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A Brief History of: The Soviet-Afghan Conflict

Afghanistan, a country geographically situated as the gateway to central Asia, was once a part of the erstwhile Great Empires, such as Alexander the Great of Macedon’s empire, the Mighty Mughals, the Persian Empire etc. But nowadays the image of ‘Afghanistan’, is not of the glorious empires or prosperity which once bestowed the land but it is the images of chaos, violence, unrest and extremists’ forces, hard core militia and men roaming wild with little regards to the human life. We must also understand that Afghanistan had always been divided into different tribes rather than one unified state, some of the tribes of Afghanistan include the Pashtun, the Uzbek & the Hazara tribes, but how did this region of historical greatness become what it is today, to find out we have to probe deep into the history of Afghanistan.

We start at the helm of the cold war, in the year 1973, with the ‘pro-Soviet’ General Mohammed Daoud Khan who had overthrown the last king Mohammed Zahir Shah, in a military coup, abolishing a monarchy and declaring himself as the President. Henceforth, The Republic of Afghanistan was established with close ties to the erstwhile USSR. During his reign between 1973-1977, Gen. Khan proposed a new constitution that granted the population, women’s rights and modernized the communist state. He also cracked down on opponents, forcing many suspected of not supporting Khan out of his government.

In 1978, Gen. Khan was killed in a communist coup and one of the founding members of the Afghan Communist Party, Nur Mohammad Taraki, took control of the country as the new President. They proclaimed independence from Soviet influence and declared their policies to be based on the Islamic principles, Afghan nationalism and socio-economic justice. Nur Md. Taraki signed a friendship treaty with the Soviet Union. But a rivalry between Taraki and Hafizullah Amin, Taraki’s prime minister & another influential communist leader, lead to fighting between the two sides.

In 1979, American Ambassador Adolph Dubs is mysteriously killed in Afghanistan. Due to this act of aggression, The United States cut off assistance to the nation of Afghanistan and on the 14th of Sept’1979, Taraki is killed in a confrontation with Amin’s supporters and following his death, Hafizullah Amin takes over the role of the President for the Republic of Afghanistan. On December 24th,1979, The USSR in hope to take advantage of the internal turmoil of the nation invades Afghanistan and on December 27th, executes President Hafizullah Amin and his followers. The Deputy Prime Minister Babrak Karmal becomes the Prime Minister under a Soviet Puppet regime installed to strengthen the Soviet influence over the Asian Peninsula. The deposition of Amin causes widespread opposition to Karmal and the Soviets which resulted in violent public demonstrations.

By the early 1980‘s, conservative Islamic and ethnic leaders who objected to social changes introduced by Khan begin an armed revolt in the countryside. By June 1980, the conservative tribal leaders created the guerrilla movement and the fighters were called the ‘Mujahadeen’ (Holy Warriors) in-order to battle the Soviet-backed government. The Mujahadeen’s comprised of various Afghan tribes with the majority coming from the Pashtun tribe. With the help of the USA which in turn wanted to stop the spread of the communist ideology, started to supply weapons to the rebel / Mujahadeen forces.

The United States, though wanted their involvement in the conflict to remain hidden so in 1980, ‘Operation Cyclone’ helmed by the Texas Congressman Charlie Wilson and Gust Avrakotos the CIA’s regional head, who had developed a close relationship with Wilson, allowed the US government to provide weapons, tactics and logistics, along with training programs, to enhance the rebel’s ability to fight a guerrilla war against the Soviets. Initially the program supplied the rebels only with Soviet-made weaponry in-order to hide USA’s involvement. Their plan was enabled by the tacit support from Israel, which had captured large stockpiles of Soviet-made weaponry during the ‘Yom Kippur War’ in 1973 and agreed to sell them to the CIA clandestinely, as well as Egypt, which had recently modernized its army with weapons purchased from Western nations, funnelling the older Soviet arms to the mujahideen forces.

By 1982, around 2.8 million Afghans had fled from the war to Pakistan and another 1.5 million had fled to Iran. The Mujahadeen gained control of rural areas, by attacking the soviet troops and hiding in the rocky cave’s terrain of the Hindu Kush Mountain range, the Soviet troops were still holding the urban areas. The Mujahadeens knowledge of the local area and their ability to hide in the region made it extremely difficult for the soviet forces to fight the guerrilla forces. Though the soviets still managed to defeat the Afghan forces due to their superior weaponry and Air support.

However, this soon changed, as in 1985, the Reagan Administration announced that it would support the anti-Soviet resistance movements globally under the ‘Reagan Doctrine’, there was no longer a need to obfuscate the origin of the weaponry and Pentagon senior official Michael Pillsbury, successfully advocated providing US made weaponry, including a large number of the game changer ‘Stinger’ Missiles to the Afghan resistance. Which allowed the Mujahadeens to take down the Air superiority of the Soviets.

Though the distribution of the weaponry relied heavily on the Pakistan and under President Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq, who shared a personal relationship with Congressman Wilson. The Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) was an intermediary for funds distribution, passing of weapons, military training and financial support to the Afghan resistance groups. Along with funding from the U.S, similar programs from Britain’s MI6 and SAS, Saudi Arabia, and the People’s Republic of China, allowed the ISI to arm and train over 100,000 insurgents between 1978 and 1992.

