The Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan

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The Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan

January 9, 1980 36 min read Download Report
James Phillips
Former Visiting Fellow, Allison Center
James Phillips was a Visiting Fellow for Middle Eastern affairs at The Heritage Foundation.
(Archived document, may contain errors)

THE SOVIET INVAS./ON OF AFGHANISTAN INTRODUCTION On December 27, 1979, under cover cf an ongoing Soviet military buildup, heavily-armed elements of a Soviet airborne brigade were airlifted into Kabul, Afghanistan, to violently overthrow the regime of President Hafizollah Amin. Within hours after the beginning of this Trojan Horse-type operation, Soviet troops had overwhelmed the elite presidential guard, captured Amin, execut ed him along with several members of his family for crimes against the peoplell and seized control of the capital.

Within days Soviet armor columns were fanning out across Afghani stan to occupy major population centers, airbases and strategic lines of com munication. It now appears that the Soviets are waging a full-fledged counter-insurgency campaign against the rebellious Moslem tribesmen who were on the verge of winning a 20-month guerrilla war against the Taraki-Amin communist regime.

The purpose of th is paper is to analyze the nature of the Soviet military intervention, evaluate its regional geopolitical implica tions and assess the Soviet Unionfslmotivation for engaging in such a blatant show of naked force THE SOVIET INTERVENTION The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan sets an extremely unsettl ing precedent since it represents the first time that the Kremlin has committed combat troops outside the confines of the Soviet bloc. The operation itself was well prepared and efficiently executed. While the Sovi e ts claim that they are responding to a 1. For an earlier analysis see James Phillips Afghanistan: The Soviet Quagmire Heritage Foundation Backgrounder 101 Note: Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of The Heritage Fo u ndation or as an attempt to aid or hinder the passage of any bill before Congress. 2 request for aid by the new Karmal regime under the terms of the Soviet-Afghan friendship treaty signed in December 1978, it is clear that preparations for the interventio n were being made at least a month in advance and that Soviet troops carried out all aspects of the coup.

The Soviet invasion was a long-planned operation whose groundwork was prepared well in advance. What was surprising was not the intervention itself, b ut the speed of the mfilitary buildup within Afghanistan and the ruthless elimination of the Amin regime. Until the coup on December 27, Western observers (and probably Amin as well) had assumed that the massive Soviet airlift operation was aimed at bolst e ring the faltering Amin regime against insurgent Moslem tribesmen who had successfully been waging a guerrilla war since mid-1978 announced that the unmanageable President Amin had been replaced by Babruk Karmal, a pliable pro-Soviet communist, did it bec o me apparent that the invasion was a double-edged weapon aimed at the incumbent Afghan regime as well as the rebel tribesmen By all indications, the Afghan operation seems to have been carefully staged, with Soviet troops being mobilized and deployed at le a st a month in, advance. In November, Warsaw Pact forces in East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Bulgaria were placed on alert and there was a limited call-up of Soviet and East German reservists So much notice was taken of the alert that East German P rime Minister Willi Stoph felt compelled to deny publicly that there was an alert because of the Iranian situation. A gradual buildup in the Central Asian Military District on the Afghan border brought Soviet strength up to 8 divisions, three of which wer e classified t? be in Category I (fully manned with all weapons and equipment Only after the Soviets By mid-December, the Soviets had introduced brigade-strength units at each of three key locations: Kabul, the Bagram airbase 40 miles north of Kabul and th e airbase at Shendan to the west.

On December 24, the pace of the Soviet buildup suddenly accele rated as more than 200 giant AN-22 and AN-12 transports disgorged an estimated four to five thousand combat troops in two days complete with artillery and armo red vehicles. Several Soviet units were airlifted from as far away as Hungary and East Germany striking evidence of the improved strategic mobility and flexibil ity of Soviet land forces brought about by the deployment of advanced transport planes.

