For the past four decades, the most powerful armies in the world have been present in Afghanistan. The Soviet Army invaded Afghanistan 43 years ago and withdrew after a decade of military presence as the communist government became increasingly reliant on outside financial and military assistance. During the period of 1979 to 1989, the Soviet Army lost 14,000 soldiers in Afghanistan. Civil wars broke out in Afghanistan when the Soviet Union withdrew without bringing about peace. After the roughly 10-year duration of those conflicts, the Taliban’s rule began in Afghanistan, which prompted the United States and NATO to invade Afghanistan on May 15, following the devastating September 11 attacks and five years of the Taliban rule. Subsequently, with the signing of the Doha Agreement with the Taliban, the United States, which suffered more than 24,000 combat casualties throughout its presence in Afghanistan, ended its military presence in the country. Unfortunately, Afghanistan is still engulfed in violence and animosity as a result of Moscow and Washington’s unconditional withdrawals, which did not bring peace to the region.
On February 15th, Afghans commemorate the 34th anniversary of the Soviet Red Army’s withdrawal from Afghanistan. This day is a public holiday according to the Taliban, and marks nine months after the Geneva Convention went into effect. General Boris Gromov, commander of the 40th Army of the Soviet Army, was the last Russian soldier to officially announce the full withdrawal of the former Soviet Union from Afghanistan by crossing the Amu Friendship Bridge, which connects Afghanistan and Uzbekistan.
Soviet Union in Afghanistan
In 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan with more than 100,000 highly armed forces in order to support the People’s Democratic Party-led administration. However, the forces of opposition, including the former government and religious movements, opposed the presence of the Soviet Union’s troops in Afghanistan. After nine years of war and bloodshed, the Russian troops eventually withdrew from Afghanistan. Political parties have estimated that around nine million people from both sides of the conflict were killed during the Soviet Union’s presence in Afghanistan, although there has not been an impartial investigation into the actual losses of the war. According to the parties, approximately 20,000 former members of the security forces and citizens, 90,000 mujahidin, and 14,000 Soviet soldiers were killed during the war.
Mujahedeen’s Resistance to the Soviet Union
Following the invasion of Afghanistan by thousands of Soviet soldiers, the Mujahedeen forces took up arms against the Moscow-backed government and the military forces of the Kremlin. This resulted in more than 14,000 Soviet soldiers being killed, hundreds more being captured, and many of them being converted to Islam by different Mujahedin who employed guerrilla warfare tactics in various parts of Afghanistan. The Mujahidin forces, which were supported by a number of Islamic and Western countries, particularly the United States, continued to resist until Russia’s involvement in Afghanistan ended and the administration of Najibullah was defeated. During this time, Pakistan served as the base of operations for the Mujahidin armies and the other seven jihadi factions.
Experts’ Opinions About the Withdrawal of the Soviet Army from Afghanistan
In a conversation with Hasht-e-Sub, one of the country’s best-known journalists, Ferdaws Kawish stated that the Soviet Union’s forces withdrew from Afghanistan based on the Geneva agreements, which were signed by the four governments approximately 10 months prior to the Red Army’s full withdrawal from Afghanistan. He noted that Afghanistan and Pakistan were the primary signatories, and the Soviet Union and the United States of America also signed the documents as guarantors of the agreement. Mr. Kawish went on to explain that after the Geneva Agreements were signed, efforts were made to end the Afghan war quickly. He stated that the United Nations sought to create a transitional government capable of transitioning from the Democratic Party to a neutral transitional government that would facilitate elections and construct a system on which a new political order in Afghanistan and the region could be established.
Despite Mr. Kawish’s assertions, political efforts to end the war were unsuccessful, and the conflict only worsened prior to the Soviet military’s withdrawal. He further stated, “The Soviet Union departed Afghanistan without any agreement concerning the nation’s political future. The Red Army left Afghanistan without any successful attempts at a diplomatic resolution to the dispute. Additionally, Afghan leaders’ attempts to address this matter were unsuccessful.”
