Soviet–Afghan War

1979–1989 war between the Soviet Union and Afghan insurgents
(Redirected from Soviet war in Afghanistan)

The Soviet–Afghan War, or the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, was a war that was initially fought between the forces of the communist government of Afghanistan and fighters who were supported from abroad. Without proper equipment and training, the communist government was unable to resist the opposition, known as the mujahideen, and so it eventually sought the aid of the Soviet Union.

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)

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

Afghan Mujahideen
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
Mullah Omar
Abdul Haq
Abdullah Azzam
Ismail Khan
Gulbuddin Hekmatyar
Jalaluddin Haqqani
Mullah Naqib
Abdul Rahim Wardak
Fazal Haq Mujahid
Burhanuddin Rabbani
Osama bin Laden
Ayman al-Zawahiri

Soviet Forces:

|Afghan Forces:


Casualties and losses

Soviet Forces:

14,453 Killed (total)

  • 9,500 killed in combat[7]
  • 4,000 died from wounds[7]
  • 1,000 died from disease and accidents[7]

53,753 Wounded[7]

312 Missing[8]

Afghan Forces:

18,000 killed[9]


75,000–90,000 killed, 75,000+ wounded (tentative estimate)[10]

Civilians (Afghan):

850,000–2,000,000 killed[11][12]

5 million refugees outside of Afghanistan

2 million refugees in Afghanistan

Around 3 million Afghans wounded (mostly civilians)[13]

Civilians (Soviet):

Around 100 dead

The war began on 25 December 1979, when the Soviets brought their 40th Army to fight in Afghanistan. The Soviets' entry to the country caused an immediate increase in the presence of foreign involvement, and Islamists from around the world who came to Afghanistan to join the mujahideen.

The Soviets' assive military campaigns against the mujahideen, who blended in with the local population, caused extensive destruction of local infrastructure and loss of lives, which made the local population side with the mujahideen. That caused a loss of support for the Soviet military presence and eventually created a nationwide resistance during the conflict.

On 15 May 1988, the Soviet troops started to leave Afghanistan, which continued until 2 February 1989. On 15 February 1989, the Soviets announced that all of their troops had left Afghanistan.

During the war, about 15,000 Soviet soldiers had been killed and about 35,000 wounded. About two million Afghan civilians had been killed. The mujahideen were supported by many countries such as Pakistan, the United States, and Saudi Arabia.



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

Soviet deployment


Hafizullah Amin


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



On 22 December 1979, Soviet advisers to the Afghan Army took many steps. They stopped all telecommunication links in Kabul, the Afghan capital. 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 in Kabul. The troops wore uniforms similar to the Afghan Army. At 7:00 pm, the Soviet troops destroyed communications int he city and stopped all communication among Afghan troops. At 7:15 pm, Soviet troops entered Tajbeg Palace. In the morning of 28 December, the first part of the military action had been finished, and Amin and his two sons had been killed.

The Soviets announced the 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


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

Moscow's decision to occupy


The Afghan government asked the Soviet Union many times to send troops. Despite the Soviets' treaty with Afghanistan to assist, the Soviets resisted because they feared a quagmire like the Vietnam War. They 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 initially, the Soviets responded with only intelligence and advisors.



Soviet operations


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

World reaction


People in most countries around the world did not like what the Soviet Union did Afghanistan and liked how the Afghans were fighting it. 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." He threatened to boycott the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow unless the Soviet Union withdrew its forces by February 1980. It did not do that and so the US boycotted the Games.

Afghan reaction


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 thought that the Soviet war in Afghanistan was also a threat to since both countries share a border. Through its intelligence agency, the ISI, Pakistan also started bringing active support to Afghans fighting the Soviet troops.

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.

Soviet withdrawal


The Soviet war in Afghanistan seemed like a war that would never end. The Soviets looked very bad in world opinion for trying to control Afghanitan. 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, Sviet Premier 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 leave Afghanistan.



Soviet Union


The war in Afghanistan badly affected the rule of the Soviet Communist Party. Many in the world thought that the war was against Islam, which created strong feelings among the Muslim population of the Central Asian 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 to 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.



Even after the Soviets had left Afghanistan, civil war continued in the country. For about three years, the communist government of Mohammad Najibullah managed to defend itself from the mujahideen, which fought 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 of the country.

In 2001, the US launched an invasion of Afghanistan in an effort to find Osama bin Laden. In 2021, the US announced its withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the last forces from NATO countries left Afghanistan on 30 August 2021. Kabul was captured by the Taliban on 15 August 2021.

Western world


During the war, many people and countries in the western world praised the US for supporting groups fighting the Soviet forces, but after the September 11 attacks, some people started to question the US policy of supporting and giving money to such groups.


  1. Borer, Douglas A. (1999). Superpowers defeated: Vietnam and Afghanistan compared. London: Cass. p. 216. ISBN 978-0-7146-4851-4.
  2. 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.
  3. Mark N. Katz (March 9, 2011). "Middle East Policy Council | Lessons of the Soviet Withdrawal from Afghanistan". Retrieved July 28, 2011.
  4. Maxime Rischard. "Al Qa'ida's American Connection". Archived from the original on November 21, 2011. Retrieved July 28, 2011.
  5. "Soviet or the USA the strongest" (in Norwegian). Archived from the original on June 10, 2012. Retrieved July 28, 2011.
  6. "Afghanistan hits Soviet milestone – Army News". Retrieved February 15, 2012.
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 "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)
  8. 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
  9. Isby, David C. (1986-06-15). Russia's War in Afghanistan. Osprey Publishing. ISBN 978-0-85045-691-2. Retrieved February 15, 2012.
  10. 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.
  11. Noor Ahmad Khalidi, "Afghanistan: Demographic Consequences of War: 1978-87," Central Asian Survey, vol. 10, no. 3, pp. 101-126, 1991.
  12. Marek Sliwinski, "Afghanistan: The Decimation of a People," Orbis (Winter, 1989), p.39.
  13. Hilali, A. (2005). US-Pakistan relationship: Soviet Intervention in Afghanistan. Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Co. (p.198)

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