Type: History
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The Soviet-Afghan war was one of the wars that have no excuse. The run of the Soviets to improve its communist idea in Afghanistan left this country and its people with serious economic, political, and environmental problems. It was estimated that during the Soviet-Afghan war more than one million of the native people died and 5 million people became refugees in the neighboring countries. This war has become a real disaster for the Soviet soldiers, who were sent to Afghanistan without any hope to come back to the Soviet Union safe and alive. The Soviet-Afghan war was a severe challenge for both Soviet and Afghan people, who were real victims of the communist regime and were forced by their governments to take part in this horrible war. As a result, 15,000 Soviet people were killed and 37,000 wounded. It was a real threat to all humanity and the environment that had no explanations and human reasons. Though it is hard to find reasons and excuses to any war, the Soviet-Afghan war was a real nightmare for the ordinary people, who did not care about the political and economic intentions of those, who started that war. Nowadays, many historians look back at the Soviet-Afghan war trying to explain and estimate the motives of this horrible war. It has become a history, which is studied in schools, colleges, and universities all around the world.

Historical Preview of the Soviet-Afghan War

The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan began on Christmas Eve 1979 and lasted till February 15, 1988. It was a period of the Cold War between the USA and the Soviet Union. The historians reported that the Cold War was one of the main political issues of the 20th century. There was a threat of spreading the communist regime all over the globe. That was the main reason for the confrontation between two superpowers: the USA and the Soviet Union (Martin et al., 2007). That confrontation was strengthened in 1947 after the Second World War when American President Harry S. Truman declared the anti-communist policy. Joseph Stalin, who was the leader of the Soviet Union, also supported the idea of the confrontation between two countries for supremacy. The Cold War lasted till the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and had a great impact on the world in a political, economic, and philosophical way. The differences between the two countries led to a deeper confrontation, which was intensified gradually. The Soviet Union fought for supremacy in all places, such as independent nations in Africa and Asia, neutral countries, and in outer space. The Soviet leaders intended to spread the communist idea over the globe and conquest the whole world. It was threatening to the West and the USA because many people supported the communist idea. As both countries wanted to dominate, conflicts occurred in the different parts of the world. According to the research, the Soviet communist system was diametrically opposed to the American democratic system (Kramer, 1999). The Cold War was a result of political, economic, and ideological differences between the United States and the Soviet Union.

The government of Afghanistan under the leadership of Babrak Karmal, who was the third president of Afghanistan, was restored to power with the support of the Soviet Union. Later, in 1986 he was replaced by Mohammad Najibullah and left Afghanistan for Moscow, where he died in 1996.  As mentioned above, the Soviet Army paratroopers landed in Afghanistan in December 1979, while the country had been already in the grip of a civil war. It is worth mentioning that Afghanistan is a country with a strong tradition of Muslim Belief. According to the research, the Afghan Prime Minister, Hazifullah Amin, wanted a more western slant to his country trying to sweep aside Muslim traditions (Galeotti, 2001). As a result, thousands of Afghanistan people joined a guerilla force, the Mujahideen, on a holy mission for Allah. The Mujahideen declared a jihad – a holy war, which appealed to Afghanistan Muslims to protect their country and overthrow the Amin government. This government asked the Soviet Government to help them in order to support a legitimate government. Many historians consider that the Mujahideen were no more than terrorists. Nowadays, this fact has become more obvious because of the terrorist attacks that took place all over the world, especially after September 11, 2011, terrorist attack in the World Trade Center in New York City.

A Brief History of Afghanistan  

The history of Afghanistan is a very tragic one. It was constantly captured by invaders, internal upheaval, and internal pressure. The available information acknowledges that not too much has been changed in Afghanistan, except of the weapon, in the course of history. This is a warrior country with people, who were suffering as much as most humans can ever imagine (Ritscher, 2011).  Geographically, Afghanistan is a link between Central Asia, the Middle East and the Indian sub-continent. Due to numerous invasions and interventions into the Afghan territory, the country has diverse ethnical groups and nationalities, such as Pashtun, Turkmen, Tajik, Uzbek, Arab, Persian, and some other. Initially, the Pashtun nationality was the most dominant, but in the process of history the priorities had often changed. It should be mentioned that there are Jewish, Hindu and Sikh communities. Regardless of the current existence of diverse groups and nationalities, the majority of population is Muslims, considering Islam to be one of the main factors of their ethnic identity.  

The research asserts that Islam was brought to Afghanistan in the 8th – 9th centuries by the Arabs. In the process of history, it is hard to mention the period, when Afghanistan was a free and independent country. The similar situation is even today. Forced armies of different nations conquered the Afghan land many times, killing its people, destroying their land and houses. In the beginning of the 1820s the British army invaded Afghanistan in order to install puppet government, who would serve British economic interests. Afghanistan had remained a British protectorate until 1919. The Soviet Socialist Revolution, which took place in Russia in 1917 had influenced upon the people of Afghanistan. The communist idea captured people’s mind all over the world, as well as in Afghanistan during that period. As a result, the Afghan king Amanullah declared his country absolutely independent by signing a treaty with Lenin and declared war on Britain. The British Empire of those days was very strong and it conceded Afghanistan’s independence by bombing Kabul by the Royal Air Force. The British have conspired with conservative religious and land owning Afghanis, who were unhappy with the communist idea and they outbroke the civil war in the country.

