Afghan/Soviet Invasion and the Local Struggles Against it
The Afghan/Soviet invasion lasted for nine years, and it involved combat between the Soviet forces and the insurgents of Mujahideen who wanted to overthrow the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) from power. The Soviet Union was in support of the government who implemented the Marxist view towards power while the Mujahideen received support from both Pakistan and the United States. The conflict can be attributed to being a proxy war between two superpowers who never met in direct confrontation. The Soviet attack began on December 25th, 1979 when the Soviet Union deployed its 40th Army to Afghanistan and withdrawal ended on 15th February 1989. The attack was characterized by massive losses of lives and a crippling cost of war that essentially formed the basis for the collapse of the Soviet Union. The war was an attempt by the Soviet Union to spread forcefully and violently communism and was a product of Marxist expansionism. The Soviet Union was rather unsuccessful in its venture due to the proper organization of the Mujahideen in guerilla warfare who primarily implemented theories of proper revolution and insurgency.
The theories of revolution and insurgency have been largely presented by Fredrick Engel, James Scott, and Mao Zedong. The three believe that there are stages that must be followed for an insurgency group to properly mount a successful revolution campaign against any government and even a super power. Engel for instant believes that a peasant war is impossible due to disorganization and is often characterized by lumpenproletariat that can be easily bought. The best approach, therefore, is to start the war with small groups who are largely clustered in the countryside and supported by the indigenous in society and even sometimes the middle class. It is advisable not to engage in direct conflict with the super powers or the army but rather form quick unruly attacks that intimidate and weakens the enemy. Mao suggests that organization and preservation of base areas of the insurgency should be in isolated terrains, and progressive expansion and terror attacks should be made on isolated enemy units to obtain political support and other supplies of warfare. James Scott reiterates the importance of keeping the local support and control by taxing them and regaining their control if at all the enemy attacks and gains control. Of importance is that all three suggest that usually the insurgency is weaker than the enemy in this case often the government or superpower that have superior warfare techniques and armory. The insurgency is at an advantage though because of the knowledge of the difficult terrain, support from the poor and indigenous people and the control they have in their base areas. These theories were properly implemented by the insurgency movements of local people within Afghanistan to defeat properly the Soviet Union and force them into withdrawing from their country.
Background to the invasion
It is imperative to analyze briefly the nature of the development of the revolution in Afghanistan and factors that contributed to the uprising of the local people living in the region. The country is a mountainous nation where only a fifth of the land can be cultivated and has only 20 million individuals living within a small area. Its strategic position made it susceptible to foreign invasion in the 20th century, and it was mainly a feudal state. On the basis of the feudal system, the country had no hope of going forward since about 90% of the men and 95% of the women were illiterate. Only 5% of the population owned more than 50% of the fertile land within the nation, and there was no infrastructure regarding railways and road (Goodson 56). It is only in the 20th century that Russia implored on the nation to adopt a road system that it largely financed. The Soviet bureaucracy initially supported the monarchist regime but after Daoud overthrew it, they shifted their support towards him. The Daoud regime was largely corrupt and orchestrated conditions of mass misery within the nation, and this led to a proletarian Bonapartist coup. In this system, capitalism and landlordism are abolished but power is still held by one party under the military-police dictatorship in a sense that it is never democratic. The indigenous people in the country were not involved in the new government and still felt that they were being oppressed by a system that did not look out for their interests.
The revolution and coup against Daoud needed to take on a different direction where trade unions could be formed that could engage everyone in the country about the atrocities that were being carried on. Instead, the 1978 coup was based on a movement of the elite both in the army and top layers of professionals living in cities. The small working class did not have any trade union organizations, and there was no movement of the masses. The few who took part in the coup acted from a sense of self-preservation since they were being targeted by the Daoud government and had the idea of bringing Afghanistan into the modern world. At their onset to power, they immediately abolished debts of peasants and engaged in land reforms and nationalization of resources they deemed fit to be owned by the nation. These were important reforms for the nation, but the largely poor population need not have any information on the reforms that were to take place. A proper revolution should start from the bottom where masses are engaged actively in a bid to solicit their support. In the case of Afghanistan, the revolution began at the top where the elite living in cities were isolated from the majority of the illiterate populations that lived in mountains and the countryside. Other reforms that were proposed included the abolition of ‘bride price’ and the sale of women to prospective husbands, which was not supported by those who were illiterate. The program meant for the abolition of illiteracy involved both men and women, and this was fiercely resented by the population that was largely backward and violently reactionary (Kaplan 115).
