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Mortar attack on Shigal Tarna garrison, Kunar Province, 87

Mujahideen fighters in Kunar Province of Afghanistan in 1987

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. The insurgents received military training in neighboring Pakistan and China, as well as billions of dollars from the United States, United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, and other countries. The decade-long war resulted in millions of Afghans fleeing their country, mostly to Pakistan and Iran. Hundreds of thousands of Afghan civilians were killed in addition to the participants in the war.

The initial Soviet deployment of the 40th Army in Afghanistan began on December 24, 1979, under Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev.The final troop withdrawal started on May 15, 1988, and ended on February 15, 1989, under the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev. 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".


BackgroundEdit

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 socialist 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.

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.

In February 1979, the Islamic Revolution ousted the American-backed Shah from Afghanistan's neighbor Iran. 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.

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.

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. 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 RevolutionEdit

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 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.

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. The mysterious circumstances of Khyber's death sparked massive anti-Daoud demonstrations in Kabul, which resulted in the arrest of several prominent PDPA leaders.

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. 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 PDPAEdit

After the revolution, Taraki assumed the Presidency, Prime Ministership and General Secretary 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.

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. 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 after a palace shootout that resulted in the death of 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 relationsEdit

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. In the 1980s, many Afghans were Russian language proficient. Since 1947, Afghanistan had been under the influence of the Russian 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. The Russian faculty soon joined the universities, teaching Afghan students in proficient Russian languages.

In 1978, President Daud Khan began to take initiatives for building the massive military after witnessing India's nuclear test, Smiling Buddha, to counter Pakistan's armed forces and Iranian military influence in Afghanistan's politics. A final pre-war treaty, signed in December 1978, allowed the PDPA to call upon the Soviet Union for military support.

In 2009, the BBC republished a Soviet booklet on Afghanistan first published in 1987, giving vital tips to Internationalist soldiers and officers.

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. 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.

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.

Initiation of the insurgencyEdit

Afghanistan cemented regional problems with Pakistan, after Daoud pressed his hard-line Pashtunistan
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Soviet infantry at the time of deployment.

policies to Pakistan. Pakistan retaliated, and Prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto authorized a covert operation under M.I.'s Major-General Naseerullah Babar. 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. 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. Another part of this operation was to train hard-line Jamiat-e Islami militants against the Daoud's
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40th Army headquarters, Tajbeg Palace, 1986.

secular government. However, this operation went into cold-storage after Bhutto was removed from power. 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
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Soviet soldiers conducting training.

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. 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. The government brooked no opposition to the reforms and responded with violence to unrest. Between April 1978 and the Soviet Intervention of December 1979, thousands of prisoners, perhaps
Afgan prisoners in Vardak 1987

Soviet forces after capturing some Mujahideen.

as many as 27,000, were executed at the notorious Pul-e-Charkhi prison, including many village mullahs and headmen. Other members of the traditional elite, the religious establishment and intelligentsia fled the country.

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. 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. The rebellion began to take hold in the cities: in March 1979 in Herat, rebels led by Ismail Khan revolted. Between 3000 and 5000 people were killed and wounded during the Herat revolt. Some 100 Soviet citizens and their families were killed. 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). 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. The U.S. increased pressure on the Afghan government and the Soviet Union forcefully demanding for peaceful negotiations for the release of their ambassador.

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. 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. 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. All attempts were failed, and U.S. Ambassador Adolph Dubs was caught between the cross fire leading to his death. 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.

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.

1979: Soviet deploymentEdit

The Afghan government, having secured a treaty in December 1978 that allowed them to call on Soviet

Evstafiev-40th army HQ-Amin-palace-Kabul

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

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 Baram 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.

"We should tell Taraki and Amin to change their tactics. They still continue to execute those people who disagree with them. They are killing nearly all of the Parcham leaders, not only the highest rank, but of the middle rank, too."

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."

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 defense. 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 of 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.

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 

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

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.

Also during the 1970s, the Soviet Union reached the peak of its political influence in comparison to the U.S. 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.

1979: Soviet interventionEdit

On October 31, 1979 Soviet informants to the Afghan armed forces who were under orders from the inner

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The Soviet intervention

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
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Soviet paratroopers aboard a BMD-1 in Kabul

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. 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.

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.

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 Neighborlinessand 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 that it had requested Soviet military assistance.

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. 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. With the arrival of the two later divisions, the total Soviet force rose to over 100,000 personnel.

International position on Soviet interventionEdit

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. The UN General Assembly passed a resolution protesting the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan by a vote of 104–18.

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. China provided the most relevant weapons, likely due to their own experience with guerrilla warfare, and kept meticulous record of all the shipments.