Under cover of the massive influx of Soviet troops, a strike force of two to three battalions of crack Soviet airborne troops spearheaded by light tanks overwhelmed the Presidential guard at Durulaman Palace in a fierce firefight which resulted in heavy 2. Drew Middleton Soviet Display of Flexibility New York Times, December 28, 1979, p. A 13 3 P' casualties on both sides and the total destruction of the palace President Amin, who was later dubbed a "bloodthirsty spy of American imperialism,1t was summarily shot along with his brother and nephew. By nightfall, Soviet troops had gained undisputed control of key government buildings, military installations and communications facilities in the capital, although sporadic clashes with dissident troops continued for se v eral more days The second phase of the invasion began on December 28 as two Soviet motorized infantry divisions crossed the frontier in three places in support of troops which had already been airlifted into Afghanistan. Then when the Soviets had consolid a ted their control of the capital, armored columns were dispatched to the east and northeast to seize major population centers and airfields and to protect important lines of communication between the Soviet border and the interior, possibly in preparation for the future move of additional reinforcements across the frontier.

By January 1, 1980, the Soviets had injected at least 50,000 men and 200 aircraft into Afghanistan along with a wide variety of armored vehicles, heavy artillery, and sophisticated anti aircraft gun indicating they may have expected resi3tance from the Afghan air force in addition to the Afghan Army Another four Soviet motorized infantry divisions (approximately 50,000 men) were concentrated north of the border and constitute a reserve f orce which could be transported quickly to the south to augment Soviet occupation forces if the necessity should arise Ironically, these units may be transported to the Afghan front in trucks produced at the huge Kama River truck plant, the world's larges t heavy-duty automotive works, built largely with U.S technology. Such trucks have already been identified with Soviet forces in Afghanistan by the CIA, a part&cularly galling outgrowth of the U.S.-Soviet detente in the 1970s Since Western reporters and di p lomats have been confined to Kabul, it is extremely difficult to measure the degree of armed resistance that the Russians have met in the provinces resistance seems to have been light in many parts of the country Soviet tanks entering Herat were reportedl y attacked with sticks and stones) it is known that the Soviets have encountered stiff resistance in rebel strongholds. In rugged Bamian province, one hundred miles northwest of Kabul, a Soviet column was apparently ambushed by fierce Eazarah tribesmen and forced to withdraw with numerous casualties. It took the Soviets two days to clear the city of Kandahar of Afghan army deserters and rebel sympathizers but when they finally overcame armed resistance they were reported ly draped with garlands of flowers b y Afghans sympathetic to the new Kannal regime While 3. Drew Middleton Soviet Phase 2: Consolidating Hold on Afghanistan 4 New York Times, January 1, 1980, p. 3 Clyde Farnsworth Soviet is Using Trucks U.S. Technology Built in Afghan Operation New York Time s , January 4, 1980, p. A8. 4 The two main centers of resistance have' proven to be the northeastern province' of Badakhshan, separated from Kabul by mountains and a glacier, and the eastern province of Paktia, where rebels enjoy a constant flow of arms smu ggled across the nearby Pakistani border trating on consolidating control along the northeast frontier.

Western analysts attribute this to the double threat which a rebel-controlled Badakhshan would pose to Russian interests in the area. Not only are the T ajiks of Badakhshan closely related to the Tajik tribes in Soviet Tajikstan but Badakhshan itself is relatively close to the Peoples' Republic of China and might conceivably become a focal point for Chinese aid to the rebels.

By moving fast to overrun Bad akhshan, the Soviets could quell the Tajik Islamic insurgence before it penetrates into Soviet Central Asia and deprive Afghan rebels of a direct land link to China The Soviets currently seem to be concen Since Badakhshan province is also one of the forem o st rebel strongholds, a decisive victory there would undermine the morale of the insurgents everywhere. For this reason, the struggle for Badakhshan is likely to be a litmus test of the ability of the insurgent tribesmen to withstand the Soviet onslaught T EE U. S RESPONSE On December 28, President Carter termed the Soviet interven tion in Afghanistan a "grave threat to peacell and a "blatant violation of international rules of behavior.Il That same day he used the I1hotlinel1 to demand that the Kremlin wit h draw its troops and warned that the future of Russo-American relations would depend on MOSCOW~S response. In his reply the next day, Premier Brezhnev contended that the Soviet move had been made in response to a request for aid by the Afghan government an d maintained that troops would be withdrawn after the crisis had been resolved.

