mujahideen, spread false information, bribe tribal militias into fighting and organize a government militia. While it is impossible to know exactly how successful the KHAD was in infiltrating mujahideen groups, it is thought that they succeeded in penetrating a good many resistance groups based in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran.[92] KHAD is thought to have had particular success in igniting internal rivalries and political divisions amongst the resistance groups, rendering some of them completely useless because of infighting.[93] The KHAD had some success in securing tribal loyalties but many of these relationships were fickle and temporary. Often KHAD secured neutrality agreements rather than committed political alignment.[94] The Sarandoy, a KHAD controlled government militia, had mixed success in the war. Large salaries and proper weapons attracted a good number of recruits to the cause, even if they were not necessarily "pro-communist". The problem was that many of the recruits they attracted were in fact mujahideen who would join up to procure arms, ammunition and money while also gathering information about forthcoming military operations.[93]

In 1985, the size of the LCOSF (Limited Contingent of Soviet Forces) was increased to 108,800 and fighting increased throughout the country, making 1985 the bloodiest year of the war. However, despite suffering heavily, the mujahideen were able to remain in the field, mostly because they received thousands of new volunteers daily, and continue resisting the Soviets.

A Soviet Spetsnaz (special operations) group prepares for a mission in Afghanistan, 1988.

1980s: Insurrection

In the mid-1980s, the Afghan resistance movement, assisted by the United States, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom, Egypt,[10] the People's Republic of China and others, contributed to Moscow's high military costs and strained international relations. The U.S. viewed the conflict in Afghanistan as an integral Cold War struggle, and the CIA provided assistance to anti-Soviet forces through the Pakistani intelligence services, in a program called Operation Cyclone.[95]

A similar movement occurred in other Muslim countries, bringing contingents of so-called Afghan Arabs, foreign fighters who wished to wage jihad against the atheist communists. Notable among them was a young Saudi named Osama bin Laden, whose Arab group eventually evolved into al-Qaeda.[96][34][97]

In the course of the guerrilla war, leadership came to be distinctively associated with the title of "commander". It applied to independent leaders, eschewing identification with elaborate military bureaucracy associated with such ranks as general. As the war produced leaders of reputation, "commander" was conferred on leaders of fighting units of all sizes, signifying pride in independence, self-sufficiency, and distinct ties to local communities. The title epitomized Afghan pride in their struggle against a powerful foe. Segmentation of power and religious leadership were the two values evoked by nomenclature generated in the war. Neither had been favored in the ideology of the former Afghan state.

Afghanistan's resistance movement was born in chaos, spread and triumphed chaotically, and did not find a way to govern differently. Virtually all of its war was waged locally by regional warlords. As warfare became more sophisticated, outside support and regional coordination grew. Even so, the basic units of mujahideen organization and action continued to reflect the highly segmented nature of Afghan society.[98]

Olivier Roy estimates that after four years of war, there were at least 4,000 bases from which mujahideen units operated. Most of these were affiliated with the seven expatriate parties headquartered in Pakistan, which served as sources of supply and varying degrees of supervision. Significant commanders typically led 300 or more men, controlled several bases and dominated a district or a sub-division of a province. Hierarchies of organization above the bases were attempted. Their operations varied greatly in scope, the most ambitious being achieved by Ahmad Shah Massoud of the Panjshir valley north of Kabul. He led at least 10,000 trained troopers at the end of the Soviet war and had expanded his political control of Tajik-dominated areas to Afghanistan's northeastern provinces under the Supervisory Council of the North.[98]

Roy also describes regional, ethnic and sectarian variations in mujahideen organization. In the Pashtun areas of the east, south and southwest, tribal structure, with its many rival sub-divisions, provided the basis for military organization and leadership. Mobilization could be readily linked to traditional fighting allegiances of the tribal lashkar (fighting force). In favorable circumstances such formations could quickly reach more than 10,000, as happened when large Soviet assaults were launched in the eastern provinces, or when the mujahideen besieged towns, such as Khost in Paktia province in July 1983.[99] But in campaigns of the latter type the traditional explosions of manpower—customarily common immediately after the completion of harvest—proved obsolete when confronted by well dug-in defenders with modern weapons. Lashkar durability was notoriously short; few sieges succeeded.[98]

