Soviet-Afghanistan War



Many historians have exhibited interest in the Soviet-Afghanistan War. In 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan as a way of providing support in resolving the civil war that was threatening to tear the country apart. The Soviet Union and Afghanistan had been having a remarkable relationship founded on socialism. For this reason, the communist government sought to implement the socialist ideology by introducing radical changes in the society. The emergence of rebels was because of the radical transformations. It was explicit that the Afghan society was not ready to embrace socialism. The invasion went on for ten years and eventually led to the defeat of the red army. The rebel groups in Afghanistan had strong support from the United States. The defeat of the Soviet Union challenges the validity of the unity of the states based on socialism. After the war, the Soviet Union disintegrated. It is apparent that the Soviet Union sought to promote the socialist ideology through the invasion. However, it lost the war and suffered humiliation as well as a decline. These reasons explain why the Soviet-Afghanistan War has many similarities to the Vietnam War that challenges the prowess of the United States.

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The Soviet-Afghanistan War has received attention from many historians because of the role it played in disintegrating the Soviet Union. Particularly, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in December 1979. Afghanistan was facing challenges because there were rebels who did not support the Communist government in place. Due to the popularity and influence of the Soviet Union, it had a tendency of invading and intervening in support of communist governments that were in turmoil. Notably, this was during the Cold War period when the Soviet Union was making efforts of proving itself more powerful than the United States. The Soviet Union was in full support of communism and all related ideologies. The communist government in Afghanistan had similar views based on the communist ideologies. Unfortunately, the ideologies were not compatible with the Islamic religion. As a result, the rebels emerged with a commitment to oppose the communist government in power. After the invasion of Afghanistan, the Soviet Union went ahead to replace the existing leader of the government with one of their choices (Rubin, 2007). However, the Soviet-Afghanistan War would eventually lead to the defeat of the Soviet Union explaining why it has been a subject of interest to many scholars. The Soviet-Afghanistan War was fought between Afghanistan rebels called the Mujahideen, and the war is sometimes referred to as the Soviet Union’s Vietnam War.

Issue Facing the Afghanistan

Evidently, Afghanistan was facing critical issues before the invasion by the Soviet Union. Particularly, Afghanistan had a communist government in place, but there were rebels who stood up against the government. As a result, Afghanistan was in the middle of a civil war, leaving it prone to a major decline. Many historians have revealed that the civil war led to numerous adverse effects on the country. The civil war is one of the reasons why Afghanistan became a poor country. In 1978, there was an attempt by some members of the army to overthrow the existing government. However, the attempt was unsuccessful. The Mujahideen rebels were relentless in their efforts to oppose the government and fight for their religion (Braithwaite, 2011). They were determined to bring down the communist government and establish a government that was compatible with their religion. The rebels belonged to tribal and urban groups that advocated for social reforms. Many of these reforms were anticommunist. However, the government in place had its commitment to the communist form of government. The rebels sought to bring change in their country because they were not in support of communist policies. The relentlessness of the Mujahideen explains why the civil war continued for a long time. The civil war destabilized Afghanistan and threatened the government in place.

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Prior to the invasion by the Soviet Union, the Afghan Government had introduced radical transformations that promoted communism. The new government sought to establish communism radically irrespective of the domination of the Islamic religion in various aspects of the people’s lives. Afghanistan had always been a feudal society and was not ready for the establishment of socialism. The government transformations focused on the agricultural sector, religion, as well as national identity. The government sought to destroy the existing village management that had existed for many centuries (Feifer, 2009). For this reason, ethnic tensions emerged in different parts of Afghanistan with a major resistance from the rebels and the clergymen. Evidently, the new government did not recognize the expectations of the people. On the contrary, the government went ahead to introduce transformations without the support of the people. As a result, the government committed serious mistakes in altering the socioeconomic aspects of life and threatened ethnicity and religion. These actions from the government fueled the agitation from the masses and the clergymen who were not willing to compromise on their social structure and religion. The people had the conviction that the government in power was unable to meet their needs. Since the government promoted a completely different ideology, it was difficult for the leaders to understand the expectations of the people.

The government was unable to exert control on the tensions and conflicts that ad emerged in Afghanistan. Moreover, the government proved unreliable because it had lost the support of the military and the public. There was a major breakdown of power after the attempted coups. The government would only have resolved the ongoing conflict by introducing flexible policies. Unfortunately, the new government considered the communist ideologies as important. The government subjected the clergymen to persecution at different incidents. As a result, the Muslim clergymen were against the government in power. Some of the military men joined the rebels, explaining why the rebel groups prove relentless and strong. Because of all these aspects, Afghanistan became desperate and was on the verge of collapsing due to the ongoing conflicts and civil war. Based on the increasing number of the members forming the rebel groups, it was explicit that the government was not in a place to control the situation (Rubin, 2007). The conflict heightened a factor that frustrated the government, making it impossible for the leaders to implement their radical transformations effectively. The rebels posed a major threat to the government as well as on the communist ideology.