This response was publicly criticized by President Carter as being Ikompletely inadequate and completely misleading. On December 30, National Security Advisor Zbigniew. Brzezin ski pointed ly reaffirmed the 1959 defense agreement with Pakistan and warned that the U.S. would be prepared to react with military force if the Soviet Union extended its incursion into Pakistan. On December 31, President Carter proclaimed in a televised interview that "my opinion of the Russians has changed more drastically in the last week than even the previous two and a half years," and urged other world leaders to "make it clear to the Soviets that they cannot take such action as to violate world pea c e without severe political consequences It On January 2, 1980, President Carter recalled Ambassador Thomas J. Watson, Jr. from the Soviet Union to dramatize American concern over the Soviet invasion. The next day the President asked the Senate to postpone indefinitely consideration of the controversial SALT I1 agreement. He also promised to accelerate delivery of arms already "in the pipeline" to Pakistan when these sales were abruptly curtailed to protest Islamabad's nuclear policies 5 T' When it became a p parent that American warnings were being ignored by the Russians, President Carter made a televised speech on January 4 in which the follawing sanctions were imposed GRAIN Seventeen million tons of grain ordered by the Soviet Union will not be delivered. T he Soviets will receive only 8 of the 25 million tons of grain promised for the year ending September 30 In addition, 30 to 40 million busheis of soybeans and soybean products will not be delivered TRADE High technology and strategic items such as oilfiel d equipment, computers and sophisticated machine tools will not be licensed for sale to the Soviet Union until further notice.

FISHING Fishing privileges for the Soviet Union will be severely curtailed, depriving the Soviets of 350,000 tons of fish worth about $50 million CULTURAL The United States will delay opening any new American or Soviet consular facilities and most cultura l and economic exchanges under considera tion will be deferred.

OLYMPIC GAMES If the Soviets continue their "aggressive actions the U.S. may withdraw from the 1980 Olympic Games to be held in Moscow.

While these sanctions cut across a broad spectrum of So viet American interaction it should be noted that for the most part they are limited in scope, symbolic in nature and will have virtually no immediate impact on the Soviet economy given the large quantities of grain, fish and high technology items already in the Soviet pipeline. Essentially, these sanctions are a series of pin pricks meant to raise the long-run economic costs of the Soviet Afghan venture in order to deter similar future interventions. However in the short-run they will have little effect, l east of all on the political/military situation in Afghanistan. Significantly, although the Carter Administration has pledged to resume military aid to Pakistan, there has been no discussion of any form of aid for the Afghan resistance movements It would s eem that Afghanistan has already been written off in spite of the fact that more than a few experts suspect that the Kremlin's reach may in fact have exceeded its grasp AFGHANISTAN'S STRATEGIC IMPORTANCE Although Afghanistan is a remote, obscure country w hich ranks among the poorest nations in the world, its strategic location endows it with a high degree of geopolitical importance.