Using the reasons stated above and other adverse superstitions from the peasantry, mountain tribesmen who had been incited by riff-raffs, monarchists, landlords, and Muslim reactionaries began to organize guerilla war against the new government that had been set up in Kabul. The government did not have a firm hold on all the mountain tribesmen and this applied to the new revolutionary government that had been formed under Taraki. The rebellion and insurgency began by an upsurge of thousands of disunited tribesmen and groupings who were largely found in different mountains and valleys and who mostly bandits and criminals out were out to loot and amass wealth for themselves. The revolting tribesmen lacked unison, and it was known that given the best conditions these rebels could never sustain any national war against the Kabul regime. However, the disunited rabble had support from their local dynasties who they taxed and relied on for supplies and were backed by funding from Saudi Arabia and arms from Pakistan and China. Since the government at Kabul supported communism and were in partnership with the Soviet Union, the United States also supported the rebels through the CIA and supplied them with both money and arms.
These uprising caused tensions within top ranks, and presidents were either exiled or executed to establish control over the reactionary mullahs and put an end to the rebellions in the mountains. The president at the time of the invasion was Amin, who was maneuvered by the Russians under terms of a joint friendship treaty and instituted Karmal, who had been exiled before as president and executed Amin. These had an adverse effect on the Afghan army since their morale had already been undermined by repeated purges. The Russian therefore brought in their troops to quell the rebellions that were taking place on the mountain to have complete control over the expansive Afghanistan region and establish a proper communist government that was not opposed by any force within the nation.
The organization of the Mujahideen and defeat of Soviet Union
When the Soviet intervened in Afghanistan, they engaged with various opposition groups in battle and entered the nation in two ground routes essentially taking control of the major urban centers, strategic installations, and military bases. The presence of Soviet troops did not pacify the country has expected, but it instead exacerbated a nationalist ideology that caused rebellions to spread further. The Afghan army had proved to be untrustworthy in quelling the rebellion, and the Soviet troops had to be drawn into fighting against tribal armies that were referred to as Iashkar, urban uprisings, and even mutinying Afghan Army units. The Soviet forces engaged in open battles and utilized their superior airpower and artillery to win these wars. Soviet troops took a more active role in the offensive and were deployed in strategic areas in the north along roads from Kabul to Termez and in the West so as to counter attacks from Iran. The Afghanistan government did not have control of almost 80% of the nation. Periodically the Soviet Army would organize multi-divisional offensives into the rebel-controlled areas especially in the Panjshir Valley but their control of such areas would never improve since the Mujahideen would impose back their power as soon as the Soviets left (Ali Ahmad Jalali 36). Fighting in the west and the south was often sporadic except in Kandahar and Herat that were semi-controlled by the resistance.
The Afghan army forces did not take an active role in the war because they had high desertion rates and did not want to fight essentially because the Soviet forces would push them to infantry roles in war while they stayed behind to man artillery and armored vehicles. The Afghan army was so ineffective in quelling the rebellion because they lacked morale in supporting the communist government and were serving to collect the paycheck simply. The Soviets had to engage physically in this war, and they applied three tactics in a bid to quell the revolt. Their first tactic was to intimidate the enemy by using airborne attacks and armored ground attacks to destroy crops, livestock, and villages that supported the uprising. The second tactic would be to send spies to join resistance groups and report information as well as bribing local tribes to stop their operations and support a communist government. The third strategy comprised of using military forays in areas being contested so as to root out rebelling forces and limit their options. This strategy relied on the Afghan secret police known as KHAD that would gather intelligence, spread false information, and infiltrate Mujahideen forces. All the strategies were never successful in ensuring they warn the war since the Mujahideen fought in guerilla warfare that was largely decentralized but highly effective (Grau 28).
The Mujahideen were largely successful due to the support they got from Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, United Kingdom, China, and the United States. In the course of the insurgency, leadership in the region was distinctively associated with ‘commander’ title that applied to independent leaders. The war produced leaders of reputation who were given the same ranks as the general of armed forces that signified the pride in self-efficiency, independence, and distinct ties to their local communities. The title was also a sign of the epitomized Afghan pride that was associated with the fight against a powerful foe that was against what the common people wanted. Religious leadership and the segmentation of power were the two values that were evoked by the nomenclature that led to war. The insurrection in Afghanistan took the form of resistance that was born in chaos and utilized chaos to propagate its power over the wider Afghan nation. Regional warlords waged all of the war in Afghanistan and their leaders became more sophisticated in war by marshaling international support and coordinating regional conflicts.
