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Soviet Union Invasion
of Afghanistan

Afghan War News > History > Soviet Afghan War

The Soviets invaded Afghanistan on December 24, 1979. The intervention was initially planned as a limited incursion to restore stability to a communist government in Afghanistan. However, the Soviet Union was to stay for about ten years, finally withdrawing in 1989.

Soviet Troops in Afghanistan
Soviet Troops In Afghanistan (Department of Defense)

Reasons the Soviet Union Invaded Afghanistan

Historians cite a number of reasons for the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union. One of the primary reasons was to put an end to the internal political tensions among the Communists in power in the Afghan government and to assist the Afghan Army in defeating the Mujahideen insurgency that threatened the Afghan government and possibly the Central Asian region within the Soviet Union.

The West's View on the Soviet Motives
for the Invasion of Afghanistan

Some observers of the Soviet-Afghan conflict point to the defensive nature of the invasion - the quest to ensure the survival of a friendly communist nation within the Soviet sphere of influence. Others pointed out that the invasion was a first step to acquiring access to the Indian Ocean - less than 300 miles from Afghanistan - and a major throughway for the shipping of oil.

Mistakes Made by the Soviets

Understanding Afghanistan. The Soviets lacked an understanding of the cultural, religious, and regional aspects of the Afghan population. The belief that a strong centralized government offering social reform and economic programs would provide support to that centralized government was missplaced. The concept of nationhood was rejected by a rural population that placed more emphasis on clan, tribe, ethnic, and religious allegiance.

Understanding an Insurgency. The Soviets were prepared to fight a short intervention where its troops would protect major garrisons and airfields while the Afghan Army would root out and kill the insurgents. The Soviets quickly found out the Afghan Army was not up to the task and that the Soviet Army was ill-suited and untrained in counterinsurgency.

Outside Support to the Mujihadeen

There were many countries that aided the Afghan insurgents fighting the Soviet Union troops in Afghanistan and the Afghan Communist regime's military forces. Principle among these nations were Pakistan, United States, and some Persian Gulf nations.

Soviet Withdrawal from Afghanistan
Soviet vehicles cross bridge from Afghanistan into
Soviet Union on February 15, 1989

Withdrawal From Afghanistan

The Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan in February 1989. The withdrawal went smoothly as a result of a truce with mujahideen with leaders based in northern Afghanistan. The Soviet-backed regime held out for three more years against the mujahideen. The regime collasped after Boris Yeltsin's Russia stopped aid and units of the Afghan army defected to the mujahideen.

Consequences of the Soviet-Afghan War

Many cite the Soviets experience in Afghanistan as one of the lead causes for the fall of the Soviet Union. The war was a costly endeavor which the centralized and flawed economic system could not afford. The war also had immense social ramifications on the home front.

Websites about the Soviet Afghan War

Soviet War in Afghanistan. Wikipedia.

The Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan and the U.S. Response, 1978-1980. U.S. Department of State, Office of the Historian.

Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan. Encyclopeida Britannica

The Afghan War. The Cold War Museum

Reports, Papers, and Publications
about the Soviet Afghan War


Tobin, Conor. "The Myth of the 'Afghan Trap': Zbigniew Brzezinski and Afghanistan, 1978-1979", Oxford Academic Diplomatic History, January 9, 2020.  Conor Tobin, a researcher and lecturer, writes about the misrepresentation of Soviet-Afghan history by some historians and academics. There are some that believe the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency lured the Soviets into an invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979. Tobin asserts that this is not true - that it is wrong to ". . . conclude that the CIA plan was designed to provoke a Soviet intervention when we were, in fact, trying to discourage one."


October 2019. "Leaving Afghanistan: Enduring Lessons from the Soviet Politburo", by Katya Drozdova and Joseph H. Felter, Journal of Cold War Studies.

Summer 2019. "IEDs, Land Mines, and Booby Traps in the Soviet-Afghan War", Infantry Magazine Online,  LTC (Ret) Lester W. Grau.

May 6, 2019. "Afghanistan Still Facing Aftershocks of 1978 Communist Coup", Gandhara.


Liffiton, Alexander. "The Soviet-Afghanistan War: Direct and Indirect Intervention", Small Wars Journal, August 1, 2016.