Mujahideen mobilization in non-Pashtun regions faced very different obstacles. Prior to the intervention, few non-Pashtuns possessed firearms. Early in the war they were most readily available from army troops or gendarmerie who defected or were ambushed. The international arms market and foreign military support tended to reach the minority areas last. In the northern regions, little military tradition had survived upon which to build an armed resistance. Mobilization mostly came from political leadership closely tied to Islam. Roy convincingly contrasts the social leadership of religious figures in the Persian- and Turkic-speaking regions of Afghanistan with that of the Pashtuns. Lacking a strong political representation in a state dominated by Pashtuns, minority communities commonly looked to pious learned or charismatically revered pirs (saints) for leadership. Extensive Sufi and maraboutic networks were spread through the minority communities, readily available as foundations for leadership, organization, communication and indoctrination. These networks also provided for political mobilization, which led to some of the most effective of the resistance operations during the war.[98]

The mujahideen favoured sabotage operations. The more common types of sabotage included damaging power lines, knocking out pipelines and radio stations, blowing up government office buildings, air terminals, hotels, cinemas, and so on. In the border region with Pakistan, the mujahideen would often launch 800 rockets per day. Between April 1985 and January 1987, they carried out over 23,500 shelling attacks on government targets. The mujahideen surveyed firing positions that they normally located near villages within the range of Soviet artillery posts, putting the villagers in danger of death from Soviet retaliation. The mujahideen used land mines heavily. Often, they would enlist the services of the local inhabitants, even children.

Mujahideen praying in Shultan Valley, 1987.

They concentrated on both civilian and military targets, knocking out bridges, closing major roads, attacking convoys, disrupting the electric power system and industrial production, and attacking police stations and Soviet military installations and air bases. They assassinated government officials and PDPA members, and laid siege to small rural outposts. In March 1982, a bomb exploded at the Ministry of Education, damaging several buildings. In the same month, a widespread power failure darkened Kabul when a pylon on the transmission line from the Naghlu power station was blown up. In June 1982 a column of about 1,000 young communist party members sent out to work in the Panjshir valley were ambushed within 30 km of Kabul, with heavy loss of life. On September 4, 1985, insurgents shot down a domestic Bakhtar Airlines plane as it took off from Kandahar airport, killing all 52 people aboard.

Mujahideen groups used for assassination had three to five men in each. After they received their mission to kill certain government officials, they busied themselves with studying his pattern of life and its details and then selecting the method of fulfilling their established mission. They practiced shooting at automobiles, shooting out of automobiles, laying mines in government accommodation or houses, using poison, and rigging explosive charges in transport.

The areas where the different mujahideen forces operated in 1985.

In May 1985, the seven principal rebel organizations formed the Seven Party Mujahideen 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.

1986: Stinger Missile

A Shoot-down of Soviet helicopter gunships by Mujahedin fighters armed with Stinger missile, artist depiction.

Through most of the war, the Soviet air force was able to control the skies and fly sorties at will. With the introduction of the Su-25 ground-attack jet and the Mi-24 attack helicopter, the Soviets had aircraft that were impervious to Mujahideen attacks, as both aircraft were armored to withstand even large calibre machine gun fire. This meant that whenever the Soviet army would find itself in trouble, all it needed was to call air support and either the SU 25 or Mi 24 would arrive shortly to disperse any marauding Mujahideen units. Through an increasing project of military assistance via the US CIA and partly funded by Saudi Arabia, the USA started to supply the Mujahideen with its man-portable anti-aircraft missile system called the Stinger. The US supplied at least 250 launcher systems and at least 500 individual Stinger missiles to the Mujahideen as well as the training needed to operate the system. The introduction of the Stinger changed the battlefield and the Soviet aircraft turned from being the hunter to being the hunted. The SU 25 and Mi 24 were particularly vulnerable as they tended to fly low and thus remained for a long time within the range of a Stinger missile. After the Stinger was introduced to the war, the Mujahideen shot down on average more than one aircraft per day. The suddenly escalating costs of aircraft losses became a major additional drain on the costs of the war and many analysts believe the unsustainable aircraft losses caused by the Stinger was the primary catalyst to cause the Soviet Union to withdraw from the war. US Congressman Charlie Wilson who was instrumental in funding the Stingers for the Mujahideen said that before the Stinger the Mujahideen never won a set piece battle with the Soviets but after it was introduced, the Mujahideen never again lost one. Many Western military analysts credit the introduction of the Stinger as the turning point in the war but many Russian military analysts tend to be dismissive of the impact to the Stinger. With a kill ratio of about 70% and with over 350 aircraft and helicopters downed in the last two years of the war, most directly attributed to the Stingers, the effect of the Stinger was at least notable. In a 2011 article commemorating several Mujahideen fighters, the Wall Street Journal celebrated the Stinger as "The Missile that Made History." [100] A Foreign Policy article about the Stinger used in Afghanistan called it so much a "game changer" in the Afghanistan war, that military analysts had coined the term "Stinger effect". [101]

By mid-1987 the Soviet Union announced it would start 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 Vice 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 United Nations, virtually guaranteed their refusal to accept a political compromise.

