"If we load up our leaders with this sort of analysis, their heads will explode."
This summation of the political situation of Afghanistan in 1978 by Aleksandr Orlov-Morozov, Deputy Station Chief of the KGB in Kabul, indicates the nation’s complexity even before the invasion of the Red Army on Christmas Eve 1979.  For millennia, the area which is now Afghanistan has seen off attempts at its conquest. In 327 BC, Alexander the Great barely escaped the Kunar Valley with his life after having been struck by an arrow, and likely married Roxana in an attempt to pacify the Bactrian tribes occupying the Hidu Kush.  More recently Afghanistan played host to ‘The Great Game’, the contest between the British and Russian Empires for supremacy in the region. When the British found their position in Kabul untenable at the end of the first Anglo-Afghan War, they attempted to retreat in column to Jalalabad some 100 miles away with 16,500 soldiers and civilians. Over the course of a week from January 6 to January 13 1842, the column was wiped out. Only one Briton, William Brydon, an assistant surgeon in the East India Company, made it to Jalalabad unmolested.  The British experience of Afghanistan inspired a verse in Rudyard Kipling’s poem ‘The Young British Soldier’:
“When you’re wounded and left on Afghanistan’s plains, and the women come out to cut up what remains, jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains an’ go to your Gawd like a soldier” 
Afghanistan has more than earned its moniker: ‘the Graveyard of Empires’.
It is perhaps little surprise then that, despite the overwhelming international condemnation of the Soviet invasion, it was predicted that few nations would go “further than their vote in the UN resolution.”  According to analysis performed by the CIA, most nations saw Afghanistan as “a problem between the superpowers in which they should not become involved.”  Of the nations that did involve themselves, a coalition of the United States, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia took the lead. Their efforts formed the backbone of Operation Cyclone, the codename for the program through which the mujahadin—holy warriors fighting the Soviet Union in Afghanistan—would be armed and financed. This dissertation will examine the why these nations involved themselves in this covert action, what form their action took, how they contributed to the defeat of the Soviet Union, and the consequences of their actions in the years after the conflict.
“It should now be generally accepted that the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan on Christmas Eve 1979 was deliberately provoked by the United States.”  This is, at least, according to Chalmers Johnson, one of the foremost authorities on the concept of ‘blowback’. For him, blowback:
“…does not just mean retaliation for the things our government has done to and in foreign countries. It refers to retaliation for the numerous illegal operations we have carried out abroad that were kept totally secret from the American public. This means that when the retaliation comes – as it did so spectacularly on September 11th, 2001 – the American Public is unable to put these events in context. So they tend to support acts intended to lash out against the perpetrators, thereby most commonly preparing the ground for yet another cycle of blowback.” 
For a period of such importance, the Soviet-Afghan War is often overlooked. However, 9/11 spawned a renewed interest in Afghanistan and the role that Western powers (especially the US) have previously played in the region. As such, there is a broad literature on the US role in the conflict, much of which has been published in the last 20 years, and much of which has benefitted from the recent declassification of documents from the US Government.
Steve Coll, in his work Ghost Wars, provides a the most comprehensive account of the Soviet-Afghan War and its aftermath. His work is unique in so far as he has personally interviewed many of the most important actors in the Soviet-Afghan War, something which has been crucial to obtaining a more detailed representation of the conflict. Through the use of this privileged access, Coll’s account provides a harsher critique of the actions of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia at the end of the Soviet-Afghan War and leadup to 9/11. His argument stands in contrast to the 9/11 Commission’s Report, which Coll argues is “generous toward the Saudi government and the Pakistan Army”, with the commissioners managing their criticisms of Riyadh and Islamabad “with future American counterterrorism partnerships in mind.” 
Chalmers Johnson’s ‘Blowback series’, comprising of Blowback, The Sorrows of Empire, Nemesis, and Dismantling the Empire is more assertive than Coll in his conclusion that the United States bears a large portion of the blame for not only the current state of the Middle East, but 9/11 itself. According to him, one can a trace a direct line between “the attacks on 11 September 2001—the most significant instance of blowback in the history of the CIA—and the events of 1979.”  His are more specific attacks against the actions of successive governments of the United States, rather than in depth studies of the Soviet-Afghan War.
