Soviet–Afghan War

1979–1989 war between the Soviet Union and Afghan insurgents

The Soviet war in Afghanistan was a war initially fought between the forces of the government of Afghanistan and fightera supported from abroad. Without proper equipment and training, the government was unable to resist the opposition, called the Mujahideen, and eventually sought the aid of the Soviet Union. The Soviets' entry to the country caused an immediate increase in the presence of foreign involvement. Massive military campaigns against the Mujahideen, who blended in with the local population, caused extensive destruction of local infrastructure and death, which made the local population to side with the Mujahideen. That caused a loss of support for the Soviet military presence and eventually created a nationwide resistance during the conflict.

Soviet war in Afghanistan
Part of the conflict in Afghanistan and the Cold War

Mujahideen fighters in Kunar Province of Afghanistan in 1987
DateDecember 24, 1979 – February 15, 1989
(9 years, 1 month, 3 weeks and 1 day)

Afghan-Mujahideen victory


Soviet Union Soviet Union
Afghanistan D.R. Afghanistan
supported by
People's Republic of BulgariaPeople's Republic of Bulgaria
East GermanyEast Germany
HungaryHungarian People's Republic



Supported by
 United States[1][2][3][4]
 United Kingdom[3][5][6]
 Saudi Arabia[2][3][7][8]
 West Germany

Commanders and leaders
Soviet Union Leonid Brezhnev
Soviet Union Yuri Andropov
Soviet Union Konstantin Chernenko
Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev
Soviet Union Dmitriy Ustinov
Soviet Union Sergei Sokolov
Soviet Union Dmitriy Yazov
Soviet Union Valentin Varennikov
Soviet Union Igor Rodionov
Soviet Union Boris Gromov
Afghanistan Hafizullah Amin
Afghanistan Babrak Karmal
Afghanistan Mohammad Najibullah
Afghanistan Abdul Rashid Dostum
Afghanistan Abdul Qadir Dagarwal
Afghanistan Shahnawaz Tanai
Afghanistan Mohammed Rafie
Ahmad Shah Massoud
Abdul Haq
Abdullah Azzam
Ismail Khan
Gulbuddin Hekmatyar
Jalaluddin Haqqani
Mullah Naqib
Abdul Rahim Wardak
Fazal Haq Mujahid
Burhanuddin Rabbani
Osama bin Laden

Soviet Forces:

|Afghan Forces:


Casualties and losses

Soviet Forces:

14,453 Killed (total)

  • 9,500 killed in combat[15]
  • 4,000 died from wounds[15]
  • 1,000 died from disease and accidents[15]

53,753 Wounded[15]

312 Missing[16]

Afghan Forces:

18,000 killed[17]


75,000–90,000 killed, 75,000+ wounded (tentative estimate)[18]

Civilians (Afghan):

850,000–2,000,000 killed[19][20]

5 million refugees outside of Afghanistan

2 million refugees in Afghanistan

Around 3 million Afghans wounded (mostly civilians)[21]

Civilians (Soviet):

Around 100 dead

The war began on 25 December 1979, when the Soviets brought their 40th Army to fight in Afghanistan, and lasted until 15 February 1989, when they announced that all of their troops had left the country. About 15,000 Soviet soldiers were killed, and about 35,000 were wounded. About two million Afghan civilians were killed. The anti-government forces were supported by many countries, Pakistan, the United States and Saudi Arabia.

The war started when the Soviet Union sent its 40th Army to fight in Afghanistan, which reached Afghanistan on 25 December 1979. The fighting continued for about ten years. On 15 May 1988, the Soviet troops started to leave Afghanistan, which continued until 2 February 1989.

Background change

The country has many mountains and deserts that make movement difficult. The population is made up mainly of Pashtuns, but there are also Tajiks, Hazara, Aimak, Uzbeks, Turkmens, and some other small groups.

Soviet deployment change

Hafizullah Amin change

In 1979, Hafizullah Amin was the ruler of Afghanistan. The KGB spies said that Amin's rule was a threat to Soviet Central Asia republics and also suspected that Amin was not loyal to the Soviet Union. It also found some information about Amin's attempt to be friendlier with Pakistan and China. The Soviets also suspected that Amin had been behind the death of Afghan President Nur Muhammad Taraki. Finally, the Soviets decided to remove Amin.