April 1985 – January 1987: Exit strategy

Awards ceremony for the 9th Company
Soviet soldier in Afghanistan, 1988.

The first step of the Soviet Union's exit strategy was to transfer the burden of fighting the mujahideen to the Afghan armed forces, with the aim of preparing them to operate without Soviet help. During this phase, the Soviet contingent was restricted to supporting the DRA forces by providing artillery, air support and technical assistance, though some large-scale operations were still carried out by Soviet troops.

Under Soviet guidance, the DRA armed forces were built up to an official strength of 302,000 in 1986. To minimize the risk of a coup d'état, they were divided into different branches, each modeled on its Soviet counterpart. The ministry of defence forces numbered 132,000, the ministry of interior 70,000 and the ministry of state security (KHAD) 80,000. However, these were theoretical figures: in reality each service was plagued with desertions, the army alone suffering 32,000 per year.

The decision to engage primarily Afghan forces was taken by the Soviets, but was resented by the PDPA, who viewed the departure of their protectors without enthusiasm. In May 1987 a DRA force attacked well-entrenched mujahideen positions in the Arghandab District, but the mujahideen held their ground, and the attackers suffered heavy casualties.[102] In the spring of 1986, an offensive into Paktia Province briefly occupied the mujahideen base at Zhawar only at the cost of heavy losses.[103] Meanwhile, the mujahideen benefited from expanded foreign military support from the United States, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and other Muslim nations. The US tended to favor the Afghan resistance forces led by Ahmed Shah Massoud, and US support for Massoud's forces increased considerably during the Reagan administration in what US military and intelligence forces called "Operation Cyclone". Primary advocates for supporting Massoud included two Heritage Foundation foreign policy analysts, Michael Johns and James A. Phillips, both of whom championed Massoud as the Afghan resistance leader most worthy of US support under the Reagan Doctrine.[104][105][106]

January 1987 – February 1989: Withdrawal

Soviet T-62M main battle tank withdraws from Afghanistan

The arrival of Mikhail Gorbachev on the scene in 1985 and his 'new thinking' on foreign and domestic policy was probably the most important factor in the Soviets' decision to leave. Gorbachev was attempting to change the stagnant years of Brezhnev and reform the Soviet Union's economy and image across the board with Glasnost and Perestroika. Gorbachev was also trying to ease cold war tensions by signing the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in 1987 with the U.S. and withdrawing the troops from Afghanistan whose presence had garnered so much international condemnation. Gorbachev regarded confrontation with China and resulting military build ups on that border as one of Brezhnev's biggest mistakes.[citation needed] Beijing had stipulated that a normalization of relations would have to wait until Moscow withdrew its army from Afghanistan (among other things) and in 1989 the first Sino-Soviet summit in 30 years took place.[107] At the same time, Gorbachev pressured his Cuban allies in Angola to scale down activities and withdraw even though Soviet allies were faring somewhat better there.[108] The Soviets also pulled many of their troops out of Mongolia in 1987 where they were also having a far easier time than in Afghanistan and restrained the Vietnamese invasion of Kampuchea to the point of an all out withdrawal in 1988.[109] This mass withdrawal of Soviet forces from contested areas shows that the Soviet government's decision to leave Afghanistan was based on a general change over in Soviet foreign policy.

In the last phase, Soviet troops prepared and executed their withdrawal from Afghanistan. They limited offensive operations.

In September 1988, Soviet MiG-23 fighters shot down one Pakistani F-16 and two Iranian AH-1J Cobra, who intruded in Afghan airspace.[110]

The one exception was Operation Magistral, a successful sweep that cleared the road between Gardez and Khost. This operation did not have any lasting effect, but it allowed the Soviets to symbolically end their presence with a victory.[111]

The first half of the Soviet contingent was withdrawn from May 15 to August 16, 1988 and the second from November 15 to February 15, 1989. In order to ensure a safe passage the Soviets had negotiated ceasefires with local mujahideen commanders, so the withdrawal was generally executed peacefully,[112] except for the operation "Typhoon".

Soviet troops withdrawing from Afghanistan in 1988
CGen of 40th Army, Boris Gromov, announcing the withdrawal of Soviet contingent forces.