In 1929, a new king Muhammad Nadir Shah came into power and ruled for the next forty years. In 1973, the king was overthrown and a republic was declared. Daoud, who was a member of the king’s family, titled himself president instead of king. During this period, certain liberalization took place, but, by at large, little was done to satisfy people. A pro-Moscow communist party was established. In 1978, it intended to adopt some progressive reforms, such as declaring a secular state with equal rights for women and a new land reform programs, but they were not implemented in practice, because they met opposition from the deeply religious sections (Ritscher, 2011). Later, several rural areas rose in armed rebellion against the new government. The Soviet Union was asked to help the government in this struggle. During eight years, the Soviets tried to support the communist ideas and new programs in Afghanistan, but they failed.

Russian Invasion of Afghanistan

When Soviet troops seized Afghanistan on December 27, 1979, there were those who saw it as a proof that after the years of détente, the USSR was once again on the offensive. This war touched every mother whose son served there. The war was important in its affect on people and government of the USSR. It still touches everyone who used to be at that horrible war. It is a powerful image in the developing debate of the USSR’s and Russia’s future in the world and a demanding indictment of the past (Galeotti, 2001). Many historians consider that it has destroyed the Soviet Union. Yet, it did not, because this war was relatively minor, if ill-conceived and uncomfortable military adventure, eminently supportable, a negligible drain on the resource of the Soviet Union.

Many scholars acknowledge that the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan was established not by revolution. The communist regime was initially brought from the USSR. Afghanistan’s history has shown that this is a country of almost wild people. This was hardly fertile soil for socialism. For centuries, Afghanistan was an unruly country, with traditions, which were influenced by many wars, the authority of the tribes and their specific religious beliefs. According to the historical information, many Soviet leaders were against the Soviet-Afghan war, because they were sure that the Soviets would not succeed in this war. They realized the power of the Afghanis, their strong Muslim traditions, love for freedom and wild temper. They were sure that the Soviet soldiers were sent to death. The final political decision to start the war was made on December 24, 1978 at a meeting in Brezhnev’s office.

The main goal of the war was expansionism: generally seen as part of a drive towards the oil-rich Middle East. Galeotti (2001) asserts that “the Soviet government behaved like an ordinary Soviet consumer. He grabs anything, which happens to be on the counter, even if he does not need it, knowing that tomorrow it may no longer be available”. On 25 December, mechanized forces began crossing the Soviet-Afghan border. After several failed attempts to assassinate Anin by poison and bullet, his elimination and the capture of Kabul were the main aims of the operation Shtorm, a coordinated plan involving the finest troops at Moscow’s disposal. Amin and his closest supporters were to be liquidated.

The Experience of War

During the years of the Soviet-Afghan war, the Soviets never developed a successful strategy to pacify the country. Several policies were tried, but the end result was never reached (Amstutz, 1986). The resistance continued unabated. The Soviets used different tactics: divide the adversary; win over important native groups; create a strong communist party apparatus; and field a Moslem national army. When these policies were tried in Afghanistan, they had no success. With the Afghan invasion, Moscow’s original military intention was to secure the major cities and lines of communications. One aspect of the war that proved nettlesome to the Soviets was that some of the guerrillas used Pakistan as a safe place; they also obtained some military equipment there. To stop the transborder traffic the Soviet troops tried to block some key passes and mining many others. But this policy proved ineffective. Too many border-crossing places existed, including more than 200 mountain passes.

According to the research, the Soviets followed four major military-related strategies, such as intimidation and genocide; reprisals, subversion; and military forays. Only limited success was achieved, and the cost of the Afghan civilian populace was severe: between 3.5 million and 5 million Afghans fled the country; and at least 1.5 million moved from the countryside into relatively more safe urban centers, like Kabul. By 1982, the Soviets had abandoned any attempt to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan public. Instead, they adopted an apparent policy of bombing isolated villages with no strategic importance and the destruction of crops and livestock. For example, after bombing the third largest city after Kabul, 3.000 civilians were killed and half of the city was destroyed. The Soviet intimidation policy was evident by their on-ground, search-and-destroy missions in the countryside. After intensive bombardment of villages suspected of supporting guerrilla activities, tanks and armored vehicles would roll in to destroy the remaining dwellings (Amstutz, 1986). People had to move away from their homes in order to survive. The ruling party was not worrying that this harmful policy caused so many destructions or loss of life.