In 1984 in midst of the complex supply chain of weapons and aid to the Afghan Rebels, The Saudi Islamist ‘Osama bin Laden’, made his first documented trip to Afghanistan to aid antiSoviet fighters. In September 1988, Osama bin Laden and fifteen other Islamists formed the group ‘Al-Qaida’ (the base), to continue their Jihad (holy war), against the Soviet forces and other who they saw as an opposition to their goal of a pure nation governed by Islamic laws. With their belief, that the Soviet’s misbegotten war in Afghanistan was directly attributable to their fighting, In the start of 1989 with the covert backing of the CIA and its Pakistani counterpart, the Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI).

They were joined by young Pashtun tribesmen who studied in Pakistani madrassas, or seminaries they called themselves the ‘Taliban’ (the Pashto term for “students.”). Pashtuns comprised a plurality in Afghanistan and still are the predominant ethnic group in much of the country’s south and east. They are also a major ethnic group in Pakistan’s north and west. This allowed them to retrieve and resupply in the Pakistan owned territories without being detected by the soviet troops. The Taliban and Al-Qaida groups by the end of 1988, also begin to shift their focus towards the USA, believing that ‘the remaining superpower is the main obstacle to the establishment of a state based on Islamic Rule’.

By 1989, The faltering soviet economy and the major loss of Soviet troops caused the Soviet Union to retrieve and call back its troops from Afghanistan, With the Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev signing a peace treaty to end the war. This Officially ended the Soviet-Afghan conflict, with Afghan victory on the 15th of Feb’ 89, as the last Soviet troops departed from Afghanistan.

The Taliban after attracting popular support in the initial post-Soviet era by promising to impose stability and rule of law after four years of conflict (1992–1996) among rival mujahideen groups. In November 1994 the Taliban entered the city of Kandahar to pacify the crime-ridden southern city and by September 1996, seized the capital Kabul from President Burhanuddin Rabbani, an ethnic Tajik whom the Taliban viewed as anti-Pashtun and corrupt, the Taliban then declared Afghanistan an Islamic Emirate, with Mullah Mohammed Omar, a cleric and veteran of the anti-Soviet resistance, leading the group as Amir al-Mu’minin (commander of the faithful).

In the coming years, Osama Bin Laden & Al-Qaida would claim responsibility for the dreaded 9/11 attack on the United States of America, which caused the US to launch ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’ under which the US forces invaded Afghanistan in-order to eliminate the terrorist threats of Al-Qaida & Osama Bin Laden, which were given protection by the Taliban that had taken over the nation and ruled the country from 1996-2001, until they were overthrown by the United States collation forces.

The impact of this conflict can be seen even today as on 2nd March’20, The United States of America and the Taliban signed a Peace deal ending the 20-year involvement of US troops in Afghanistan, as the US troops began to leave Afghanistan, The Taliban forces rampaged through the Afghan defence forces and on 15th of August, 2021 the Taliban reached the gates of the Afghan capital of Kabul, with imminent defeat, the Afghan forces surrendered and the Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, fled to UAE. leaving Afghanistan without an Internationally recognised government, Afghanistan is now under Taliban rule. The United States in order to prevent a Soviet Afghanistan created and laid the foundation for something far worse and dangerous, An Extremist Afghanistan.

The Afghan war served as a modern-day déjà vu of Vietnam for the United States and a great intelligence and military failure, with no US presence in the area, for the first time in 20 years, Taliban forces now control the country and what happens next remains to be seen. As of now, the future certainly looks dark for the once glorious land of Afghanistan, as another super power falls to the ‘Graveyard of Empires’.


  1. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights 2021, Briefing notes on Afghanistan, Accessed 17 August 2021,
  2. Britannica 2021, Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Accessed 13 August 2021,
  3. Britannica 2021, Afghanistan War, Accessed 13 August 2021,
  4. Britannica 2021, Taliban, Accessed 15 August 2021,
  5. BBC 2021, Afghanistan: Why is there a war? Accessed 15 August 2021,
  6. The New York Times 1996, Arming Afghan Guerrillas: A Huge Effort Led by U.S., Accessed 15 August 2021,
  7. The Atlantic 2014, The Soviet War in Afghanistan, 1979 – 1989, Accessed 15 August 2021,
  8. PBS News Hour 2014, A Historical Timeline of Afghanistan, Accessed 13 August 2021,
  9. Council on Foreign Relations 2021, The Taliban in Afghanistan, Accessed 14 August 2021,
  10. Undergraduate Research Journal at UCCS 2010, Operation Cyclone: How the United States Defeated the Soviet Union, Accessed 15 August 2021,
  11. The Indian Express 2021, Timeline: US and NATO involvement in Afghanistan, Accessed 16 August 2021,
  12. The Quint 2021, Why US Military Failed in Afghanistan & What it Means for World Order, Accessed 14 August 2021,
  13. History TV18 2021, Soviet Union invades Afghanistan, Accessed 15 August 2021,
  14. The New Indian Express 2021, Amid US exit, chaos abounds in Afghanistan, Accessed 14 August 2021,
  15. Bocharov, Gennady. Russian Roulette: Afghanistan through Russian Eyes. Translated by Alyona Kojevnikov. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 1990.

 Written by:
Shaurya Sain Mathur
Class 12, Neerja Modi School, Jaipur (Raj.)
 E-mail I.D:

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