General Yazov, the Defense Minister of Soviet Union, ordered the 40th Army to violate the agreement with Ahmed Shah Masood, who commanded a large force in the Panjshir Valley, and attack his relaxed and exposed forces. The Soviet attack was initiated to protect Najibullah, who did not have a cease fire in effect with Masood, and who rightly feared an offensive by Masood's forces after the Soviet withdrawal.[113] General Gromov, the 40th Army Commander, objected to the operation, but reluctantly obeyed the order. "Typhoon" began on January 23 and continued for three days. To minimize their own losses the Soviets abstained from close-range fight, instead they used long-range artillery, surface-to-surface and air-to-surface missiles. Numerous civilian casualties were reported. Masood had not threatened the withdrawal to this point, and did not attack Soviet forces after they breached the agreement.[114] Overall, the Soviet attack represented a defeat for Masood's forces, who lost 600 fighters killed and wounded.[113]

After the withdrawal of the Soviets the DRA forces were left fighting alone and had to abandon some provincial capitals, and it was widely believed that they would not be able to resist the mujahideen for long. However, in the spring of 1989 DRA forces inflicted a sharp defeat on the mujahideen at Jalalabad.

The government of President Karmal, 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.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed] 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.[citation needed]

A column of Soviet BTR armored personnel carriers departing from Afghanistan.

Informal negotiations for a Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan had been underway since 1982.[citation needed] 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. The withdrawal of Soviet forces was planned out by Lt. Gen. Boris Gromov, who, at the time, was the commander of the 40th Army.[citation needed]

Among other things the Geneva accords identified the US and Soviet non-intervention in the 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.[citation needed]

Consequences of the war

International reaction

Carter placed a trade embargo against the Soviet Union on shipments of commodities such as grain and weapons. The increased tensions, as well as the anxiety in the West about tens of thousands of Soviet troops being in such proximity to oil-rich regions in the Persian Gulf, effectively brought about the end of détente.

The international diplomatic response was severe, ranging from stern warnings to a US-led boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow (in which Afghanistan competed). The intervention, along with other events, such as the Iranian revolution and the US hostage stand-off that accompanied it, the Iran–Iraq War, the 1982 Lebanon War, the escalating tensions between Pakistan and India, contributed to making the Middle East and South Asia extremely violent and turbulent regions during the 1980s. The Non-Aligned Movement was sharply divided between those who believed the Soviet deployment to be legal and others who considered the deployment an illegal invasion. Among the Warsaw Pact countries, the intervention was condemned only by Romania.[117] India, a close ally of the Soviet Union, refused to support the Afghan war,[118] though by the end of the hostilities offered to provide humanitarian assistance to Afghan government.[119][120][verification needed]

Foreign involvement and aid to the mujahideen

U.S. President Reagan supportively meeting with Afghan Mujahideen at the White House, to highlight Soviet atrocities in Afghanistan.

The Afghan Mujahideen were supported by a number of other countries, with the U.S. and Saudi Arabia offering the greatest financial support.[3][4][5][11][122] United States President Carter insisted that what he termed "Soviet aggression" could not be viewed as an isolated event of limited geographical importance but had to be contested as a potential threat to US influence in the Persian Gulf region. The US was also worried about the USSR gaining access to the Indian Ocean by coming to an arrangement with Pakistan.

National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, known for his hardline policies on the Soviet Union, initiated in 1979 a campaign supporting mujaheddin in Pakistan and Afghanistan, which was run by Pakistani security services with financial support from the Central Intelligence Agency and Britain's MI6.[4] Years later, in a 1997 CNN/National Security Archive interview, Brzezinski detailed the strategy taken by the Carter administration against the Soviets in 1979:

We immediately launched a twofold process when we heard that the Soviets had entered Afghanistan. The first involved direct reactions and sanctions focused on the Soviet Union, and both the State Department and the National Security Council prepared long lists of sanctions to be adopted, of steps to be taken to increase the international costs to the Soviet Union of their actions. And the second course of action led to my going to Pakistan a month or so after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, for the purpose of coordinating with the Pakistanis a joint response, the purpose of which would be to make the Soviets bleed for as much and as long as is possible; and we engaged in that effort in a collaborative sense with the Saudis, the Egyptians, the British, the Chinese, and we started providing weapons to the Mujaheddin, from various sources again – for example, some Soviet arms from the Egyptians and the Chinese. We even got Soviet arms from the Czechoslovak communist government, since it was obviously susceptible to material incentives; and at some point we started buying arms for the Mujaheddin from the Soviet army in Afghanistan, because that army was increasingly corrupt.[123]

Three mujahideen in Asmar, 1985.

The supplying of billions of dollars in arms to the Afghan mujahideen militants was one of the CIA's longest and most expensive covert operations.[124] The CIA provided assistance to the fundamentalist insurgents through the Pakistani secret services, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), in a program called Operation Cyclone. At least 3 billion in U.S. dollars were funneled into the country to train and equip troops with weapons. Together with similar programs by Saudi Arabia, Britain's MI6 and SAS, Egypt, Iran, and the People's Republic of China,[7] the arms included FIM-43 Redeye, shoulder-fired, antiaircraft weapons that they used against Soviet helicopters. Pakistan's secret service, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), was used as an intermediary for most of these activities to disguise the sources of support for the resistance.