December 1979 - February 1980: OccupationEdit

The first phase began with the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan and their first battles with various opposition groups. 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. 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. 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.

March 1980 - April 1985: Soviet offensives

The war now developed into a new pattern: the Soviets occupied the cities and main axis of communication,

Muja on radio in Munda Dir

A mujahideen fighter in Kunar uses a communications receiver.

while the mujahideen, (which the Soviet Army soldiers called 'Dushman,' meaning 'enemy') divided into small groups, waged a guerrilla war. Almost 80 percent of the country escaped government control. 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 also performed secret attacks on Iranian territory to destroy suspected mujahideen bases, and their helicopters then got engaged in shootings with
August 1984 - captured field guns in Jaji, Paktia

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

Iranian jets. 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.

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. 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. 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.

The Soviets did not, at first, foresee taking on such an active role in fighting the rebels and attempted to

Afghan village destroyed by the Soviets

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

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. 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. 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. 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 guerilla 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 guerilla 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.

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. 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. 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. 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.

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.

1980s: InsurrectionEdit

In the mid-1980s, the Afghan resistance movement, assisted by the United States, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia,

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

the United Kingdom, Egypt, 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.

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.

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 bureacracy 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

Mujahideen prayer in Shultan Valley Kunar, 1987

Mujahideen praying in Shultan Valley, 1987.

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.

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.

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. 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.

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.

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.

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.

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 missileEdit

Through most of the war, the Soviet air force was able to control the skies and fly sorties at will. With two

Afghanistan insurgency 1985

The areas where the different mujahideen forces operated in 1985.

recently introduced combat aircraft the Su-25 ground-attack jet and the Mi-24 attack helicopter the Soviets had aircraft that were improvious to Mujahideen attempts to shoot them down 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 escallating costs of aircraft losses became a major additional drain on the costs of the war and many analysts believe the unsustainable aircraft losses caused 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 he Stingers, the effect of the Stinger was at least notable. The Wall Street Journal in a 2011 article commemorating several Mujahideen fighters celebrated the Stinger as 'The Missile that Made History.' Source: Wall street Journal  A Foreign Policy article about the Stinger used in Afghanistan called it so much a 'game changer' in the Afghanistan war, that a military analyst term has been coined as the 'Stinger Effect' Source: Foreign policy.

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 strategyEdit

The first step of the Soviet Union's exit strategy was to transfer the burden of fighting the mujahideen to the

9th company

Awards ceremony for the 9th Company

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. In the spring of 1986, an offensive into Paktia province briefly occupied the mujahideen base at Zhavar only at the cost of heavy losses. 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 Founddation 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.

January 1987 - February 1989: WithdravalEdit

The arrival of Mikhail Gorbachev on the scene in 1985 and his 'new thinking' on foreign and domestic policy

Evstafiev-afghan-apc-passes-russian

The Soviet Army withdraws from Afghanistan, 1988.

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 glastnost 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. Beijing had stipulated that a normalization of relations would have to
RIAN archive 644461 First stage in the Soviet troop withdrawal from Afghanistan

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

wait until Moscow withdrew its army from Afghanistan (among other things) and in 1989 the first Sino-Soviet summit in 30 years took place. 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. 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. 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
T-62 withdraws from Afghanistan

Soviet T-62M main battle tank withdraws from Afghanistan

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.

The one exception was operation Magistral, a successful sweep that

RIAN archive 660671 Pullout of Soviet troops contigent from Afghanistan

CGen of 40th Army, Boris Gromov, announcing the withdrawal of Soviet contingent forces.

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.

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, except for the operation "Typhoon".

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. General Gromov, the 40th Army Commander, objected 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. Overall, the Soviet attack represented a defeat for Masood's forces, who lost 600 fighters killed and wounded.

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. He also introduced in 1987 a policy of "national reconciliation," devised by experts of the Communist party of the Soviet union, and later used in other regions of the world. Despite high expectations, the new policy neither made the Moscow-backed Kabul regime more popular, nor did it convince the insurgents to negotiate with the ruling government.

Informal negotiations for a Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan had been underway since 1982. In 1988, the governments of Pakistan and Afghanistan, with the United States and Soviet Union serving as guarantors, signed an agreement settling the major differences between them known as the Geneva accords. The United Nations set up a special mission to oversee the process. In this way, Najibullah had stabilized his political position enough to begin matching Moscow's moves toward withdrawal. On July 20, 1987, the withdrawal of Soviet troops from the country was announced. The withdrawal of Soviet forces was planned out by Lt. Gen. Boris Gromov, who, at the time, was the commander of the 4oth army.

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.

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