Afghanistan has long been a major crossroads of Asia astride 6 v J major north-south and east-west land routes; its control g f the Khyber and Bola passes has historically made it the gateway which links Rts,sia with the Indian sub-continent and the Middle East with the Orient. Because of its pivotal geostrategic posi tion, this landlocked nation repeatedly has become the focus o f conflict between rival empires, a tendency which has earned its the sobriquet of the Itcockpit of' Asia Afghanistan has performed the function in central Asia which Korea and Laos-Cambodia have I performed in East and Southeast Asia: a regional flashpoi n t of colliding Great Power interests. In the 19th and early 20th centuries Afghanistan! s very survival as an independent state was linked to its role as a buffer state between Czarist Russia in central Asia and Great Britain in India. As a buffer state w h ich was itself a manifestation of the general equilibrium of regional power, it has served as a barometer of the balance of power in the central Asian area. For this reason, more than a few observers were disturbed when it became a Soviet satellite in 197 8 The Soviet Union has exhibited a long-standing interest in its southern neighbors, as evidenced by the Molotov-Ribbentrop Protocol to the 1939 Hitler-Stalin Pact, which asserted that Soviet territorial aspirations lay in the direction of the Persian Gulf and 1ndian.Ocean. In recent years, the Kremlin's incentives for expanding its influence to the south have been significantly enhanced by the growing importance of Middle Eastern, especially Persian Gulf, oil in the Western economic system. Seen from the v a ntage point of the Persian ~ulf, the single most important energy-surplus region in the world, the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan constitutes one part of a giant pincer movement designed to encircle Gulf oil reserves. The Kremlin already has establish e d a military presence in Ethiopia and South Yemen; now that the Iranians are no longer willing or able to underwrite Oman's security, Sultan Qabus faces the growing danger that the Dhofar insurgency will flare up once more, this' time with greater materia l support from the Soviets' stalking horse on the Arabian Peninsula South Yemen At the other end of the pincer, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan constitutes a flanking movement which opens up the flat, pemeable eastern border of Iran to potential Soviet m ilitary pressures. More importantly, it extends Soviet influence to within 350 miles of the Arabian Sea, blocked only by a disputed territory Baluchistan which itself faces the potential threat of a separatist insurgency important Afghan air bases, fortif i ed them with surface-to-air missile batteries and are equipping them with modern command and control facilities The Soviet intervention has in effect moved Soviet aircraft 500 miles closer to the vital sea lanes of communi cation (SLOCs) which function as the oil lifeline of the industrial West. In fact, Soviet planes based in southwest Afghanistan are now situated closer to the strategic Straits of Hormuz (through which pass 40 percent of western oil imports) than if they were based in Tehran. Using these bases Soviet aircraft could reach the chokepoint at the mouth of the Persian Gulf and remain on The Soviets have occupied most 7 n s station there for at least 30 minutes Clearly, Soviet access to Afghan airbases significantly upgrades the Kremlin's abili t y to block, or even sever, the petroleum jugular vein of the West and greatly enhances the Soviet ability to neutralize American naval power in the Arabian Sea a SECURITY TBREATS TO IRAN AND PAKISTAN In addition to providing a platform from which Soviet a ir power could be brought to bear on the crucial Persian Gulf SLOCs a pro-Soviet Afghanistan provides an excellent fulcrum which amplifies Russian diplomatic leverage over both Iran and Pakistan.

Both states have had troubles in the past with ethnic separa tist movements and are likely to run into more such problems in the future.. Kabul would be in an excellent position to incite and support such movements given its close proximity to strongholds of ethnic separatism along the peripheries of both states an d the presence within Afghanistan of Pushtun and Baluchi tribesmen who remain in close contact with their kin across the permeable, often unguarded, border.

Afghanistaa has historically-based claims on most of Paki- stan's Northwest Frontier Province deriv ed from the controversial British imposition of the 1893 Durand Line which established the frontier between British India and Afghanistan. The Afghans consider the preseatboundaq to be an anachronistic vestige of British colonialism and since 1947 they ha v e sporadically revived demands that Pushtuns within Pakistan be allowed to exercise self-determination and become part of a "Greater Pushtunistan. If While it is unclear whether Kabul would allow its own Pushtuns to become part of such an entity, the Push tunistan issue has been an effective device that simultaneously weakens Pakistan and streng- thens the Afghan government's popularity among the Pushtun tribes which comprise almost half of the population of Afghanistan.

