The Soviet Afghanistan war refers to a war between the Mujahideen rebels in Afghanistan and the Soviet-supported government of Afghanistan. Primarily, the war culminated the cold war between communists and capitalists. While the U.S. supported Mujahideen rebels to take over the communist government as well as thwart the spread of communism, Russia, on the other hand, was pursuing the preservation of communism in Afghanistan (Roy, 2011). Russian military attacked Afghanistan in the midst of the cold war to support the communist government since the Mujahideen rebels had declared a jihad on the supporters of the government. Even though Afghanistan rebels were weighing a war against the world’s second most powerful military, Russia troops were no match against people fueled by the Muslim religious beliefs.
While Afghanistan is overwhelmingly Muslim, Islam is the second most dominant religion in Russia with more than fifteen million Muslims in the nation (Roy, 2011). However, these demographics had a minimum bearing on the relationship between the two countries. In the December 1979, the soviet troops attacked Afghanistan to uphold the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) communist government against the rising insurrection. At that time, the U.S. had been making advancements in the Middle East at the cost of Russia (Roy, 2011; Urban, 2016). Some of the countries in which the U.S. had made headways included Saudi Arabia, Israel, Egypt, and Pakistan among others. Consequently, the Soviet Union dreaded that it could lose its communist proxy in Afghanistan.
As a neighbor of Afghanistan, the Soviet Union had a long history of offering aid to Afghanistan. For example, the Soviet-supported government came to power in the nation in 1978 (Roy, 2011). The new regime, which referred to as the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan (DRA) was not in favor of the majority of the Afghans primarily because many of the laws it introduced were against the Islam religion (Urban, 2016). Afghanistan hit the global headlines in 1979. Apparently, the country seemed to summarize the cold war. From the western perspective western, Korea, Berlin, Cuba, and Hungary had proved the way communism was ending. For instance, Russian troops had already invaded Kabal, Afghanistan’s capital by the end of 1979. During this time, the nation presently in the civil war’s grip. Hazifullah Amin, the prime minister of Afghanistan by then, was trying to sweep away the Islam tradition, which is still prevalent in the nation (Grau, 2004). Amin’s aim was to westernize Afghanistan. However, the majority of the people of Afghanistan felt outraged, considering that a significant population of Afghanistan comprised of Muslims.
Russia was quite interested in Afghanistan because of resources in Afghanistan. Even though Moscow had not significantly contributed to the reconstruction of Afghanistan, it had delivered both humanitarian and military aid. Kremlin had decided to cancel around 90% of the debt of Afghanistan (Roy, 2011). A larger percentage of the debt consisted of military equipment’s sales to the regime of PDPA in the 1870s and 1980s. As the major supplier of arms to the Kabul region, Russia believed that it was stronger than Afghanistan (Roy, 2011).
Hazifullah Amin’s police arrested thousands of Muslim leaders while others ran away from the capital to mountains. Amin led a communist based government, which rejected religion and this led to the Afghanistan people discontent with the government (Roy, 2011). In response, thousands of Afghanistan Muslims joined Mujahideen, an organized guerrilla force that believed to be a holy war for Allah. The principal aim of the force was to overthrow Amin’s government (Urban, 2016). Subsequently, Mujahideen declared a jihad, or in other words, a cold was on Amin, as well as his supporters (Urban, 2016). The jihadists extended the war to the soviet troops who were presently in Afghanistan, attempting to uphold the power of the communist government of Amin. According to the Russians, Amin’s government had invited, and thus they were not invading the Afghans (Urban, 2016). The soviets appealed that their role was to offer support to a legitimate government and the Mujahedeen rebels were just terrorists.
Nonetheless, Russia feared the rise of Islamic extremism among the countries which had considerable population of Muslims besides the emergence of separatist movement among particular ethnic groups, specifically the Chechens. Kremlin perceived such forces as severe threats to Russia (Ali & Dong, 2015). Apparently, Russia assisted the United States to overthrow the Taliban’s, an Islamist movement that was offering help to these groups. Moscow used its involvement in the war on terror of Americans as an excuse in Russia’s crackdown on the Afghans, whom they compared to terrorists and extremist separatists (Sinno, 2015). Outside the Russian borders, Moscow worried about the growth of Islamism extremists groups and terrorism in its conventional sphere of influence. The majority of militants from Afghanistan had ties with the al-Qaida, Taliban. Consequently, Russians did not want to see the comeback of the Taliban’s in Kabul (Sinno, 2015). Kremlin disapproved the presence of the NATO in the southern frontier and did not want Afghanistan to become a safe haven for terrorist, separatist forces such as the Taliban (Roy, 2011).