Evans, Ryan. Moscow's Clients from Kabul to Damascus: Strength and Strategy in International Politics, War on the Rocks, December 9, 2015.


Mehra, Uday Rai. Why Did the Soviet Union Invade Afghanistan in 1979?, E-International Relations, October 9, 2014.

Roh, MAJ Anthony M., Russian Organizational Learning in the Context of the Afghanistan and Chechnya Counterinsurgenices, December 2014. School of Advanced Military Studies of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Paper posted on the Homeland Security Digital Library.

Ruttig, Thomas. Crossing the Bridge: The 25th anniversary of the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, Afghanistan Analysts Network, February 15, 2014. The Soviets departed Afghanistan in February 1989 insisting they had not lost. Their withdrawal was a smooth one as a result of a truce with Ahmad Sha Massud - the main northern mujahedin leader.


Oliker, Olga. Building Afghanistan's Security Forces in Wartime: The Soviet Experience, RAND Corporation, 2011.

Sullivan, Charles J. The Kremlin and Kabul: "The 1979 Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan in Restrospect", The Washington Review, September 2011. . . .soviet-invasion-. . .


Kalinovsky, Artemy. The Blind Leading the Blind: Soviet Advisors, Counter-Insurgency and Nation-Building in Afghanistan, Working Paper #60, Cold War International History Project, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, January 2010.


Kalinovsky, Artemy. "Decision-Making and the Soviet War in Afghanistan: From Intervention to Withdrawal", Journal of Cold War Studies, Fall 2009, PDF, 28 pages, posted on MIT Press Journals.

Riedel, Bruce. "Comparing the U.S. and Soviet Experiences in Afghanistan", CTC Sentinel, Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, May 2009.


Gibbs, David N., "Afghanistan: the Soviet invasion in retrospect", International Politics 37:233-246, June 2000. . . . afghan-ip.pdf


Reuveny, Rafael and Aseem Prakash, "The Afghanistan War and the Breakdown of the Soviet Union", Review of International Studies, 1999, 16 pages, PDF.


CNA, Beyond Afghanistan: Changing Soviet Perspectives on Regional Conflicts, CNA Analysis & Solutions, October 1, 1991.


Collins, Joseph J. "The Use of Force in Soviet Foreign Policy: The Case of Afghanistan", Conflict Quarterly, pages 20-47, Spring 1983.


November 29, 1982. "Radio Free Kabul: rallying the Afghan resistance". The Christian Science Monitor.

November 10, 1982. "Soviets hammer away at Afghan rebel resistance". The Christian Science Monitor.


Singleton, Dr. Seth. "The Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan", Air University Review, March-April 1981. Maxwell Air Force Base. . . . /mar-apr/singleton.htm

Weinland, Robert. An (The?) Explanation of the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan, Professional Paper 309, May 1981. Center of Naval Analyses, Institute of Naval Studies.

August 4, 1981. "Moscow's Troubles". The Christian Science Monitor.


CIA, The Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan: Implications for Warning, Central Intelligence Agency, October 1980. PDF file, 80 pages, formerly classified Top Secret, now declassified.

Phillips, James. The Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan, The Heritage Foundation, January 9, 1980.

Videos about Soviet Afghan War

July 21, 2015. Afghanistan - the Soviet Invasion (B), AP. Footage (B roll) from Associated Press on various topics from the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. (5 minutes, AP channel on YouTube).

December 17, 2012. "USSR Invasion of Afghanistan 1979",,  13 miinutes.

July 12, 2014. Bruce Riedel on the Lessons From Afghanistan, Lawfare Podcast. A video of a discussion about the CIA's involvement in the mujahadeen fight against the Soviet occupation. Based on the book "What We Won: America's Secret War in Afghanistan, 1979-1989", by Bruce Riedel. Riedal is a Senior Fellow and Director of the Intelligence Project at Brookings Institute. In this talk, Riedel discusses why the American intelligence operation was so successful.

1982. Afghanistan 1982. Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan, 1979. The Russian Army against the Afghan Insurgents.  (46 minutes). International Communication Agency, United States of America.

Russia's War in Afghanistan: Documentary on 10 Years of Soviet War in Afghanistan.