Root Causes of the Soviet-Afghanistan War

As mentioned above, the policies introduced by the communist government contributed significantly to the development of the civil war and unrest in Afghanistan. However, the root cause of the civil war was the external influence of the Soviet Union. Particularly, the Soviet Union had been spreading its influence over different countries to promote the communist ideologies. The Afghan government embraced communism due to the external influence. Unfortunately, members of the public were not in support of the communist ideologies. The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan as a way of enhancing its influence. Particularly, the Soviet Union sought to provide support to the communist government and help it resolve the conflict. The communist government was facing a great threat from the rebels. The Soviet Union joined in with the hope that it would bring down the rebel groups and strengthen the communist government (Braithwaite, 2011). The Soviet Union had the conviction that it would easily bring down the rebel groups. The Soviet Union leaders saw an opportunity to promote the socialist and communist ideologies by promoting the interests of the government in Afghanistan. The rebels were against socialism and communism and had close ties with capitalists. It was evident that the Soviet Union had underestimated the capacity of the rebels. Initially, the Soviet Union leaders were of the view that they would easily bring down the rebels and end the civil war. Unfortunately, the Soviet-Afghanistan War persisted for more than a decade.

A critical analysis of the root causes of Soviet invasion reveals that the Soviet Union leaders sought to promote their geopolitical interests in the Middle East. The Soviet Union had been striving to win more allies from different regions. For this reason, the leaders were of the view that the invasion of Afghanistan would serve to increase the soft power attached to the socialist ideology. Soviet Union leaders had the conviction that the Middle East region would begin to view socialism and communism favorably after the invasion. The Soviet Union had developed an ambiguous approach of expanding its interests. Particularly, the ambiguity was evident because the Soviet Union leaders considered ideology as a primary interest that surpassed state interests. On the other hand, the leaders highlighted that ideology helped in the understanding of state interests (Feifer, 2009). For this reason, the Soviet Union was determined to protect and promote the socialist ideology. The leaders from Moscow were highly assertive when it came to their foreign policy. They defended their foreign interests aggressively a factor that motivated them to move into Afghanistan and save the communist government under attack. The leaders were well aware that the rebels received support from the United States, which was the greatest enemy.

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Impact of the War on the Forces

The war had devastating effects on the Soviet Red Army. It was apparent that the Soviet Union had underestimated the capacity of the rebels in Afghanistan. The rebels managed to pose a great threat to the red army. The army faced the compulsion to adjust to the unfavorable environment in Afghanistan. The weather was unfavorable and the harsh climatic conditions threatened the endurance of the soldiers. Having to adjust to an extremely different climate and environment threatened the survival of the red army (Rubin, 2007). Notably, the Soviet Union had often perceived its army as having a measure of superiority because of the important role it played during the Second World War. The Moscow leaders believed that the red army was in a position to defend their interests.

The army had been playing an important role in domestic politics. Since the army comprised members from various nationalities, it was viewed as a representative of socialism and communism. When the Soviet Union deployed the red army in Afghanistan, it strongly believed that the army would do its best to protect the interests of the communist ideology (Braithwaite, 2011). The war served to taint the image of the red army and changed the people’s perception towards its outstanding strengths. Apparently, the red army failed terribly in its efforts to defeat the rebels in Afghanistan. Despite the organization of the red army, it was impossible for it to defeat the different rebel groups in Afghanistan.

These rebel groups relied on weapons and other materials supplied by the United States and other capitalist allies. The defeat of the army had far-reaching effects because it signified the disintegration of the different nations making up the Soviet Union (Feifer, 2009). The war registered numerous casualties among the red army soldiers. As a result, the Soviet Union leaders developed a different view of the military role. There was a prevailing demilitarization agenda in the Soviet Society. The defeat of the Red Army promoted this agenda. In the 1989 elections, Russians elected leaders who promoted the demilitarization agenda.


Recommendations to Correct the Communist Government

The communist government made critical mistakes that led to the war. The government assumed that the Afghan society was ready for socialism. Unfortunately, the realities on the ground revealed that the society was not receptive to communist practices. The government gave little regard to the tribal society that had been dominant in Afghanistan. Such mistakes explain why there was an increased rebellion from the public. The communist government should have given attention to the readiness of the society to embrace socialism. The government needed to view socialism in the context of the Afghan society. Each country had unique factors that had the capacity to determine whether socialism would thrive. The radical implementation of socialism under the influence of the Soviet Union was a wrong move. The communist government needed to embrace flexible policies that were compatible with the religious and traditional setting of the Afghan society (Rubin, 2007). For any government in the Middle East to disregard religious aspect translated to failure. For this reason, the communist government needed to apply the socialist and communist ideologies with caution and flexibility.


The Soviet-Afghanistan War was responsible for the decline of the Soviet Union. Particularly, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan to provide support to the communist government that was facing resistance from the rebels. However, it was impossible for the red army to defeat the rebels who received funding and materials from the United States. After an entire decade, the red army was defeated and had to leave Afghanistan. Since the army was a strong defender of socialism in the Soviet Union, the defeat posed a major threat to the unity of the different states. The Russians began to view the army differently and were in support of demilitarization. It was evident that the Afghan society was not ready to embrace socialism. The government made critical mistakes by compelling the society to abandon traditional and religious systems in support of socialism (Feifer, 2009). Since the traditional and religious settings were incompatible with socialism, members of the public and the military rebelled against the government. Scholars have compared the defeat of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan to the defeat of the United States in the Vietnam War.

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Did you like this sample?
  1. Braithwaite, R. (2011). Afgantsy: The Russians in Afghanistan 1979-89. London: Profile.
  2. Feifer, G. (2009). The great gamble: The Soviet war in Afghanistan. New York: Harper.
  3. Rubin, B. R. (2007). The fragmentation of Afghanistan: State formation and collapse in the international system. New Haven, Conn: Yale Univ. Press.
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