According to Mr. Kawish, the primary objective of Gorbachev, the Soviet leader at the time, was to recklessly expel his country from Afghanistan. Gorbachev prioritized the Soviet Union’s withdrawal over a diplomatic resolution to the Afghan War. Mr. Kawish further states that this problem resulted in the Red Army’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, which further exacerbated the situation. Additionally, the United States opted for an unconditional withdrawal from Afghanistan instead of a political resolution, leaving a religious extremist regime such as the Taliban in power.
Remaining Fighters of the Red Army in Afghanistan
Several Soviet Army soldiers stayed in Afghanistan after they departed. One of the warriors, formerly known as “Krasnapyar,” was originally called “Sergey Yurievich.” He had been taken captive by Mujahidin combatants in Ghor province and was referred to as Noor Muhammad by the Mujahidin. Sergey Yurievich (Noor Mohammad) informed Hasht–e–Subh that he was born in 1965 in the Russian Siberian city of Kurgan, enlisted in the Soviet Army at the age of 18, and later came to battle his adversaries in Afghanistan‘s mountains.
Noor Mohammad expressed that he viewed the presence of the Soviet army in Afghanistan positively, in line with the wishes of their leaders. He noted that their army was better than NATO, which withdrew from Afghanistan a year and a half ago. Despite being 58 years old and having spent his childhood in Afghanistan, he still desires to visit his mother in Russia, yet he has been unable to find a way to do so, which has caused him great sadness.
The book “Afghanistan: Behind Curtains“ states that out of 300 Soviet servicemen, 20 have gone missing and 20 have been found in Afghanistan after converting to Islam. One of the last Soviet soldiers in Afghanistan was Khakimov, also known as Shaikh Abdullah Herati, who passed away last month.
Comparing the Soviet Union and US Withdrawals from Afghanistan
Sayed Ahmad Sayed, a former Afghan army officer who was on duty in Ghazni province when the last soldier of the Red Army departed, told Hasht–e–Subh that upon learning of the Soviet Union‘s full withdrawal from Afghanistan, his primary concern was the army’s supplies. At that time, according to him, the Mujahidin had infiltrated the army, and soldiers were deserting and joining the opposition. Mr. Sayed states that, despite having high morale and excellent equipment, the army was lacking in personnel, forcing officers to take up guard duty. He further added that some of his fellow military colleagues had joined the Mujahidin factions when he was serving as a soldier for the Soviet–backed government in Afghanistan. He said, “I first noticed that two of my comrades in our unit had made a deal to support the Mujahidin factions in the late 1980s. Consequently, the Mujahidin attacked our military base at midnight, killing some of the soldiers and kidnapping others. They took the combat equipment and left shortly after, allowing a few military personnel to aid in the spread of the various Mujahidin factions at the time.”
Baktash Behrozian, a pseudonym, is a former military officer in the country‘s armed forces. He claims that when foreign soldiers left Afghanistan, the logistical and supply support for the security forces decreased, and he had been fighting the Taliban in southern Afghanistan for several years. He stated that the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan had an “extraordinary“ impact on the Taliban‘s ability to fight and strengthened their forces. However, Baktash emphasizes that they could have battled the Taliban if Afghanistan had not been given to them in a “disgraceful agreement.” He argues that while Taliban secret agents were active among the Afghan army and other security forces, the bases and battlegrounds did not fall as a result of their presence. Mr. Behroozian claims: “We saw the security forces left in the field at the end of the fall of the Republic and instructed to undertake a tactical retreat. In accordance with a predetermined strategy, they betrayed us and disregarded the efforts made by our comrades, and now you can see that the corruption of the supreme top generals, who never cease to shout, is increasing. History and Afghans will judge the decision of senior officials to abandon the country because we fulfilled our historical responsibility.”