Kabul has also supported an independ ent Baluchistan in order to obtain access to the sea. Afghan trade is currently dependent on the Soviet overland transportation network since access to the Pakistani port of Karachi has frequently been constrained by tensions with Islamabad. However, supp o rt for an independent Baluchistan has been muted, at least in part because the potential domestic benefits of stimulating internal cohesiveness via a ,popular foreign policy vis-a-vis Baluchistan are not as great as those inherent in a strong pro-Pushtun p olicy, given the smaller number of Balucfis living in Afghanistan. Nevertheless, the Saur Revolution has visibly strengthened the ranks of militant Baluchi nationalists, who are building a skeleton guerrilla organization, confident that the Karma1 regime w ill eventually come to support a full scale insurgency once it has consolidated its internal power 5. Strategic Mid-East and Africa, September 12, 1979, p. 6. I 0 J base within Afghanistan finned. reports that the Soviets have been shipping arms to Irania n Baluchis through Afghan intennediaries.7 In addition, there have been uncon If an independent Baluchistan should ever be carved out of Iran and Pakistan, it would almost certainly be dependent upon Soviet support to withstand hostile pressure from Tehran and Islamabad, even if it did not need Soviet support to be established in the first place In return for the Russians could hope to gain the use of the excellent port facilities at Gwadar, a quid pro quo which would partially fulEill their l ong standing quest for warmwater ports Moreover, Baluchistan's 750 miles of Arabian Sea coast would also offer the Russians a superb springboard for interdicting the vulnerable Persian Gulf SLOCs and mounting subversive or proxy operations against pro-Wes tern states along the rim of the gulf.

The precarious domestic political position of the Kabul regime has thus far precluded the Afghans from actively promoting in an overt fashion the territorial dismemberment of Pakistan.

However, should the Ramal regim e consolidate its control over Afghanistan the potential threat of Soviet-encouraged, Afghan supported insurgencies would be boosted significantly of its own domestic pre-occupations, Kabul has already found time to forge links with leftist groups in both Pakistan and Iran Two Soviet-supervised training camps providing marxist indoctrina tion and guerrilla training to Pakistan and Iranian radicals have been established in lazar-i-Sharif, close to the border with the Soviet Union. Many Afghans were arrested within Iran in several of the anti-Shah demonstrations of 1978, circumstantial evidence which has been interpreted by at least one expert to suggest the involvement of the KGB-controlled Afghan secret service (Estekbarat in the effort to oust the Shah arm e d men were caught crossing the border into Iran from Afghani stan, according to Shahpourlvakhtiar, the deposed prime minister of the Shah's last cabinet. The recent history of Afghan meddling in Iranian affairs, the large number of Afghan expatri ates alr e ady living in Iran (500,000) and the historically close working relationship which has existed between Afghanistan's Khalq Party and the pro-Soviet Iranian Tudeh Party, have caused more than a few observers to fear that the Afghans may well become Soviet s urrogates in the increasingly likely event that Iran is plunged into a civil war. If the Karma1 regime can In spite In January 1979 almost 200 6 7. Strategic Middle Eastern Affairs, November 8, 1978, p. 1 8. Robert Moss, "Who is meddling in Iran?" New Rep ublic, December 2, 1978 9 Selig Harrison Nightmare in Baluchistan Foreign Policy, Fall 1978, p 148.

Robert MOSS The Campaign to Destablize Iran Conflict Studies, No 101, November 1978, p. 4 10. Hannah Negaran, "The Afghan Coup Orbis Spring 1979, p. 105.

