At the height of the Cold War both the United States and the Soviet Union fervently worked towards expanding their influence over other countries. Afghanistan was a natural target for Soviet ambitions because of its relative location to that of the Soviet Union. Under monarchical rule, Afghanistan had not aligned itself with either the United States or the Soviet Union. In 1975 a military coup replaced the Afghani monarchy with a new government who aligned itself with the Soviet Union. The next few years proved unsteady for the Afghani government which ultimately resulted in the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union. The invasion proved to be one of the most costly errors committed in Soviet history.
At the time of the invasion Soviet justifications were murky. Even two days before the invasion Russian papers reported that reports of Russian military mobilization along were completely made up by the western media. Officially the invasion was undertaken to solidify the power of the socialist government in Afghanistan, and aid was requested by the government of Afghanistan.
Once in Afghanistan, Russian forces faced a plethora of challenges. Afghanistan’s terrain is counter intuitive to modern warfare, a large resistance movement, and even splintered factions within the local Soviet Party. The biggest enemy was the mujaheddin.
The mujaheddin began as a small unorganized resistance movement which quickly grew into a multinational resistance effort. Mujaheddin fighters came from neighboring nations for a defensive jihad against the invading Russian forces. Mujaheddin fighters were often educated and radicalized in madrassas, Islamic schools, just across the border in Pakistan. These fighters, from Afghanistan and abroad, fought the Red Army into a stalemate for a decade which cost which cost the lives of one million Afghans and thirteen thousand Russians.
Russia’s involvement in Afghanistan had disastrous consequences of the home-front. Resistance in the Soviet government to the status quo was growing. The war only gave the opposition more political ammunition. Western ideas permeated the Soviet Union in the late eighties further destabilizing the government. After the loss of thousands of soldiers, the Soviet people were war weary as well. As support for the war waned, so did support for the government.
The Red Army withdrew from Afghanistan in 1989, a decade after its initial invasion. The economic burden placed on the already weak Soviet economy and the loss of thousands of lives crippled the Soviet government. Two years later, the entire system collapsed.