Narratives Following the Soviet Union’s Withdrawal
Decades after the Soviet Union left Afghanistan, there are still tales of unpleasantness and anger concerning the actions of the Mujahideen from that era. These stories and laments represent a small portion of the suffering, pain, and difficulty endured by those who worked with the former Soviet-backed administration. Ahmadullah‘s (a pseudonym) claims of the Mujahideen‘s operations in Badakhshan province‘s capital Faizabad at the time of the Red Army‘s departure were particularly disturbing and distressing. There are many sorrowful stories, including the kidnapping and forced marriage of girls, as well as people walking on the sidewalks and killing mothers over the corpses of their children.
Regarding the success of the Mujahidin, Mr. Ahmadullah‘s story of the deaths of government officials and employees is particularly tragic. He states: “The Mujahidin dragged Teacher Shaghnani away in the back of a car from Faizabad to Shurabak.” Furthermore, he recounts: “When the Mujahidin attempted to take Teacher Ibrahim by force from the sacred garment in Faizabad city, his mother put herself over her child‘s head in an effort to protect him; however, one of the Mujahidin shot her and took him away. As a result, Mother Ibrahim‘s brains were scattered across the wall of the residence.”
Historical Presence and Withdrawal of the United States
After taking control of Afghanistan for five years, the Taliban transformed the country into a haven for international terrorism. They implemented radical and extreme policies, completely excluding women from public life, stoning women, cutting off criminals‘ hands, and using stadiums for acts of vengeance. Following the September 11 attacks, the United States of America warned the Taliban to hand over the leaders of Al–Qaeda, but the Taliban refused. Consequently, on October 7, 2001, the United States launched the “Long Term“ operation to attack Afghanistan, leading to the fall of the Taliban and the establishment of a republican order in Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the Taliban held power in Afghanistan for 19 years and 8 months after the United States and the former security forces of Afghanistan withdrew.
A study released on Sunday, December 31, 2021, by the Office of the Special Inspector General of the United States for Afghanistan Reconstruction revealed that more than 24,000 American soldiers have died in Afghanistan over the past two decades. From October 7, 2001, to January 16, 2021, 1,909 American soldiers were killed in military operations in Afghanistan, while 534 were injured due to “non–hostile“ situations and 20,722 were reportedly injured during these operations. Following the Doha pact that the U.S. and the Taliban agreed on February 29, 2020, the U.S. forces left Afghanistan, with the last U.S. general departing Kabul at midnight on August 30, 2021. This has resulted in Afghanistan becoming a battlefield for terrorist organizations, with the Taliban kidnapping and killing hundreds of former Afghan security forces. The European Union‘s special envoy for Afghanistan and the British Parliament’s defense committee have expressed their concerns about the risk of Afghanistan becoming a haven for international terrorism.
As a result of the military presence of two global superpowers, Afghans now believe that the country has not only failed to achieve stability, growth, and unity, but has instead become more divided and miserable than before. Afghans believe that the people and political leaders should take lessons from the traumatic moments of the past several decades and establish the foundation for the participation of all political and civil groups in order to prevent Afghanistan from becoming a battleground for regional and international superpowers. Currently, the Taliban are in power in an increasingly unstable Afghanistan, and the presence and activity of the so–called ISIS group have grown. On February 15, 1989, General Boris Gromov became the last Soviet soldier to cross the bridge between Uzbekistan and Afghanistan, thus concluding the Soviet Union‘s nine–year presence in Afghanistan. Major General Chris Donahue, the commander of the US Army‘s 82nd Airborne Division, was the last American soldier to board a C–17 cargo plane out of the Kabul airport at midnight on August 30, 2021, according to CENTCOM, which published a photo of him alongside the news.
Despite their withdrawal from Afghanistan and the criticism they have received domestically, Moscow and Washington are still seen as the main rivals. Zamir Kabulov, the Russian president‘s special envoy for Afghanistan, declared that Moscow has proposed a new framework for the formation of Afghanistan‘s regional strategy similar to the “G5“ meeting after the Taliban regained power approximately one year and seven months ago. Kabulov asserted that this framework will include Russia, China, India, Pakistan, Iran, and Pakistan. He also said that the purpose of creating such a strategy is to hold the Taliban responsible to these countries.