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Back to Afghanistan History

:: The Soviets in Afghanistan ::

Brzezinski's fears that the U.S.S.R. would take advantage of the arc of crisis seemed justified when the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan in 1979. It is likely, however, that the Soviets were responding to a crisis of their own rather than trying to exploit another's. Remote and rugged Afghanistan had been an object of imperialist intrigue throughout the 19th and 20th centuries because of its vulnerable location between the Russian and British Indian empires. After 1955, with India and Pakistan independent, the Afghan government of Mohammad Daud Khan forged economic and military ties to the U.S.S.R. The monarchy was overthrown by Daud Khan in 1973 and was succeeded by a one-party state. The small Afghan Communist party, meanwhile, broke into factions, while a fundamentalist Muslim group began an armed insurrection in 1975. Daud Khan worked to lessen Afghanistan's dependence on Soviet and U.S. aid, and he reportedly had a heated disagreement with Brezhnev himself during a visit to Moscow in April 1977. Leftists in the Afghan officer corps, perhaps fearing a blow against themselves, murdered Daud Khan in April 1978 and pledged to pursue friendly relations with the U.S.S.R. Thus Afghanistan, under the rule of Nur Mohammad Taraki, was virtually in the Soviet camp. When Taraki objected to a purge of the Afghan Cabinet, however, the leader of a rival faction, Hafizullah Amin, had him arrested and killed. These intramural Communist quarrels both embarrassed the Soviets and threatened to destabilize the Afghan regime in the face of growing Muslim resistance. In the fall of 1979 the Soviets built up their military strength across the border and hinted to American diplomats that they might feel obliged to intervene. On Dec. 25, 1979, the Soviet army began its occupation, and two days later a coup d'état led to the murder of Amin and the installation of Babrak Karmal, a creature of the KGB who had been brought into the country by Soviet paratroops.

The Soviets would probably have preferred to work through a pliant native regime rather than invade Afghanistan, but Amin's behavior and Moscow's unwillingness to risk a domestic overthrow of a Communist regime forced their hand. The invasion, therefore, appeared to be an application of the Brezhnev Doctrine and was all the more pressing given that the Central Asian provinces of the Soviet Union were also vulnerable to the rise of Islamic fundamentalism. The United States was tardy in responding to the 1978 coup despite Carter's concern over the arc of crisis and the murder of the U.S. ambassador in Kabul in February 1979. At the same time, the Soviet invasion aroused American suspicions of a grand strategy aimed at seizing a warm-water port on the Indian Ocean and the oil of the Persian Gulf. Over the course of the next decade, however, the puppet Afghan regime lost all authority with the people, Afghan soldiers defected in large numbers, and the Muslim and largely tribal resistance, armed with U.S. and Chinese weapons, held out in the mountains against more than 100,000 Soviet troops and terror bombing of their villages. More than 5,000,000 Afghans became refugees in Pakistan and Iran. Western observers soon began to speak of Afghanistan as the Soviets' Vietnam.



 
 

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