Guerilla warfare in Afghanistan was organized at an estimated 4,000 bases from which the Mujahideen units operated from. These bases were affiliated with seven expatriate parties that had their headquarters in Pakistan that served as sources of supply and had varying degrees of supervision. Commanders often led an average of 300 men who controlled several bases and dominated a district or even a subdivision of a province. The most ambitious commander at the end of the revolt was Ahmad Shah Massoud, who led more than 10,000 trained troopers and had the control of the north. Tribal structures and rival sub-divisions formed the basis of military leadership and organization that was linked to the traditional fighting allegiances of tribal forces. Mobilization for the war came from political leadership that was largely tied to Islam and minority communities often revered saints, and networks were able to be spread through minority communities that were foundations for leadership, indoctrination, organization, and communication.
The Mujahideen took the front of sabotage operations in guerilla warfare that encompassed the damaging of power lines, radio stations, knocking out of pipelines, destructions of air terminals, cinemas, hotels, and blowing up of government offices. Their operations began from 1985 to 1987 where on average they committed 600 terrorist acts each year. For instance, in the border region with Pakistan the rebel movement would launch over 800 rockets each day and between 1985 and 1987 they carried out over 23,500 shelling attacks on government targets. The Mujahideen would often survey firing positions that were normally located close to villages that were within the ranges of Soviet artillery posts thereby putting the villagers in such areas in grave danger, especially from Soviet retaliation. The Mujahideen further utilized land mines heavily, and they would usually enlist services of local inhabitants even o the point of recruiting children. Such rebels concentrated on both military targets and suspected civilians who appeared to support the Soviet Union (Goodson 57). The rebels knocked out bridges and closed major roads as they attacked convoys and disrupted the electric power system and industrial production as they attacked Soviet military targets and police stations. They further took part in assassinating government officials and the members of PDPA and laid siege to small rural outposts. For instance in 1982, a bomb exploded at the Ministry of Education offices thereby damaging several buildings within that region. During the same month, there was a widespread power failure that darkened the wider region of Kabul due to the destruction of the Naghlu power station that was blown up and this led to a huge loss of life. In June 1982, about 1,000 young members of the Communist party set out to work in Panjshir valley but they did not make it to their destination since they were ambushed when they were 30km away from Kabul and extensively murdered if not captured. Insurgents were very active in shooting down planes and on September 4th, 1985, a domestic Bakhtar Airlines plane was shot down as it took off from Kandahar airport thereby killing every person in the plane that is an estimated amount of 52 people (Grau 87).
The Mujahideen groups that were often utilized for assassinations comprised of three to five people and they would often receive their mission to kill specific government officials. After receipt of missions to kill they would engage in serious study of the pattern of lives of their victims and selecting the most effective method of fulfilling their mission. These mercenaries would practice shooting at automobiles, shooting out of them, laying out mines in government houses, rigging explosive charges in transport, and even utilizing poison to kill their victims. These small uprisings and uncoordinated attacks that were often unexpected proved too difficult for the Soviet Union to quash. The Mujahideen decentralized system of attacks and numerous bases that engaged in different attacks were the main reason they were able to successfully prevent the Soviet Union from inhibiting their course. They even went as far as marshaling up support from the Afghan army deserters and having the support of the local people. Among their successful initiatives was the infiltration of the KHAD that was like a controlled government militia. KHAD provided large salaries and proper weapons, and these would attract a large group of recruits who were not largely loyal to the communist cause. In fact, most of the recruits were members of the Mujahideen, and they joined in a bid to procure arms and money as well as gather information about forthcoming military operations (Kaplan 115). It is through the successful implementation of the theories proposed by Engel, Zedong, and Scott that the Mujahideen launched a successful insurgency against the Soviet Union and successfully drove them out from Afghanistan.
Ali Ahmad Jalali, Lester W. Grau. The Other Side of the Mountain: Mujahideen Tactics in the Soviet-Afghan War. Tales End Press, 2012.
Goodson, Larry P. “Afghanistan’s Endless War: State Failure, Regional Politics, and the Rise of the Taliban.” University of Washington Press (2001): 56-57.
Grau, Lester W, and Michael A. Gress. The Soviet-Afghan War: How a Superpower Fought and Lost. University Press of Kansas: Lawrence, Kan, 2002.
Kaplan, Robert D. “Soldiers of God: With Islamic Warriors in Afghanistan and Pakistan.” Vintage Departures (2001): 115.