No Americans trained or had direct contact with the mujahideen.[125] The skittish CIA had fewer than 10 operatives in the region because it "feared it would be blamed, like in Guatemala."[126] Civilian personnel from the U.S. Department of State and the CIA frequently visited the Afghanistan-Pakistan border area during this time.

Shortly after the intervention, Pakistan's military ruler General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq called for a meeting of senior military members and technocrats of his military government.[127] At this meeting, General Zia-ul-Haq asked the Chief of Army Staff General Khalid Mahmud Arif and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Muhammad Shariff to lead a specialized civil-military team to formulate a geo-strategy to counter the Soviet aggression.[127] At this meeting, the Director-General of the ISI at that time, Lieutenant-General Akhtar Abdur Rahman advocated for an idea of covert operation in Afghanistan by arming the Islamic extremist, and was loudly heard saying: "Kabul must burn! Kabul must burn!".[127] As for Pakistan, the Soviet war with Islamist mujaheddin was viewed as retaliation for the Soviet Union's long unconditional support of regional rival, India, notably during the 1965 and the 1971 wars, which led the loss of East Pakistan.[127]

After the Soviet deployment, Pakistan's military ruler General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq started accepting financial aid from the Western powers to aid the mujahideen.[citation needed] In 1981, following the election of US President Ronald Reagan, aid for the mujahideen through Zia's Pakistan significantly increased, mostly due to the efforts of Texas Congressman Charlie Wilson and CIA officer Gust Avrakotos.[128][129]

Spetsnaz troops interrogate a captured mujahideen with Western weapons in the background, 1986

The early foundations of al-Qaeda were allegedly built in part on relationships and weaponry that came from the billions of dollars in U.S. support for the Afghan mujahideen during the war to expel Soviet forces from that country.[130] However, scholars such as Jason Burke, Steve Coll, Peter Bergen, Christopher Andrew, and Vasily Mitrokhin have argued that Osama Bin Laden was "outside of CIA eyesight" and that there is "no support" in any "reliable source" for "the claim that the CIA funded bin Laden or any of the other Arab volunteers who came to support the mujahideen."[131]

A German database showing the channeling of the money and weapons, provided by ISI officer Mohammad Yousaf in his book: Afghanistan – The Bear Trap: The Defeat of a Superpower

Pakistan's ISI and Special Service Group (SSG) were actively involved in the conflict. The SSG are widely suspected of participating in Operation Hill 3234, near the Pakistani border where nearly 200 suspected SSG personnel were killed in a futile attempt to assault the Soviet held hill.

The theft of large sums of aid spurred Pakistan's economic growth, but along with the war in general had devastating side effects for that country. The siphoning off of aid weapons, in which the weapons logistics and coordination were put under the Pakistan Navy in the port city of Karachi, contributed to disorder and violence there, while heroin entering from Afghanistan to pay for arms contributed to addiction problems.[132] The Navy went into covert war and coordinated the foreign weapons into Afghanistan, while some of its high-ranking admirals were responsible for storing the weapons in the Navy depot, later coordinated the weapons supply to mujahideen.

In retaliation for Pakistan's assistance to the insurgents, the KHAD Afghan security service, under leader Mohammad Najibullah, carried out (according to the Mitrokhin archives and other sources) a large number of operations against Pakistan. In 1987, 127 incidents resulted in 234 deaths in Pakistan. In April 1988, an ammunition depot outside the Pakistani capital of Islamabad was blown up killing 100 and injuring more than 1000 people. The KHAD and KGB were suspected in the perpetration of these acts.[133] Soviet and Afghan fighters and bombers occasionally bombed Pakistani villages along the Pakistani-Afghan border. These attacks are known to have caused at least 300 civilian deaths and extensive damage. Sometimes they got involved in shootings with the Pakistani jets defending the airspace.[134]

Pakistan took in millions of Afghan refugees (mostly Pashtun) 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[135][broken citation] – spread into several other regions.

All of this had a heavy impact on Pakistan and its effects continue to this day. Pakistan, through its support for the mujahideen, played a significant role in the eventual withdrawal of Soviet military personnel from Afghanistan.