T 9 b establish unshakeable control over Afghanistan, the Afghans may be destined to become on a much reduced scale, the "Cubans of Asia If control over his own country the potential threat of Afghan support for ethic insurgents and pro-Soviet leftists in I ran and Pakistan has made both countries vulnerable to Soviet pressures and sensitive to Soviet cajoling changes in the I1correlation of forces precipitate political changes and opportunities. The Afghan coup and Iranian revolution have definitely altered the tlcorrelation of forces" in the region and it is only a matter of time before Moscow exploits these pivotal events to the utmost. As the shadow of Soviet power lengthens over the Indian subcontinent and Persian Gulf without any concrete U.S. response, individual states will become increas ingly tempted to reach their own accommodations with Moscow. In this connection, it is particularly significant to note the transfer last winter of Pakistan's most able diplomat from washing ton to Moscow, and the dis i ntegration last spring of the symbolic albeit defunct CENT0 alliance In any event, even if Karma1 never establishes complete According to Soviet ideology A sense of declining American willingness to react to far flung Soviet gambits and proxy operations ( a s evidenced by the events h Angola and the Born of Africa), combined with America's demonstrated ability to turn its back on regional allies for a wide variety of reasons (as evidenced by the arms embargo against Pakistan in 1965, the arms embargo against Turkey in 1976, the not so benign neglect of the Kurds in 1975 and the fall of the Shah in 1979) and the widespread perception of burgeoning Soviet influence in strategically located states of Ethiopia, South Yemen and Afghanistan have undermined the Wort h ern Tier Having witnessed the dissolution of the protective barrier to the north and having become increasingly Soviet proxy pressures on the periphery of the Arabian peninsula, the elites of the pro-Western Persian Gulf states may re-orient th e ir foreign policies (and even more ominously, their energy policies) in order to ensure internal security, unless the United States manifests a strong and ironclad commitment to protect them from Soviet political, subversive, proxy and military pressures T HE TARAKI REGIME when Nu Mohammad Tarakils Khalq Party seized power in April Not only did the regime rest 1978 it numbered no more than 5,000 members in an estimated population estimated at 15 million on an extremely narrow power base, but its cadres (ter m ed Khalqis were drawn from a thin stratum of urban intellectuals, teachers and advanced-level students who had little in common with the rural Moslem tribesmen who make up the bulk of the population. A series of purges against the Parcham faction, nationa l ists in the armed forces, security forces, the intelligentsia and the civil services narrowed the regime's base of support even further and 10 drained it of the trained manpower needed to administer the country. Vacant government positions were filled by p arty loyalists and Soviet citizens, mostly Tajiks who spoke a Persian dialect most Afghans can understand In addition to importing Soviet manpower, Taraki imported Soviet ideological doctrine, although he was careful to camouflage it with semantic figleav es in order to avoid needlessly antagoniz ing the entrenched power of the Moslem clergy.

Taraki, the. doctrinaire Khalqis who arrogantly strode into the countryside were rigidly imposing a Soviet model for development which had not been designed to accommo date the sociopolitical realities of Afghanistan's tribal, semi-feudal, strongly religious 17th century atmosphere. fast. Because they had little sensitivity to the traditional values prevalent in rural areas they misjudged the depth and resilience of Isl a mic roots among the rural population Unfortunately for The Khalqis tried to do too much too This insensitivity, in combination with the purging of virt~ally all competent Afghan technocrats from the government severely crippled the Tar- regime's reforms a n d hindered the cultivation of rural political allies among the peasantry, which otherwise might have been expected to support the regime in order to preserve newly-acquired benefits regime's modernization campaign was the ill-fated land reform program und e r which the government expropriated 3 million acres of land and tried to redistribute it among 285,000 families in the first year legitimacy and permanence of the land redistribution scheme, much of the land went uncultivated Some peasants refused to acce p t land because under Islamic law a recipient is required to provide compensation for land received; others accepted small plots only to find that they could not afford to buy seed or fertilizer due to an anti-usury campaign which outlawed the traditional c redit facilities which large landowners had previously extended to smaller farmers to finance their planting expenses. As a result the Afghans, who had been self-sufficient in grain in 1973, are facing 'a projected deficit of 500,000 tons of wheat this 'y e ar, a large proportion of which is expected to be imported from the Soviet Union, although much of it may have grown in the U.S The centerpiece of the Due to widespread confusion concerningthe In order ,to overcome popular resistance to its draconian soci a l engineering projects the Taraki regime increasingly resor ted to Stalinist methods of repression, reportedly due to the influence of the number-two man, Hafizollah Amin. Since April 1978 at least three thousand political prisoners have been execu ted, t h e prison population is estimated to have grown as high as 70,000 (often including the wives and children of political prisoners) analan estimated 100,000 civilians have been killed in the fighting. The regime's coercive apparatus seems to have 11. MacNeiU L ehrer Report, August 14, 1979 r I Y 11 paid special attention to educated elites, military officers teachers, civil senants and businessmen. Amnesty International has charged the Taraki regime with using torture and mass execu tions on a large-scale basis . According to one foreign observer The level of executions here makes what is happening in Iran look like child's play bother with show trials, so its hard to keep score."