Assassination of Amin change

On 22 December 1979, Soviet advisers to the Afghan Army took many steps. They stopped all telecommunication links in Kabul. No message could come inside or go outside the city. Troops of the Soviet Air Force also reached Kabul. Amin saw danger and moved to the presidential palace, Tajbeg Palace, for more safety.

On 27 December 1979, about 700 Soviet troops took over major government and military buildings at Kabul. The troops wore uniforms similar to the Afghan Army. At 7:00 pm, the Soviet troops destroyed Kabul's communications and stopped all communication among Afghan troops. At 7:15 pm, Soviet troops entered Tajbeg Palace. By morning of 28 December, the first part of the military action was over. Amin and his two sons had been killed.

The Soviets announced freedom of Afghanistan from Amin's rule. They also said that the Soviet soldiers were there to fulfill their duty, as stated in the "Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Good Neighborliness of 1978."

Rise of Babrak Karmal change

An announcement came from the Kabul radio station about the killing of Hafizullah Amin. The Pro-Soviet Afghan Revolutionary Central Committee (ARCC) took the responsibility. Then, the ARCC chose Babrak Karmal as the head of government of Afghanistan. He asked the Soviet Union for military assistance.

Moscow's decision on occupation change

The Afghan government asked the Soviet Union many times to send troops. Despite the Soviets' treaty with Afghanistan to assist, and fearing a Vietnam-style quagmire, the Soviet Union resisted but instead told the Afghanistan government to reach a compromise with the foreign fighters. The situation deteriorated between the Afghanistan government and the foreign fighters, and the Soviet Union responded initially with only intelligence and advisors.

Occupation change

Soviet operations change

The Soviet soldiers occupied much of Afghanistan, but they could never control the whole country. Soviet soldiers in Afghanistan lacked the proper military tactics for guerrilla warfare in Afghanistan's rugged mountainous terrain, and many of the Soviet troops were young conscripts who were untested in combat. Several Afghan groups continued to attack and to fight the Soviet troops.

World reaction change

People in most countries around the world did not like what the Soviets were doing in Afghanistan. They liked how the Afghans were fighting them. Some reactions were very serious. US President Jimmy Carter said that the Soviet action was "the most serious threat to the peace since the Second World War". Carter threatened to boycott the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow unless the Soviet Union withdrew its forces by February 1980. It did not do this and so the US boycotted the Games.

Afghan reaction change

By the mid-1980s, many groups in Afghanistan had organized themselves to fight the Soviet troops. Those groups received help from many countries like United States, United Kingdom, China, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan.

Pakistan's participation change

Pakistan thought that the Soviet war in Afghanistan was also a threat to since it is right next to the country. Through its intelligence agency, the ISI, the country also started bringing active support to Afghans fighting the Soviet troops.

Soviet withdrawal change

The Soviet war in Afghanistan seemed like a war that would never end. The Soviets looked very bad in the eyes of the world for trying to control this country. Most people inside the Soviet Union did not support the war. As more and more Soviet soldiers were being killed or wounded as the war dragged on, Mikhail Gorbachev referred to the Soviet war in Afghanistan as a "bleeding wound". Finally, on 15 February 1989, after ten years of fighting with no end in sight, the Soviets decided to get out of Afghanistan.

Aftermath change

Soviet Union change

The war in Afghanistan badly affected the rule of the Soviet Communist Party. Many thought that the war was against Islam. This created strong feelings among the Muslim population of the Central Asian Soviet Republics. The Soviets had very low spirits, or "morale", because they were unable to control the people and were treated only as invaders everywhere they went. Andrei Sakharov openly said the bringing the Soviet Army into Afghanistan was wrong.

Over 15,000 Soviet troops were killed in Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989. During the war, the Soviet Army also lost hundreds of aircraft and billions worth of other military machines. Around two million Afghan men, women, and children died in the war.

