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date: 26 July 2021

The United States and the Soviet-Afghan War, 1979–1989locked

The United States and the Soviet-Afghan War, 1979–1989locked

  • Conor TobinConor TobinUniversity College Dublin


In December 1979, Soviet troops entered the small, poor, landlocked, Islamic nation of Afghanistan, assassinated the communist president, Hafizullah Amin, and installed a more compliant Afghan leader. For almost ten years, Soviet troops remained entrenched in Afghanistan before finally withdrawing in February 1989. During this period, the United States undertook a covert program to assist the anti-communist Afghan insurgents—the mujahideen—to resist the Soviet occupation. Beginning with President Jimmy Carter’s small-scale authorization in July 1979, the secret war became the largest in history under President Ronald Reagan, running up to $700 million per year. The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) acted as the war’s quartermaster, arranging supplies of weapons for the mujahideen, which were funneled through Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence directorate (ISI), in coordination with Saudi Arabia, China, Egypt, and others. No Americans were directly involved in the fighting, and the overall cost to the American taxpayer was in the region of $2 billion. The Afghan cost was much higher. Over a million Afghans were killed, a further two million wounded, and over six million refugees fled to neighboring Pakistan and Iran. For the Soviet Union, the ten-year war constituted its largest military action in the postwar era, and the long and protracted nature of the conflict and the failure of the Red Army to subdue the Afghans is partially responsible for the internal turmoil that contributed to the eventual breakup of the Soviet empire at the end of the 1980s. The defeat of the Soviet 40th Army in Afghanistan proved to be the final major superpower battle of the Cold War, but it also marked the beginning of a new era. The devastation and radicalization of Afghan society resulted in the subsequent decades of continued conflict and warfare and the rise of militant Islamic fundamentalism that has shaped the post-Cold War world.


  • 20th Century: Post-1945
  • Foreign Relations and Foreign Policy

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