Books about Soviet Union and Afghan War

Riedel, Bruce. What We Won: America's Secret War in Afghanistan, 1979-89", Brookings Institute, July 2014.

Historical Documents on the
Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan

April 15, 2007. Predicting the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan: The Intelligence Community's Record, Central Intelligence Agency. . . . record.html

January 4, 1980. Address to the Nation on the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan", President Jimmy Carter. The American Presidency Project, UC Santa Barbara.

December 28, 1979. Memoradum of Conversation between President Carter and PM Thatcher on Afghanistan. Margaret Thatcher Foundation.

Afghanistan & the United Nations. UN News Centre. A history of the UN involvement in Afghanistan since 1979 to the present.

Photographic Collections of the Soviet Afghan War

March 5, 2014. "The Jihad Museum: Afghanistan Remembers the Soviet Invasion". The Atlantic. A series of photographs of the People's Museum in Herat City, Afghanistan.

December 17, 2004. In pictures: Afghan tour of duty,  Soviets in Afghanistan.

Views of Afghanistan. Russian photo collection.

The Soviet War in Afghanistan in Pictures, 1979-1989. Rare Historical Photos

Reading Lists and Bibliographies
of the Soviet-Afghan War

Yeremeev, Mikhail. The War in Afghanistan and its Effects on the Soviet Economy, Boston University, undated.

Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan, Wilson Center Digital Archive.

News Reports and Articles about
the Soviet Occupation of Afghanistan

January 16, 2020. "The Three Misunderstandings of Soviet Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan", by Daniel J. O'Connor, Small Wars Journal.

December 27, 2019. "Our Lives Changed: Afghans remember the coming of the Soviet troops", by S Reza Kazemi, Afghanistan Analysts Network.

December 27, 2019. "Poisonings, Assassination, and a Coup: The Secret Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan", by Frud Bezhan, Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty.

December 25, 2019. "A Turning Point in World History: 40 years ago, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan", by Thomas Ruttig, Afghanistan Analysts Network.

February 15, 2019. "30 Years Later, Russia Aims to Rewrite the Soviet War in Afghanistan", Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty, by Matthew Luxmore.

January 13, 2019. "The Soviet Experience in Afghanistan: Getting History Right", Lawfare Blog. Seth Jones provides a history lesson in the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan.

January 7, 2019. "A History Lesson for Trump: The Real Reason Russia Invaded Afghanistan", The Hill.

January 3, 2019. "Watch Trump's Espisode of 'Drunk History' about the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan", Task and Purpose, by Paul Szoldra.

July 31, 2016. "Afghanistan Still Hasn't Recovered from the Soviet Invasion", by Shawn Snow of The National Interest. The author contends that "Afghanistan's current situation is haunted by the ghosts of the Soviet invasion, which disrupted the country's rural subsistence economy. The dissolution of Afghanistan's social fabric and rapid urbanization from rural communities created a spiral into warlordism and the constate cycle of competition between warlords and strongmen."

February 22, 2015. Six Days that Shook Kabul: The '3 Hut uprising', first urban protest against the Soviet occupation, by Thomas Ruttig, Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN). A detailed recounting of the early 1980 demonstrations and protests against the Soviet occupation.

August 4, 2014. "The Soviet War in Afghanistan, 1979-1989", The Atlantic, by Alan Taylor.

February 16, 2007. "Afghanistan's Proxy War", Harvard Kennedy School, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, by Xenia Dormandy.

October 1, 2011. "Launching the Missle that Made History". The Wall Street Journal. Three former mujahedeen recall the day when they started to beat the Soviets; the use of the Stinger anti-aircraft missile.

April 2, 2011. "Parallels with the Past: How the Soviets Lost in Afghanistan, How the Americans are Losing", Foreign Policy Research Institute, by Larry Goodson and Thomas H. Johnson.

March 18, 2010. "Afghanistan war: lessons from the Soviet war". The Christian Science Monitor.

January 3, 2010. "Why Did the Soviet Union Invade Afghanistan?". By daryl Morini, E-International Relations.

October 10, 2006. The Soviet Occupation of Afghanistan, PBS Newshour.

Books about the Soviet Invasion
and Occupation of Afghanistan

1995. Afghanistan: The Soviet Invasion and the Afghan Response, 1979-1982, By M. Hassan Kakar, University of California Press.



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