The research asserts that the Soviets were unfamiliar with dealing with guerrillas. Furthermore, they were inexperienced in mountain warfare. The Soviet Doctrine was based on warfare in a flat country, where armored vehicles could maneuver. Footslogging over mountains was little practiced. Many experts acknowledge that the single Russian military success was the use of helicopter gunship. During the years of the Soviet-Afghan war, Soviet combat tactics relied heavily on sending armored columns of tanks and armored infantry vehicles up to rural dirt areas to shoot guns in villages. The Soviet infantry soldiers never ventured far from their vehicles. The Afghanistan war was one of the longest-running foreign wars that the USSR had ever participated in. The balance of forces at the end of 1984 stood at about 200.000 men on the Soviet-DRA (Democratic Republic of Afghanistan) side and a roughly equivalent number on the mujahidin side. The Soviet contingent numbered about 115.000 men in Afghanistan and 30.000 to 35.000 in bases across the border in the USSR. The Soviet Army contingents were in all major cities and provincial capitals, at all airfields, and at strategic points along major highways. About one-third of the Soviet ground forces were based in Kabul area. During the years of occupation, the Soviets paid much attention to improving the country’s airports and heliports, which they controlled.

Consequences of the Soviet-Afghan War

The Soviet-Afghan war caused many problems for both Afghan and Russian people. The research asserts that the Soviet Army, considered the best in the world, was in an extremely difficult situation due to Afghan resistance, despite many internal splits and a number of strategic errors committed by the Soviets. In addition to the military problems there was the diplomatic breakdown, including international criticism and condemnation and a hardening of the American position (Martin et al., 2007). Finally, the conflict cost the lives of almost one million people, several hundred thousand people were wounded and amputated, and five million people became refugees in Pakistan, and Iran. For the Soviets, it resulted in 15.000 deaths, but the losses provoked an enormous reaction in the Soviet Union. Some observers even go so far as to say that Afghanistan was behind the fall of the USSR. However, according to others, the decision to invade the country delayed its fall by 10 or 12 years by allowing it to find an external enemy, which served to strengthen internal cohesion against American actions along the Southern flank.

The research asserts that the alliance between Pakistan and the USA during the Soviet-Afghan war was an excellent example of an opportunistic partnership between two unequal powers (Martin et al., 2007). The United States as a great power with global responsibilities and commitments took advantage of Pakistan’s desperate need for military and economic assistance and its search for powerful friends to achieve some kind of parity with India, since Pakistan was unwilling to accept the role of an Indian satellite and saw military developments in India as potential threats. In exchange for military and economic assistance, the USA was given access to Pakistani bases and other vital facilities to expand the scope of its policy of containment of communism (Martin et al, 2007). Pakistan, as a weak state with regional interests, seized upon the opportunity offered by the US search for anti-communist allies in Asia.

The Soviet- Afghan war and the further breakdown of the Soviet Union were the most important political events of the 21st century. As mentioned before, the Soviet-Afghan war was the key factor for the breakdown, but not the only one. Many historians and politics consider that the collapse of the USSR was inevitable because of domestic problems, such as inefficient economic central planning and ethnic conflicts. Others consider that one of the main factors of the breakdown of the Soviet Union was not the Soviet-Afghan war, but the end of the Cold War and an economic gap between the Soviet Union and well-developed Western countries.

Moreover, the historians note that international reaction upon the Soviet war in Afghanistan was rather negative. Consequently the Soviet Union was placed, for example, a trade embargo on grain and weapons. Moscow Olympic Games were boycotted by the USA in 1980, though Afghanistan was a participant country. War failures weakened the Soviet Union, and the Western countries took an advantage to implement their ideology in the minds of the Soviet people. The USSR citizens began to doubt whether their army is invincible. More and more people were prone to support the idea of changes in the country. Thus, different changes and programs were implemented into life by the then General Secretary of the Communist party – Mikhail Gorbachev, who was the last Soviet leader. As a result, the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991. The Cold War between the USSR and the USA was finished. Since then the United States had become the leader in economic, political and military spheres in the world.  


The Soviet-Afghan war was one of the most horrible events of the 20th century. The run of the Soviets to improve its communist idea in Afghanistan left this country and its people with serious economic, political, and environmental problems. Both countries were suffering a lot because of this war. This war has become a real disaster for the Soviet soldiers, who were sent to Afghanistan without any hope to come back. The Soviet-Afghan war was a severe challenge for both Soviet and Afghan people, who were real victims of the communist regime and were forced by their governments to take part in this horrible war. As a result, 15,000 Soviet people were killed and 37,000 wounded. It was a real threat to all humanity and environment that had no explanations and human reasons. Though, it is hard to find reasons and excuses for any war, the Soviet-Afghan war was a real nightmare for the ordinary people, who did not care about political and economic intentions of those, who started that war. Nowadays, many historians look back at the Soviet-Afghan war trying to explain and estimate the motives of this horrible war and its consequences, such as the breakdown of the USSR.

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