The problem here is that thfx don't THE ISLAMIC BACKLASH Afghan mullahs, many of wh om owned land, were antagonized not only by the the breakup of their estates, but by the establish ment of a new legal system administered by the civil government rather than the Islamic clergy. Their righteous indignation was further amplified by the gro wing Soviet presence in Afghanistan.

Successive waves of religious exiles had fled Soviet Central Asia years before with dire reports of the Soviet campaign to enervate and c onstrain the strength of the Islamic religion; the Islamic establishment was therefore prepared for the worst. The arrest of scores of mullahs for political activity and the pointed removal of the color green (which symbolized Islam) from the new Afghan f l ag gave credence to concerns that Afghanistan would suffer a similar fate. It soon became apparent that the Taraki regime while paying lip senrice to Islam, was bent on breaking the back of Islamic clergy by purging its ranks of Iffalse moslems convenient l y defined to be any mullah opposed to government policies. In retaliation, the mullahs and peers (spiritual mentors) declared a jihad (holy war) against the Kafir (infidel regime in Kabul Isiamic resistance in Afghanistan has been strengthened by Ayatolla h Khomeini has bitterly deaokced Kabul for the anti Islamic tone of its policies and has repeatedly called upon the Afghan armed forces, police and civil service to turn against the corrupt atheistslf who have attempted to subvert Afghanistan's traditional culture. Ironically, the fundamentalist Islamic backlash which threatens the pro-Soviet regime in Afghanistan is similar to the movement which drove the Shah out of Iran. In both cases the regime in power was perceived by rebels as being an agent of the c o rruption of the national culture by imported alien influences. In Iran these influences were western capitalism and permissiveness, while in Afghanistan it was atheistic Marxism In both cases the fundamentalist Islamic movement became a potent political f o rce because its appeal transcended ethnic, tribal and class lines. In Afghanistan, where Moslem tribesmen had virtually no institutionalized political input into Kabul s decision-making the triumphant resurgence of Islamic influence in Iran. The 12. Tyler Marshall Xamist Afghan Regime in Trouble," Los .Angeles Times June 25, 1979, p. 11. 12 t I but more particularly in Iran, where meaningful political opposi tion was precluded by a one-party consititution the long entrenched Islamic religious network provi d ed an effective means of arousing and mobilizing the population In Afghanistan, where more than 90'percent of the population belongs to the Sunni sect, the Islamic establishment was not so capable of providing strong direction to the rebel cause as had be e n the case in predominantly Shi'ite Iran. This was due to the fact that Sunni religious doctrines do not have as great a poten tial for revolt against secular authority as does the Shia faith while the Shi'ite clergy have traditionally defended the intere s ts of the Moslem masses against unjust governments, the Sunni clergy have historically tended to operate in closer association with ruling authorities. The Afghans not only had no comparable reli gious figure with Khomeini's following or stature but their primitive communications system and heterogeneous population made the forination of a unified movement extremely difficult. Never- theless in a land where cross-country buses stop at sunset to allow passengers to pray, the strength of Islam should not be u nderestimated TEE PROGRESS OF TBE WAR It is difficult to obtain a clear picture of the war in Afghanistan because the government has severely constrained press coverage of the struggle and the insurgents assert inconsistent wildly exaggerated and often co n tradictory claims from their distant political headquarters in Pakistan. Apparently, armed resistance first arose in the spring of 1978 among zealous recently converted'Moslem tribesmen in Nuristan in the northeast and spontaneously spread to twenty-four o f Afghanistan's twenty eight provinces. Opposition did not become pronounced until the fall of 1978, when the government began to lose.contro1 of the countryside to fierce guerrillas organized along tribal lines who set ambushes and cut country roads at w ill..