Afghanistan change

Even after the Soviet Army had left Afghanistan, civil war continued in the country. For about three years, the communist government of Najibullah could managed to defend itself from the Mujahideen forces opposing it. Many groups had arisen within the government itself, and some of them supported the Mujahideen. In March 1992, General Abdul Rashid Dostam and his Uzbek militia stopped supporting the government. Soon, the Mujahideen had won Kabul and started to rule most parts of Afghanistan.

During the war, Afghanistan's economy had suffered badly. Grain production came down to 3.5% per year between 1978 and 1990. The Soviets also tried to bring commercial and industrial activities under state control, which also had a bad effect on the economy. With the breakup of the Soviet Union into many countries, Afghanistan's traditional trade also further suffered.

Western World change

At the beginning, many people and countries had praised the US for supporting groups fighting the Soviet forces, but after the September 11 attacks, people started to question the US policy of supporting and giving money to such groups. In 2001, the US occupied Afghanistan, in an effort to find Osama bin Laden. In 2021, the last forces from NATO countries left Afghanistan.

References change

  1. Barlett, Donald L.; Steele, James B. (May 13, 2003). "The Oily Americans". Time (magazine). Archived from the original on 2018-12-24. Retrieved 2008-07-08.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Interview with Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski-(13/6/97).
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Charlie Wilson: Congressman whose support for the mujahideen helped force the Soviet Union out of Afghanistan
  4. ""Reagan Doctrine, 1985," United States State Department". Retrieved 2011-02-20.
  5. Interview with Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski – (June 13, 1997). Part 2. Episode 17. Good Guys, Bad Guys. June 13, 1997.
  6. Corera, Gordon (2011). MI6: Life and Death in the British Secret Service. London: Phoenix. ISBN 978-0-7538-2833-5.
  7. Crile, George (2003). Charlie Wilson's War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History. Atlantic Monthly Press. ISBN 978-0-87113-854-5.
  8. "Saudi Arabia and the Future of Afghanistan". Archived from the original on 2014-10-07. Retrieved 2013-04-18.
  9. Borer, Douglas A. (1999). Superpowers defeated: Vietnam and Afghanistan compared. London: Cass. p. 216. ISBN 978-0-7146-4851-4.
  10. Nyrop, Richard F.; Seekins, Donald M. (January 1986). Afghanistan: A Country Study (PDF). Washington, DC: United States Government Printing Office. pp. XVIII–XXV. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2001-11-03. Retrieved 2011-01-30.
  11. Mark N. Katz (March 9, 2011). "Middle East Policy Council | Lessons of the Soviet Withdrawal from Afghanistan". Retrieved July 28, 2011.
  12. Maxime Rischard. "Al Qa'ida's American Connection". Archived from the original on November 21, 2011. Retrieved July 28, 2011.
  13. "Soviet or the USA the strongest" (in Norwegian). Retrieved July 28, 2011.
  14. "Afghanistan hits Soviet milestone – Army News". Retrieved February 15, 2012.
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2006-07-18. Retrieved 2013-04-18.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  16. DK289.A39 1992 Glazami marshala i diplomata : kriticheskiĭ vzgli︠a︡d na vneshni︠u︡i︠u︡ politiku SSSR do i posle 1985 goda / S.F. Akhromeev, G.M. Kornienko, p. 25
  17. Isby, David C. (1986-06-15). Russia's War in Afghanistan. Osprey Publishing. ISBN 978-0-85045-691-2. Retrieved February 15, 2012.
  18. Giustozzi, Antonio (2000). War, politics and society in Afghanistan, 1978–1992. Hurst. ISBN 978-1-85065-396-7. A tentative estimate for total mujahideen losses in 1980-02 may be in the 150–180,000 range, with maybe half of them killed.
  19. Noor Ahmad Khalidi, "Afghanistan: Demographic Consequences of War: 1978-87," Central Asian Survey, vol. 10, no. 3, pp. 101-126, 1991.
  20. Marek Sliwinski, "Afghanistan: The Decimation of a People," Orbis (Winter, 1989), p.39.
  21. Hilali, A. (2005). US-Pakistan relationship: Soviet Intervention in Afghanistan. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Co. (p.198)