The Soviet Union leaders started being concerned that Amin was having discussions with the U.S. Subsequently, the Russians murdered Amin and replaced him with Babrak Kamal. As the head of the state, Kamal relied entirely on the support of the Russians military to keep him in power (Sinno, 2015). However, the larger part of the Afghanistan populations was not pleased with the Russians, and so were most of the Afghan soldiers. Apparently, many soldiers had already joined the Mujahideen, and Kamal’s government required 85000 troops from Russia to keep him in power. The rebels became a tough opponent to the Russians. Despite the fact that they were equipped with more inferior rifles compared to what the Russians had, their knowledge of the mountain around Kabai was vast (Roy, 2011). Additionally, they had adapted to the weather conditions of the Kabai region. In response, Russians resorted to the use of poison gas, napalm, and helicopter gunships against the Afghan rebels (Grau, 2004). However, the Russians experienced exactly the same situation that the Americans had experienced in Vietnam.
Islam religion played a significant role in fueling the victory of the Afghans. According to the Islam culture, their beliefs act as their guide from birth to death (Roy, 2011). Afghans prove their religious devotion through their obligation to defend their people as well as their land. The war against the Russians, who had invaded Afghanistan, was perceived as a holy war. Through the war, the political influence and power of Islam became heightened. According to Afghans, foreigners should avoid any sort of religious debates with them (Sinno, 2015). Even though they can tolerate other religions, they cannot stand any form of criticism against Islam.
As early as early 1980, the United Nations had already started condemning the Afghanistan invasion. However, even after a security council called for the removal of Russian troops from Afghanistan, Russia used its veto power to reject it (Grau, 2004). Subsequently, the United States started imposing sanctions on Russia. For example, the U.S. banned grain exportation to Russia as well as boycotted the international Olympic Games that were to occur in Moscow in 1980 (Grau, 2004). Besides that, the United States did not intervene anymore since it knew that Russia had immersed itself in its own Vietnam (Ali & Dong, 2015). On the other hand, the Mujahideen fighters were growing stronger. The United States, among other nations such as China, Iran, and Pakistan was already offering intelligence and thus allowing the Afghans with any Russian military hardware. Additionally, the Mujahideen fighters had access to American missiles. However, the acquisition did not happen directly to American direct sales.
The vast knowledge of the terrains of the mountains around Kabai along with the stinger missiles availed by the United States significantly helped the Mujahideen to win the Soviet- Afghanistan war. Essentially, the missiles enabled the Mujahideen soldiers to shoot down the soviet helicopters. To the Russians, the soviet-Afghanistan war was quite difficult. Mostly, Afghans knew many places that they could hide in the mountains. Additionally, many of the Russian troops were untested and their gear was not intended for the harsh environments of the mountains of Afghanistan
The war had various economic and social impacts to Afghanistan and Russia. First thing, more than 13,000 Soviet soldiers were killed during the war. On the other hand, more than a million citizens of Afghanistan died in the course of the war (Roy, 2011). Unfortunately, most of these Afghans were only civilians, not soldiers. Additionally, about 5 million Afghans fled to neighboring countries such as Pakistan and Iraq. Afghanistan has been affected both politically and economically (Sinno, 2015). That is, the war had destroyed the infrastructure of the country and Afghanistan had now become one of the poorest nations on the globe.
After Mikhail Gorbachev became the Soviet Union leader, he wanted the soviet-Afghanistan war to end (Grau, 2004). Gorbachev realized that most of the Russian leaders were too scared to confess that the Russian forces were losing the war and the price of maintaining such a large military force was crippling the Russian economy, which was already weak. According to Grau (2004), Russia pumped billions of US dollars into the Soviet-Afghan war in the 1980s. At its peak, approximately 100, 000 Soviet soldiers were in Afghanistan fighting (Grau, 2004). On the other hand, Mujahideen were widely supported by various international powers including the United States, Iran, China, and Egypt.