During the Sino-Soviet split, strained relations between China and Soviet Russia resulted in bloody border clashes and mutual backing for the opponent's enemies. China and Afghanistan had neutral relations with each other during the King's rule. When the pro Soviet Afghan Communists seized power in Afghanistan in 1978, relations between China and the Afghan communists quickly turned hostile. The Afghan pro Soviet communists supported China's enemies in Vietnam and blamed China for supporting Afghan anti communist militants. China responded to the Soviet war in Afghanistan by supporting the Afghan mujahideen and ramping up their military presence near Afghanistan in Xinjiang. China acquired military equipment from America to defend itself from Soviet attack.[136]

The Chinese People's Liberation Army trained and supported the Afghan mujahideen during the war. The training camps were moved from Pakistan into China itself. Anti-aircraft missiles, rocket launchers and machine guns, valued at hundreds of millions, were given to the mujahideen by the Chinese. Chinese military advisors and army troops were present with the Mujahidin during training.[137]

Soviet personnel strengths and casualties

Soviet soldiers return from Afghanistan, October 1986
Afghans commemorating Mujahideen Victory Day.

Between December 25, 1979, and February 15, 1989, a total of 620,000[citation needed] soldiers served with the forces in Afghanistan (though there were only 80,000–104,000 serving at one time): 525,000 in the Army, 90,000 with border troops and other KGB sub-units, 5,000 in independent formations of MVD Internal Troops, and police forces. A further 21,000 personnel were with the Soviet troop contingent over the same period doing various white collar and blue collar jobs.

The total irrecoverable personnel losses of the Soviet Armed Forces, frontier, and internal security troops came to 14,453. Soviet Army formations, units, and HQ elements lost 13,833, KGB sub-units lost 572, MVD formations lost 28, and other ministries and departments lost 20 men. During this period 312 servicemen were missing in action or taken prisoner; 119 were later freed, of whom 97 returned to the USSR and 22 went to other countries.

Of the troops deployed, 53,753 were wounded, injured, or sustained concussion and 415,932 fell sick. A high proportion of casualties were those who fell ill. This was because of local climatic and sanitary conditions, which were such that acute infections spread rapidly among the troops. There were 115,308 cases of infectious hepatitis, 31,080 of typhoid fever, and 140,665 of other diseases. Of the 11,654 who were discharged from the army after being wounded, maimed, or contracting serious diseases, 10,751 men, were left disabled.[138]

Material losses were as follows:[17]{not in the source given}

Destruction in Afghanistan

Estimates of Afghan civilian deaths vary from 850,000 to 1,500,000.[23][24] 5–10 million Afghans fled to Pakistan and Iran, 1/3 of the prewar population of the country, and another 2 million were displaced within the country. In the 1980s, half of all refugees in the world were Afghan.[139]

U.S. military personnel (with civilian far right, in suit) at Rhein Main Air Base, Frankfurt, Germany. A civilian volunteer with an Afghan NGO in Germany assists a blinded Afghan Mujahid off the air stair.

Felix Ermacora, the UN Special Rapporteur to Afghanistan, said that heavy fighting in combat areas cost the lives of more than 35,000 civilians in 1985, 15,000 in 1986, and around 14,000 in 1987. Ermacora also noted that armed attacks by anti-government forces, such as rocket attacks on Kabul's residential areas, caused more than 4000 civilian deaths in 1987.[140] R.J. Rummel, an analyst of political killings, estimated that Soviet forces were responsible for 250,000 democidal killings during the war and that the government of Afghanistan was responsible for 178,000 democidal killings.[141]

Along with fatalities were 1.2 million Afghans disabled (mujahideen, government soldiers and noncombatants) and 3 million maimed or wounded (primarily noncombatants).[142]

Irrigation systems, crucial to agriculture in Afghanistan's arid climate, were destroyed by aerial bombing and strafing by Soviet or government forces. In the worst year of the war, 1985, well over half of all the farmers who remained in Afghanistan had their fields bombed, and over one quarter had their irrigation systems destroyed and their livestock shot by Soviet or government troops, according to a survey conducted by Swedish relief experts[139]

Charlie Wilson (D-TX), 2nd from the left, dressing in Afghan clothing (armed with AK-47) with the local Afghan mujahideen.

The population of Afghanistan's second largest city, Kandahar, was reduced from 200,000 before the war to no more than 25,000 inhabitants, following a months-long campaign of carpet bombing and bulldozing by the Soviets and Afghan communist soldiers in 1987.[143] Land mines had killed 25,000 Afghans during the war and another 10–15 million land mines, most planted by Soviet and government forces, were left scattered throughout the countryside.[144] The International Committee of the Red Cross estimated in 1994 that it would take 4,300 years to remove all the Soviet land mines in Afghanistan.[145]

A PFM-1 mine, often mistaken for a toy by children. The mine's shape was dictated by aerodynamics.[146]

