Ed Warner

Veteran Journalist

Soviets Invade Afghanistan

Posted on | December 30, 1999 | Comments Off on Soviets Invade Afghanistan

INTRO:  On December 27, twenty years ago, Soviet troops crossed the border into Afghanistan, triggering a chain of events that shook the world. Alarmed nations, the United States above all, increased their defense spending and took stronger action against Soviet expansionism. The heroic Afghan resistance drew the invaders into a quagmire that contributed to the Soviet Union’s eventual collapse. Moscow’s miscalculation changed the globe in a way it had not expected. VOA’s Ed Warner looks back on that pivotal decision to invade.

TEXT:  The Soviets were on a roll, recalls Thomas Guttierre, Director of the Center for Afghanistan Studies at the University of Nebraska. History seemed to be going their way, and they wanted to extend their reach toward the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf. Control of Afghanistan would help them get there.

They had an excuse to intervene because the pro-Soviet government in Kabul, capital of Afghanistan, seemed on the verge of collapse.  So the fateful decision was made, says Mr. Guttierre, without qualms:

// Guttierre act //

I think they had no anticipation really that the war in Afghanistan would be as difficult as it was because they felt that Afghans, who did not enjoy a very high standard of living, would be appreciative of the fact that they would be getting more resources through the Soviet system.

// end act //

But the Afghans elected to fight, and the rest is history. Thomas Greene, a former US diplomat who served in Afghanistan, says a hardy mountain people who loved their country were not about to give it up:

// Greene act //

They repeatedly repelled invaders over the years. They threw the British out twice in the 1840’s and the late 1870’s and were not going to let anybody take over their country. There were also religious reasons. The resistance was very closely allied with preserving Islam, their faith, and the Soviet regime was seen as a godless regime.

// end act //

The Afghan resistance received aid from many countries, but US help was crucial. This took the Soviets by surprise, says Mr. Greene, since they had noted the weak US response to the seizing of American hostages in Iran. In their opinion, the United States remained a post-Vietnam paper tiger.

In fact, the invasion galvanized opinion in the United States, leading to an arms build-up and all-out aid to the Afghan resistance. That tipped the scales, says Mr. Guttierre:

// Guttierre act //

The Soviets began to understand that when the United States made commitments with humanitarian assistance as well as military assistance, the United States ­– unlike so many chapters in its history – was really committed to this over the long term and was not going to pull out. I think they also became convinced that the Afghans were going to fight to the last Afghan, if need be, and it just became too much for them to be able to deal with.

// end act //

Empire also became too difficult to deal with, says Mr. Guttierre. The humiliating retreat from Afghanistan in 1989 was soon followed by the smashing of the Berlin wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Afghans can take their share of credit for these events.

Yet they remain tragically at war.  Mr. Greene says this is the result of the way they received aid in their struggle against the Soviets:

// Greene act //

By the time the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, Iran had already become hostile to the United States. So the only channel we could get supplies to the resistance was through Pakistan, and Pakistan had a very clear vision of a planned Islamic regime in Kabul, one that would be friendly and not intermittently hostile the way the Afghans had been in the 1950’s, 60’s and70’s.

// end act //

Backed by Pakistan, the Taleban have now gained control of most of the country, though their harsh rule is still contested. Mr. Guttierre says Afghanistan remains a country ruled by intimidation, not by choice. The war started by the Soviets will not really be over until Afghans are free to choose their own future.

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"Master of Narrative"

~Ted Lipien


This website contains the collected works, recent articles and continuing blog posts from veteran journalist Ed Warner who has been reporting for more than 55 years. Ed wrote for Time Magazine from 1958-1982 and wrote, edited and reported for the Voice of America from 1983-2005. He continues to freelance today and his articles have appeared in The American Conservative and on AntiWar.com and other news websites. More...

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