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Russian Invasion of Afghanistan

Soviet invasion of Afghanistan

Afghanistan hit the world's headlines in 1979. Afghanistan seemed to perfectly summarize the Cold War. From the west's point of view, Berlin, Korea, Hungary and Cuba had shown the way communism wanted to proceed. Afghanistan was a continuation of this.

In Christmas 1979, Russian paratroopers landed in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. The country was already in the grip of a civil war. The prime minister, Hazifullah Amin, tried to sweep aside Muslim tradition within the nation and he wanted a more western slant to Afghanistan. This outraged the majority of those in Afghanistan as a strong tradition of Muslim belief was common in the country.

Thousands of Muslim leaders had been arrested and many more had fled the capital and gone to the mountains to escape Amin's police. Amin also lead a communist based government - a belief that rejects religion and this was another reason for such obvious discontent with his government.

Thousands of Afghanistan Muslims joined the Mujahideen - a guerilla force on a holy mission for Allah. They wanted the overthrow of the Amin government. The Mujahideen declared a jihad - a holy war - on the supporters of Amin. This was also extended to the Russians who were now in Afghanistan trying to maintain the power of the Amin government. The Russians claimed that they had been invited in by the Amin government and that they were not invading the country. They claimed that their task was to support a legitimate government and that the Mujahideen were no more than terrorists.

On December 27th, 1979, Amin was shot by the Russians and he was replaced by Babrak Kamal. His position as head of the Afghan government depended entirely on the fact that he needed Russian military support to keep him in power. Many Afghan soldiers had deserted to the Mujahedeen and the Kamal government needed 85,000 Russian soldiers to keep him in power.

The Mujahideen proved to be a formidable opponent. They were equipped with old rifles but had a knowledge of the mountains around Kabal and the weather conditions that would be encountered there. The Russians resorted to using napalm, poison gas and helicopter gun ships against the Mujahedeen - but they experienced exactly the same military scenario the Americans had done in Vietnam.

By 1982, the Mujahideen controlled 75% of Afghanistan despite fighting the might of the world's second most powerful military power. Young conscript Russian soldiers were no match against men fuelled by their religious belief. Though the Russian army had a reputation, the war in Afghanistan showed the world just how poor it was outside of military displays. Army boots lasted no more than 10 days before falling to bits in the harsh environment of the Afghanistan mountains. Many Russian soldiers deserted to the Mujahideen. Russian tanks were of little use in the mountain passes.

The United Nations had condemned the invasion as early as January 1980 but a Security Council motion calling for the withdrawal of Russian forces had been Russia.

America put a ban on the export of grain to Russia, ended the SALT talks taking place then and boycotted the Olympic Games due to be held in Moscow in 1980. Other than that, America did nothing. Why ? They knew that Russia had got itself into their own Vietnam and it also provided American Intelligence with an opportunity to acquire any new Russian military hardware that could be used in Afghanistan. Mujhadeen fighters were given access to American surface-to-air missiles - though not through direct sales by America.

Mikhail Gorbachev took Russia out of the Afghanistan fiasco when he realised what many Russian leaders had been too scared to admit in public - that Russia could not win the war and the cost of maintaining such a vast force in Afghanistan was crippling Russia's already weak economy.

By the end of the 1980's, the Mujahideen was at war with itself in Afghanistan with hard line Taliban fighters taking a stronger grip over the whole nation and imposing very strict Muslim law on the Afghanistan population.


Zbignev Bzezhinski in an interview to French Le Nouvel Observateur said: According to the official version of history, CIA aid to the Mujaheddin began during 1980, that is to say, after the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan, Dec. 24, 1979. But the reality, secretly guarded until now, is completely otherwise: Indeed, it On July 3, 1979 US President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul...We didn't push the Russians to intervene, but we knowingly increased the probability that they would. The day the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter: We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam war...

The Soviet occupation of Afghanistan was indeed Vietnam-like in its brutality, killing more than a million Afghans and helping to tear apart a country that in 1979 had relatively little religious fanaticism and was making advances in the status of women. In the upheaval, Afghanistan became a base for terrorists.

When Ronald Reagan came to office in 1981, he maintained the Carter emphasis on the Persian Gulf-Arabian Peninsula sector that followed the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. But his approach to the Middle East and its problems derived from a set of assumptions that were quite different from the initial assumptions of the Carter administration and were much closer to the assumptions after the Afghanistan invasion. Reagan held that the fundamental threat to peace and stability in the region was not the Arab-Israeli conflict but the Soviet Union and its policies. It was therefore important to restore American capability and credibility which could be facilitated by building up American forces to deal with the region. Unlike Carter, he assumed that the main focus of American interests and concern in the Middle East was the Persian Gulf sector, including Afghanistan which could pose a direct threat to the security of the Gulf. Reagan's policy toward Afghanistan maintained that while the United States would employ no military forces of its own, given, in part, that it was unable to secure the support of its allies, it would nonetheless provide aid to the Afghan rebels to pressure the Soviet Union to withdraw its forces.

On March 1982 Reagan gave a speech, in which he proclaimed March 21st to be an Afghanistan Day throughought the United States.

In many ways, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the United States’ subsequent support of the mujahidin resistance was another round of the Afghan “Great Game.” The “Great Game” portrays Central Asia, and specifically Afghanistan, as the region where “international superpower struggles” occur.

The mujahidin were a mix of Afghan resistance fighters, Afghan refugees who had crossed into Pakistan at the onset of the Soviet invasion and later been recruited to fight the Soviet infidels, and Islamists and Muslims from other Arab nations who answered the international call to jihad against the Soviets. Contrary to popular myth, most of the mujahidin were not Islamic radicals, but rather a group of loosely allied Afghan tribes. Two main portions of the mujahidin, however, were Islamic fundamentalists.

The mujahidin received significant financial and military support from various nations and individuals. The United States supported the mujahidin primarily through the CIA. This was controversial because the mujahidin clearly were not any more accepting of American modernity and culture then they were of the Soviet modernity. But, compared to the risks of the Soviet threat, "the relatively new threat of Islamic fundamentalism" was inconsequential, and "fighting communism was still first and foremost in the minds of U.S. policymakers" (Hartman). This was dictated by the Cold War world geopolitical code – defeating communism was part of the daily U.S. foreign policy routine on the global scale. Consequently, "The U.S. ignored the threat of Islamism and used it as a bulwark against communism and revolution" in Afghanistan.

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