A great deal of damage was done to the civilian children population by land mines.[147] A 2005 report estimated 3–4% of the Afghan population were disabled due to Soviet and government land mines. In the city of Quetta, a survey of refugee women and children taken shortly after the Soviet withdrawal found child mortality at 31%, and over 80% of the children refugees to be unregistered. Of children who survived, 67% were severely malnourished, with malnutrition increasing with age.[148]

There have also been numerous reports of chemical weapons being used by Soviet forces in Afghanistan, often indiscriminately against civilians.[149][150]

Critics of Soviet and Afghan government forces describe their effect on Afghan culture as working in three stages: first, the center of customary Afghan culture, Islam, was pushed aside; second, Soviet patterns of life, especially amongst the young, were imported; third, shared Afghan cultural characteristics were destroyed by the emphasis on so-called nationalities, with the outcome that the country was split into different ethnic groups, with no language, religion, or culture in common.[151]

The Geneva Accords of 1988, which ultimately led to the withdrawal of the Soviet forces in early 1989, left the Afghan government in ruins. The accords had failed to address adequately the issue of the post-occupation period and the future governance of Afghanistan. The assumption among most Western diplomats was that the Soviet-backed government in Kabul would soon collapse; however, this was not to happen for another three years. During this time the Interim Islamic Government of Afghanistan (IIGA) was established in exile. The exclusion of key groups such as refugees and Shias, combined with major disagreements between the different mujaheddin factions, meant that the IIGA never succeeded in acting as a functional government.[152]

Afghan guerrillas that were chosen to receive medical treatment in the United States, Norton Air Force Base, California, 1986.

Before the war, Afghanistan was already one of the world's poorest nations. The prolonged conflict left Afghanistan ranked 170 out of 174 in the UNDP's Human Development Index, making Afghanistan one of the least developed countries in the world.[153]

Once the Soviets withdrew, US interest in Afghanistan slowly decreased over the following four years, much of it administered through the DoD Office of Humanitarian Assistance, under the then Director of HA, George M. Dykes III. With the first years of the Clinton Administration in Washington, DC, all aid ceased. The US decided not to help with reconstruction of the country, instead handing the interests of the country over to US allies Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. Pakistan quickly took advantage of this opportunity and forged relations with warlords and later the Taliban, to secure trade interests and routes. From wiping out the country's trees through logging practices, which has destroyed all but 2% of forest cover country-wide, to substantial uprooting of wild pistachio trees for the exportation of their roots for therapeutic uses, to opium agriculture, the ten years following the war saw much ecological and agrarian destruction.[154]

Captain Tarlan Eyvazov, a soldier in the Soviet forces during the war, stated that the Afghan children's future is destined for war. Eyvazov said, "Children born in Afghanistan at the start of the war... have been brought up in war conditions, this is their way of life." Eyvazov's theory was later strengthened when the Taliban movement developed and formed from orphans or refugee children who were forced by the Soviets to flee their homes and relocate their lives in Pakistan. The swift rise to power, from the young Taliban in 1996, was the result of the disorder and civil war that had warlords running wild because of the complete breakdown of law and order in Afghanistan after the departure of the Soviets.[155]

The CIA World Fact Book reported that as of 2004, Afghanistan still owed $8 billion in bilateral debt, mostly to Russia,[156] however, in 2007 Russia agreed to cancel most of the debt.[157]

Refugees

A massive total of 3.3 million Afghan refugees were housed in Pakistan by 1988, some whom continue to live in the country up until today. Of this total, about 100,000 were based in the city of Peshawar, while more than 2 million were located in other parts of the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (then known as the North-West Frontier Province).[158][159] At the same time, close to two million Afghans were living in Iran. Over the years Pakistan and Iran has put on tighter controls for refugees that has resulted in numerous returnees.[160][161] In 2012 Pakistan banned extension of visas to foreigners.[159][162] Afghan refugees have also settled in India and became Indian citizens over time.[163][164][165] Some also made their way into North America, the European Union, Australia, and other parts of the world.[166] The photo of Sharbat Gula placed on National Geographic cover in 1985 became a symbol both of the 1980s Afghan conflict and of the refugee situation.

Civil war

Two Soviet T55 tanks left by the Soviet army during their withdrawal lie rusting in a field near Bagram Airfield, in 2002.

The civil war continued in Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal. About 400,000 Afghan civilians had lost their lives in the chaos and civil war of the 1990s.[167] The Soviet Union left Afghanistan deep in winter, with intimations of panic among Kabul officials. The Afghan mujahideen were poised to attack provincial towns and cities and eventually Kabul, if necessary.

Najibullah's government, though failing to win popular support, territory, or international recognition, was however able to remain in power until 1992. 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. Kabul had achieved a stalemate that exposed the mujahideen's weaknesses, political and military. But for nearly three years, while Najibullah's government successfully defended itself against mujahideen attacks, factions within the government had also developed connections with its opponents.