As for a specific episode of the covert action, Charlie Wilson’s War by George Crile offers an intimate examination of the ‘Stinger Missile Crisis’, and of one of the war’s most enduring characters. Much like Ghost Wars, Charlie Wilson’s War utilizes interviews and privileged access to sources to construct a detailed and engaging narrative which sheds light on the ‘under-the-table’ nature of the politics of covert action. Crile’s account is immediately more favorable to the US, although he concedes that all significant events have “unintended consequences”, and that it is undoubtedly the case that the Soviet-Afghan War “awakened the dormant dreams and visions of Islam.” 
Due to the resurgence in interest in Afghanistan as a result of 9/11, there is a historiographical imbalance when it comes to the roles of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia in the conflict. As a result, secondary literature on the Pakistan and Saudi Arabian sections of this dissertation largely comes from academic essays. However, as the Soviet-Afghan War was one of Pakistan’s most important foreign policy focuses since the nation’s birth, there is copious debate regarding the costs and benefits of the Pakistani intervention.
This historiographical imbalance is also reflected in the choice of primary sources. Extracting primary material direct from the Pakistani and Saudi Arabian intelligence agencies (ISI and GID) was impossible, and neither government possesses declassified archives of any sort. As a result, this dissertation has relied extensively on the records of the Office of the Historian, the National Security Archive, and other declassified material direct from the CIA.
"We cannot afford to lose Afghanistan"
The following chapter will examine what motivated the Soviet Minister of Foreign Affairs Andrei Gromyko to make this statement in a meeting of the Soviet Presidium.  As such, the following will also seek to explain why the United States was so keen to deny Afghanistan to the Soviet Union.
The Soviet-Afghan War commenced amidst confusion. It has its beginnings in faulty intelligence and an inability to understand the religious, cultural, and political traditions and institutions in the region which came to plague both the US and the Soviet Union.
In the two decades leading up to 1978, the Soviet Union through the KGB had been supporting communists in leadership positions within Afghan universities and the Afghan Army. It is estimated that there were over 3,500 military personnel whose loyalties lay with the hammer and sickle, rather than the Afghan tricolor.  These Soviet aligned troops overthrew the Afghan President Mohammed Daoud in April 1978, and at the behest of their KGB handlers, launched a bloody campaign to eliminate all those who could threaten communist rule. By 1978 up to 12,000 political prisoners had been jailed, with religious and social leaders making up most of the numbers.  Many were executed.
The Soviet Union’s fatal error in Afghanistan was its underestimation of the power of religion and tradition. Its secular reforms provoked even the most moderate Afghani Muslims. Directives from Moscow via Kabul outlawed dowries and Islamic lending systems, and implemented conscription, land seizures, and universal education, controversially including women. This socialist education and its exclusion of religion provoked the ire of a nation which had been dominated by Islam since the 9th Century.  A nation-state in name only, Soviet leaders who had learned their trade in a world of West vs. East, and capitalism vs. communism, could not comprehend the complexities of Afghanistan. 
These decrees could not have come at a more dangerous time. Inspired by the Iranian Revolution and Ayatollah Khomeini’s rise to power, radical Shia activists began to cross the border into Afghanistan. The first signs of rebellion were found here, at the town of Herat on the Iranian Afghan border, in March 1979. A young army captain named Ismail Khan, outraged by ongoing religious persecution, led his garrison in a mutiny and began a jihad against the communist government. The future Governor of Herat Province, along with his troops, hacked to death dozens of communist advisors and their families, nearing a hundred in total.  As a result the Soviets sanctioned a response which would become a feature of their future campaign in Afghanistan. They razed Herat with vicious bombing runs, inflicting some 20,000 casualties. 
