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Print version. Published on site Rusnet.NL 8 December 2003

Encyclopedia :: A :: Afghanistan War

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Conflict between anti-Communist Afghan guerrillas and Afghan government and the USSR.

In 1978, a coup installed a new Afghan Communist government under Nur Mohammad Taraki. In 1979, another coup, which brought in Hafizullah Amin, resulted in an invasion (December, 1979) of USSR forces and the installation of Babrak Karmal as president.

The number of Soviet troops, originally estimated at 30,000, grew to 100,000, and the conflict settled into a stalemate.

The Muslims were supported by aid from the US, China, and Saudi Arabia, channelled through Pakistan, and from Iran. Although the USSR had superior weapons and complete air control, the rebels successfully eluded them.

As the war progressed, the rebels improved their organisation and tactics and began using imported and captured weapons, included US anti-aircraft missiles, to neutralise the technological advantages of the USSR. In 1986, Karmal resigned and Mohammad Najibullah became head of a collective leadership.

In February 1988, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev announced the withdrawal of USSR troops, which was completed one year later.

In the spring of 1992, Najibullah's government collapsed and after 14 years of rule by the People's Democratic Party, Kabul fell to a coalition of Mujahidin under the leadership of Ahmed Shah Massoud. Sporadic fighting continued for months between the new government, which now included the surviving elements of the Afghanistan army, and the fundamentalist Hezb-i-Islami group.

The conflict took a heavy toll in human life. More than 1 million Afghans died in the war and 5 million became refugees in neighbouring countries. In addition, 15,000 Soviet soldiers were killed and 37,000 wounded.

The war left Afghanistan with severe political, economic, and ecological problems. Economic production has been drastically curtailed and much of the land has been laid waste.