Before combing through 17 Moments and the Current Digest, I didn’t really have a firm understanding of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. However, I very quickly found out that among the events that took place in the 1970s under Brezhnev’s leadership, the invasion of Afghanistan proved to be a troubling turn of events for the Soviet Union.
The Politburo report in 17 Moments that discusses why Soviet leaders felt they needed to invade Afghanistan on Christmas Day in 1979, noted that two days after the invasion, “Soviet troops stormed the royal palace, killed Afghan leader Hafizullah Amin and replaced him with Babrak Karmal.” As the 17 Moments subject essay states, Amin himself had secured power from his predecessor Nur Mohammad Taraki by executing him, so Karmal was essentially a Soviet puppet who was flown to Afghanistan straight from the USSR. Karmal was a means to secure power on behalf of the Soviet Union in a state that was constantly facing insecure power struggles. The Soviet Union was motivated to secure territory, or at least access to it, in a region that boasted serious strategic value. Foreign policy with that type of motive has literally never worked out well, for anyone. The Soviet Union was also seriously concerned about how positive the relationship between Afghanistan and the US was turning out to be. The Politburo report noted that Afghanistan’s efforts “to mend relations with America as a part of the ‘more balanced foreign policy strategy’ adopted by H. Amin” were a threat, and it became increasingly evident that the USSR was not willing to bow down to the US in another foreign policy match-up.
So, they invaded.
But a foreign policy power-play with motivation like that could never end well. And the mujahideen did not take the invasion lightly, nor have they ever. Despite Karmal’s February 1980 speech that said “profound friendly and fraternal relations exist between our countries and peoples,” in reference to the relationship between Afghanistan and the USSR, it was pretty evident that the Afghan people did not feel the same way. The mujahideen were able to leverage the mountainous terrain in which they had a home advantage to use guerilla warfare, which proved decisive in a fight for their autonomy and sovereignty against yet another foreign invader. And after a decade-long struggle, the Soviet Union eventually withdrew from Afghanistan, and they paid a pretty price. Thousands upon thousands of Soviet men had to be drafted for a fight that was essentially an unnecessary re-match of a Cold War pissing contest, and that did not bode well for the motherland, where the dissident movement was already in full swing. Not to mention, the proxy war gave the US an opportunity to support and supply arms to the Islamic revolt by funneling money through Pakistan with the help of the CIA and Operation Cyclone (cue tangent Wikipedia “conspiracy” theories).
The point is that the invasion ended poorly for the Soviet Union, and a sizeable amount of people argue that the losses in Afghanistan significantly contributed to the fall of the USSR, which was soon to follow. The dissidence that was taking place in the motherland while Brezhnev was bleeding resources in Afghanistan for a fight they really didn’t need to have created a lot of unnecessary issues, just to compete with the US and try their hand at an Afghan invasion. Then again, I guess insanity really is doing the same thing multiple times and expecting a different result. But hey, the US did it too.