Searching for an explanation for the suddenness of the uprising, the Soviets were quick to look abroad. At a meeting of the Central Committee of the Soviet Union on March 17, 1979, Minister of Foreign Affairs Andrei Gromyko, argued that the insurgents in Herat had been trained and armed “not only with the participation of Pakistani forces, but also of China, the United States of America and Iran”,  making them responsible for the atrocities in Herat. As regards US intervention, this is untrue. President Carter did not authorize the CIA to send money to the Mujahadin until July 3, 1979, at which point $500,000 was spent on propaganda, radio equipment, and medical supplies.  Eventually, the Politburo came to identify themselves and the communist regime and Kabul as part of the problem, stating in a June 28, 1979 report that “Taraki and Amin… none too rarely make mistakes and commit violations of legality”, that “local bodies of revolutionary authority have not yet been created” and that the “recommendations of our advisors regarding these questions have not been put into practice.” 
The situation soon deteriorated. In Kabul, Afghan President Nur Muhammed Taraki (who had bestowed upon himself the title ‘Great Teacher’) was overthrown in true Leninist style. The Communist Party had descended into factionalism, and a rival to the ‘Great Teacher’ had emerged in Hafizullah Amin. Although highly unpopular with the Politburo, Amin managed to overthrow Taraki, executing him on October 8, 1979. Although both had been directly funded by the KGB for years, Amin had steadily moved away from pursuing policy lines dictated by the Politburo as he gained power. He had at one point asked his Soviet advisor to withdraw Afghanistan’s sovereign wealth fund (containing some $400 million) and place it into his personal account. 
After Amin’s coup, the CIA detected a surge in activity along the Soviet-Afghan border. Reports detailed that the 105thGuards Airborne Division in the Turkestan Military District (now Uzbekistan) had been placed on full alert.  Although still skeptical of a full invasion, analysts correctly predicted that:
“In expanding their own involvement in Afghanistan, there is a danger that the Soviets… will amplify their own stake in the ultimate outcome, making it increasingly difficult for them to resist raising the level of their participation still another notch should they feel it necessary.” 
By the end of 1979, the Soviet Union could no longer tolerate the situation in Afghanistan. Thanks to defectors from the Afghan Army, the Mujahadin numbered some 40,000, and were able to launch combat operations in 16 of the then 27 provinces of Afghanistan. The Amin regime only completely controlled the provinces of Kabul, Kunduz, and Baghlan.  On December 12, the CC CPSU agreed to “the execution of measures” … in “A.”  These ‘measures’ entailed a KGB assault on Tajbeg Palace (Amin’s residence) in which Amin and his son were killed, the appointment of Babrak Karmal in his place, and the invasion of Afghanistan. 
There is a debate regarding the objectives and victory conditions of Operation Cyclone. In September 1979, just three months before the Soviet Invasion, a top-secret memo was sent by Thomas Thornton to President Jimmy Carter’s National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski. Entitled “What Are the Soviets Doing in Afghanistan?”, it was an amalgamation of all existing intelligence on the country. It began, “Simply, we don’t know.” 
Off the back of this, Steve Coll has argued that any suggestion of an American plan to lure the Soviets into Afghanistan and start a new Vietnam “warrants deep skepticism.”  This assertion can be found in evidence, as Brzezinski cautioned President Carter that “the initial effects of the intervention are likely to be adverse for us”, and that the US “should not be too sanguine about Afghanistan becoming a Soviet Vietnam.”  However, Peter Dale Scott contends that Brzezinski, President Carter’s top cold warrior, “consistently exaggerated the Soviet menace beyond what saner heads at the time were estimating” and that “we should not believe what he wrote.” 
Brzezinski’s comments in 1998 offer some clarification. When asked if he had any regrets, Brzezinski replied: “Regret what? The secret operation was an excellent idea. It drew the Russians into the Afghan trap, and you want me to regret it?”  He further explained that although the US didn’t make the Soviet Union intervene, by beginning their supply of the mujahadin in July 1979, they “knowingly increased the probability that it would.”  If Brzezinski is to be believed, then the US succeeded in drawing the Soviet Union into the Afghan trap. The means and methods by which they would be kept there would range from the sublime to the ridiculous.
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