Afghanistan, The Graveyard of Empires

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The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was a small, but significant, part of the greater Cold War between the east and west. The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in December, 1979 with about 30,000 troops. The Soviet invasion was originally meant to be short term assistance in order support a puppet government but would drag on for 10 years. I chose this picture because it shows how a superpower invaded a tiny, backward nation for the sake of promoting Communism.

Leonid Brezhnev was the ideal leader of the Soviet Union, he was a true believer in Communist ideology. He prided the many medals he was awarded as well as the titles that came with them including; Hero of the Soviet Union and marshal of the Soviet Union. (Freeze, pg. 439) Soviet foreign policy under Brezhnev can be summed up in the Brezhnev Doctrine. This was the idea that if conflict threatened one of the socialist sattelite states then it would be met with the full power and might of the Soviet Union. A frail Comminust government in Afghanistan was a prime example for Brezhnev to intervene.

In 1978 Afghanistan was divided between the Communist government and anticommunist Islamic guerrillas. The Soviet Union at this time began to send in small groups of special forces troops to advise government troops. (The Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan and the U.S. Response, 1978-1980) In March, 1980 Brezhnev told a crowd of supporters “… the Central Committee can assure the Soviet people that we have everything necessary to repel any military provocation.” (Brezhnev, Current Digest of the Russian Press) Furthermore, Brezhnev prided his foreign policy on the victories of Vietnamese Communism over the U.S. and China proclaiming more victory in the future. (Brezhnev, Current Digest of the Russian Press) Brezhnev saw socialist societies as being free from “colonial oppression” and referred to the west several times as being “imperialists” because they were capitalist. I believe Brezhnev saw the Soviet Union as the leader of a revolution under the banner of socialism in the fight against capitalism. This ideology helped shape his foreign policy.

Afghan government forces proved to be unreliable and undisciplined leading the Soviets to deploy more troops to the country. They also began to take greater control of the fight against the Islamist opposition, the Mujahideen. The Soviets were a brutal force that killed innocent civilians they believed to be helping the Mujahideen. The brutal tactics by the Soviets only strengthened the resolve of the Afghan people and enforced international criticism against the USSR. The US began arming and training the Mujahideen to fight back against the Soviets. Although the Soviets eventually had 100,000 troops in the country they failed to maintain control of the countryside and mountains where the Mujahideen were free to operate. (Britannica) The Soviet failure to win a quick victory over rebel forces led to a stalemate which drained resources from an already stagnated economy. (Freeze, pg. 446)

Mujahideen Waiting for Soviet Army | Afghan-Soviet war 1979-… | Flickr

This Post earned a “hammer and keyboard” by the editorial team.

Citations:

“SPEECH BY COMRADE L. I. BREZHNEV” Current Digest of the Russian Press, The , 26 Mar. 1980, https://dlib.eastview.com/browse/doc/13657095.

“The Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan and the U.S. Response, 1978–1980.” U.S. Department of State, U.S. Department of State, history.state.gov/milestones/1977-1980/soviet-invasion-afghanistan.

Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: a History. Oxford University Press, 2009.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 4 Dec. 2019, www.britannica.com/event/Soviet-invasion-of-Afghanista

20 Replies to “Afghanistan, The Graveyard of Empires”

  1. I enjoyed your post about the invasion of Afghanistan because I didn’t know much about this topic during the Cold War. You also use great images for your posts, they help give your readers an idea of what your post is going to be about!

    1. Thanks Natalie! The history behind the invasion is really interesting but too much to write in one post! There were plenty of good pictures taken during the time!

  2. Hi Chris, i really liked your title, and i think its quite accurate, as it foreshadows some “other” invasions of Afghanistan. I never realized that the Soviets sent that many troops to the country, that is actually insane. Its kind of crazy that the American funding of the Mujahideen would eventually come back to haunt them.

    1. That’s a good point, Tanner. It really makes you want to question who the US decides to arm. And 100,000 troops was a lot, I think it was the largest deployment of Soviet troops since WWII.

  3. I really enjoyed your post, especially with such an interesting topic. The tactics used by both sides highlights such an extreme power dynamic that is still discussed to this day. The photos really bring together the post.

    1. Yeah it’s interesting how insurgent tactics in a backward country were able to push a superpower out in 10 years. We can obviously tell their tactics haven’t changed much.

  4. Hey Chris, I really enjoyed your analysis about the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and how it contributed to the demise of the Soviet Union. Its amazing how Afghanistan is the land where empires and kingdoms meet their demise on the battlefield.

    1. Yeah it’s definitely an interesting topic. It begs the question why? Why does Afghanistan grind empires down to a halt. It can’t be the terrain alone. Very interesting.

  5. Chris, this is a good example of the Soviet theory have having “another land boarder between the USSR proper and the outside world.” Security is always the big concern of the Soviet leaders, hence the need for Eastern European satellite states like Poland. In the end, Russia and now ourselves could not and can not control the Afghan people.

    1. It’s crazy how obsessed they were with creating a buffer around their whole country. I wonder if that fear originated from the Nazi invasion.

  6. Hi Chris! It honestly sounds like Afghanistan was to the Soviet Union, what Vietnam was to the United States. I didn’t know that it drained the Soviet economy that much. Also, that’s a very interesting thing for Brezhnev to say about the West being imperialist, because one could view the Soviets actions as being imperialistic themselves. What would your opinion be on that?

    1. Yes that’s definitely true. I believe it was very hypocritical for Brezhnev to make that comment. Especially since Brezhnev still controlled most of eastern Europe.

  7. Great read on the Soviets Afghan war! The fact they spilled so much of their resources into this only for it to fail 100% gives off some Vietnam vibes for the United States. I was found it interesting how countries during the cold war just split into sperate entities with completely different ideological sets.

    1. There are definitely some similarities there. I can only imagine how demoralizing it was for troops to cross back into the Soviet Union in defeat after the war.

  8. I agree with Alyssa that the relationship between the USSR and Vietnam is similar to the relationship the USA had with Vietnam. It is hard to believe how much money was spent and arguably wasted between both powers in this ideological struggle.

    1. Yeah it’s crazy how those two conflicts occurred so close in history. It’s like the Soviets didn’t learn from our mistakes and we, in turn, didn’t learn from the Soviets.

  9. Good to see so many relevant comments and questions on your post! I’ll just note that I appreciate how well you used Brezhnev’s speech to support your analysis (and I’m guessing he lived to regret insisting that they had things under control!).
    There are lots of good Afghanistan posts this week, including Eric’s and Andrew’s which also use the “Graveyard of Empires” perspective.

    1. Thank you Professor Nelson! There were many speeches from Brezhnev about Afghanistan and the future of Socialism in third world nations. I’m not surprised Eric and Andrew used similar titles, it was a good book!

  10. Great read on this post and the picture really did explain how this war was turning out and how truly embarrassing it was to basically be fighting with rebels beating you and at the same time call yourself a superpower, very interesting dynamic but your article explains that to a tee.

  11. Really great post! I like how at the end of your post you talked about the brutality of the Soviet soldiers. I think you could tell that they were getting frustrated with how they were never able to really defeat their enemy or even strike heavy blows. They resorted to bombing villages and the civilian casualties during the war were unbelievable. Like you said, this must have just strengthened the resolve of the Afghan people.

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