January 16, 2019

THANKS, JIMMY:

The Soviet Experience in Afghanistan: Getting History Right (Seth G. Jones, January 13, 2019, LawFare)

To understand Soviet concerns about Afghanistan, it is helpful to go back to 1973, six years before the Soviet invasion. On July 16, 1973, Muhammad Daoud Khan overthrew King Zahir Shah, who had ruled the country since 1933, in a coup d'├ętat. Moscow, which had been providing military aid to Afghanistan since at least 1955, grew increasingly alarmed about instability in Afghanistan. In April 1978, Daoud was assassinated during a coup led by Nur Mohammad Taraki, further increasing Soviet fears about their southern flank.

The next year, it was Washington's turn to become alarmed after its ambassador to Afghanistan, Adolf Dubs, was kidnapped by armed extremists posing as police. When Afghan security forces attempted to rescue him, Dubs was shot and killed. President Jimmy Carter's national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, blamed the incident on "either Soviet ineptitude or collusion."

Afghanistan headed toward the abyss. Demonstrations erupted in cities like Herat, and, as one top-secret Soviet assessment concluded, key parts of the Afghan Army "essentially collapsed." In June 1979, there was yet another coup, as Taraki was replaced by Hafizullah Amin. This was the last straw for Moscow. As the Soviet archives indicate, Moscow's leaders believed that Amin was growing too close to Washington. A top-secret report to Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev warned: "It is known, in particular, that representatives of the USA, on the basis of their contacts with the Afghans, are coming to a conclusion about the possibility of a change in the political line of Afghanistan in a direction which is pleasing to Washington." The KGB came to similar conclusions and assessed that Amin would likely turn to Washington for aid.

On December 8, 1979, Brezhnev hosted a meeting with several trusted Politburo members, including ideologist Mikhail Suslov, KGB head Yuri Andropov, Defense Minister Dmitriy Ustinov, and Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko. Andropov and Ustinov argued that Washington was trying to expand its influence in Afghanistan. The group tentatively agreed to direct the KGB to remove Amin and replace him with the Babrak Karmal. They also deliberated about sending Soviet troops to Afghanistan. On December 12, Brezhnev, Suslov, Andropov, Ustinov, and Gromyko met again. The group assessed that the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan threatened the security of the Soviet Union's southern borders, which the United States and other countries could take advantage of by aiding the Afghan regime. In addition, Afghanistan could become a future U.S. forward operating base situated in the Soviet Union's "soft underbelly" in Central Asia.

On Christmas Eve 1979, elite Soviet forces began flying into Kabul airport and the military airbase at Bagram. The 357th and 66th Motorized Rifle Divisions of the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan from Turkmenistan and began advancing south along the main highway. The 360th and 201st Motorized Rifle Divisions crossed the Amu Darya River from Uzbekistan.

The Soviet invasion created an immediate global uproar. In response, over five dozen countries--including the United States--boycotted the 1980 Summer Olympics, which were held in Moscow. The Soviet invasion increased already-high tensions between Washington and Moscow.

Terrorism had nothing to do with all this. While Soviet leaders were concerned about "religious fanatics" that were involved in Afghan protests, the Soviets were overwhelmingly worried about U.S. power and influence. To argue that the Soviets were "right to be there," as President Trump remarked, is either to misunderstand Cold War history or, even worse, to legitimize Brezhnev's cold-blooded, anti-U.S. strategic rationale for invading Afghanistan.

In response to the Soviet invasion, the United States conducted one of its most successful covert action programs during the Cold War. 




Posted by at January 16, 2019 12:22 AM

  

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