At first, Gorbachev tried to increase the Russian troops to ensure that the war ended quickly. Nevertheless, this worsened the situation rather than making it better considering that the Afghans rebels were getting more support from other international powers. By 1988, Gorbachev agreed to sign a peace agreement to end the war (Urban, 2016). The last Soviet soldiers left Afghanistan in February 1989.
However, even after the end of the Soviet-Afghanistan war, by the late 1980’s, the Mujahideen rebels were at war with themselves in Afghanistan as the Taliban fighters took a stronger grip over the whole country (Grau, 2004). The soldiers then started imposing strict Muslim laws Afghans. Various Mujahideen groups could not resolve on how power should have been shared after the Russians left. Consequently, Afghanistan descended into a fierce civil war (Grau, 2004). In 1994, a Pashtun fundamentalist movement, established by students who had been trained in religious schools (madrasas) in the Pakistan, apprehended Kandahar and began to advocate for the wrest of the nation from the Mujahideen warlords. This movement, which was now known as the Taliban, marched into Kabul and managed to take control of the better part of the country by 1998 (Grau, 2004).
Subsequently, most of the Mujahideen leaders fled to the north and joined either the northern alliance, led by Ahmad Shah and Burhanuddin Rabbani or the United Islamic Front for the Salvation of Afghanistan (Grau, 2004). At that time, the Soviet Union was lending support to the northern alliances, which has considerably contributed to its defeat as other countries such as Iran and India did. Essentially, Russia could not have tolerated a fundamentalist state arise in Afghanistan. Even more important, the Taliban and their allies, including the al-Qaida were offering training and sanctuary to the rebels of Chechen, central militants and other terrorist groups that Russia perceived as a threat. Russia took part in the United States-led invasion to upheaval the Taliban, which had a stronger grip over the entire Afghanistan, and was oppressing the Afghans by imposing strict Islam laws on them later in 2001 (Grau, 2004; Ali & Dong, 2015). Additionally, it also permitted the United States led coalition to military and logistical supplies through the territory of Russia.
As revealed in the discussion, even though, the rebels of Afghan were weighing a war against the world’s second most powerful military, the troops of Russia was no match against men fueled by the Muslim religious beliefs. The war which culminated the cold war between capitalists and communists occurred from 1979 to 1989. The United States, along with other nations such as Iran, Pakistan, and China supported the Mujahideen rebels to overthrow the communist government as well as prevent the spread of communism. On the other hand, Russia was pursuing to preserve communism in Afghanistan. Essentially, in the midst of the cold war, Russian military attacked Afghanistan to support the communist government since the Mujahideen rebels had declared a jihad on the supporters of the government.
Russians invaded Afghanistan in December 1979. The Soviet Union leaders started being anxious that President Amin was having discussions with the U.S. Subsequently, the Russians assassinated the leader and replaced him with Babrak Kamal. As president, Kamal relied entirely on the support of the Russians military to keep him in power. Due to the economic stress that the war was putting on Russia, Mikhail Gorbachev thought it was wiser to end its. Besides, the Russian troops were losing since the Afghans were getting help from the American. To the Afghans, the soviet-Afghanistan war was a holy war against infidels who had invaded their land. Fueled by their religious beliefs, the Russian troops lost to the Afghan, and they were forced to return to Russia in 1979.
Ali, I., & Dong, X. (2015). The revenge game: US foreign policy during Afghan-Soviet War and Afghan-Pakistan falling into hell. Asian Social Science, 11(27), 43.
Grau, L. W. (2004). The Soviet–Afghan War: A superpower mired in the mountains. Journal of Slavic Military Studies, 17(1), 129-151.
Roy, O. (2011). The Lessons of the Soviet/Afghan War (Vol. 259). Brasseyś for the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
Sinno, A. H. (2015). Organizations at war in Afghanistan and beyond. Cornell University Press.
Urban, M. (2016). War in Afghanistan. Springer.