According to Russian publicist Andrey Karaulov, the main trigger for Najibullah losing power was Russia's refusal to sell oil products to Afghanistan in 1992 for political reasons (the new Yeltsin government did not want to support the former communists), which effectively triggered an embargo.[citation needed] The defection of General Abdul Rashid Dostam and his Uzbek militia, in March 1992, further undermined Najibullah's control of the state.[citation needed] In April, Najibullah and his communist government fell to the mujahideen, who replaced Najibullah with a new governing council for the country.

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.[citation needed] Soviet efforts to disrupt production in rebel-dominated areas also contributed to this decline. During the withdrawal of Soviet troops, Afghanistan's natural gas fields were capped to prevent sabotage.[citation needed] Restoration of gas production has been hampered by internal strife and the disruption of traditional trading relationships following the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Ideological impact

The Islamists who fought believed that they were responsible for the fall of the Soviet Union. Osama bin Laden, for example, asserted that the credit for "the dissolution of the Soviet Union ... goes to God and the mujahideen in Afghanistan ..."[168]

Media and popular culture

Perception in the former USSR

20th Anniversary of Withdrawal of Soviet Military Forces from Afghanistan. Stamp of Belarus, 2009.

Commemorating the intervention of December 25, 1979, in December 2009, veterans of the Soviet war in Afghanistan were honoured by the Duma or Parliament of the Russian Federation. On December 25, the lower house of the parliament defended the Soviet war in Afghanistan on the 30th anniversary of its start, and praised the veterans of the conflict. Differing assessments of the war "mustn't erode the Russian people's respect for the soldiers who honestly fulfilled their duty in implementing tasks to combat international terrorism and religious extremists".

Duma member Semyon Bagdasarov (Just Russia) advocated that Russia had to reject Western calls for stronger assistance to the US-led ISAF-coalition in Afghanistan and also had to establish contacts with the "anti-Western forces"; the Taliban, in case they regain power.[169][170]

Memorials

See also

References

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Further reading

  • Andrew, Christopher & Mitrokhin, Vasili (1999). The Sword and the Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KGB. New York: Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-00310-9. 
  • Ayub, Muhammad (2005). An Army, its Role and Rule: A History of the Pakistan Army from Independence to Kargil 1947–1999. Pittsburgh: RoseDog Books. ISBN 0-8059-9594-3. 
  • Borovik, Artyom (1990). The Hidden War: A Russian Journalist's Account of the Soviet War in Afghanistan. New York: Grove Press. ISBN 0-8021-3775-X. 
  • Carew, Tom (2001). Jihad!: The Secret War in Afghanistan. Mainstream Publishing. ISBN 978-1-84018-495-2. 
  • Corera, Gordon (2011). MI6: Life and Death in the British Secret Service. London: Phoenix. ISBN 978-0-7538-2833-5. 
  • Braithwaite, Rodric (2011). Afgantsy: The Russians in Afghanistan, 1979–89. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 417. ISBN 978-0-19-983265-1. LCCN 2011015052. OCLC ocn709682862.  LCC DS371.2 .B725 2011
  • Coll, Steve (2004). Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001. New York: Penguin Press. ISBN 1-59420-007-6. 
  • Crile, George (2003). Charlie Wilson's War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in history. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press. ISBN 0-87113-851-4. [dubious ]
  • Feifer, Gregory (2009). The Great Gamble: The Soviet war in Afghanistan. New York: Harper. ISBN 978-0-06-114318-2. 
  • Galeotti, Mark (1995). Afghanistan: the Soviet Union's Last War. London: Frank Cass. ISBN 0-7146-8242-X. 
  • Kakar, M. Hassan (1995). Afghanistan: The Soviet Invasion and the Afghan Response, 1979–1982. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-08591-4.  (free online access courtesy of UCP).
  • Kaplan, Robert D. (2001) [1990]. Soldiers of God: With Islamic Warriors in Afghanistan and Pakistan. New York: Vintage Books. ISBN 1-4000-3025-0. 
  • Lohbeck, Kurt (1993). Holy War, Unholy Victory: Eyewitness to the CIA's Secret War in Afghanistan. Washington: Regnery Publishing. ISBN 0-89526-499-4. 
  • Novinkov, Oleg (2011). Afghan boomerang. Houston, TX: Oleg Novinkov. ISBN 978-1-4392-7451-4. 
  • Prados, John (1996). Presidents' Secret Wars: CIA and Pentagon Covert Operations from World War II through the Persian Gulf. Chicago: I.R. Dee. ISBN 1-56663-108-4. 

External links