The guerrillas, armed primarily with ancient bolt-action copies of Royal Enfield rifles made by village gunsmiths, have periodically laid siege to government-controlled urban centers forcing the Kabul regime to mount costly relief operations which fu rther dispersed government strength. The regime, for its part launched a scorched earth policy in rebel strongholds along the Pakistani border, bombing villages and burning crops in an effort to intimidate villagers and force the rebels to spend their sca r ce resources on food and shelter. It is believed that over 400,000 Pushtuns have fled across the border into Pakistan, where they have established support bases and a makeshift political coalition to provide some semblance of direction and unity to the di v erse opposition groups which wage separate and uncoordinated campaigns against the Taraki-Amin regime 13 When the Soviets intervened in late December the Amin regime controlled all the. major urban centers but was in full control of only one quarter of th e country and less than half the population.

The Afghan Army was stretched thin in defense of scattered cities and worn down by a savage brushfire war against an elusive enemy which took refuge in some of the most rugged terrain on earth.

The heavy rate o f attrition, repeated purges of the officer corps and the frustrations of a protracted anti-guerrilla campaign had seriously undermined the morale of the Afghan armed forces and resulted in a high rate of desertion, with entire units occasional ly killing their-officers and defecting to the rebels en masse Chronic mutinies, several of which had to be put down xth Soviet help, threw into- question the long-term reliability and staying power of the amy itself. Although Soviet-supplied airpower gave it the ca p ability to decisively neutralize and defeat rebel offensives it was clear that the Afghan Army was incapable of defeating the insurgency without a significant escalation in the Soviet presence TEE SOVIET STAKE IN AFGHANISTAN In the wake of the April 1978 p ro-Soviet coup, Moscow brushed up against an Afghan tarbaby and found itself entangled in the internal politics of one of the most ungovernable countries on earth. In Afghanistan the Kremlin was confronted with a dilemma of empire. President Amin was inca p able of militarily winning the war, but was unwilling to accept a political solution, aware. that such a solution would expose him to the wrath of his own people. According to Robert Neumann, former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, the Soviets "literally h ad no choice except to ffke over the country or let go of it. There was no middle way."

If it escalated its military involvement it ran the risk of being bogged down in a protracted guerrilla war which would cost it dearly in terms of men, materiel, diplom atic capital, world opinion, and relations with Islamic nations as well as the United States. If it cut its losses and abandoned the intractable Amin regime, it ran the risk of undermining the credibility of its commitments elsewhere and acknowledging the incompatibility of Marxism and Islam, a dangerous acknowledgement given the 'rising tide of Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East. In the end Moscow fell back on its strong suit military power because the perceived risks of non-intervention were great e r than the perceived risks of intervention and the potential benefits were greater Afghanistan is both a stepping stone for Soviet strategic penetration of the Northern Tier and a stepping stone for Islamic religious penetration of Soviet Central Asia. Th e Soviets desire a pro-Soviet Afghanistan in order to gain leverage over Iran and 13. Newsweek, January 7, 1980. 14 t I Pakistan; they desire a non-Islamic Afghanistan in order to halt the Islamic revival at the Hindu Kush and insulate their growing Moslem population from dangerously explosive politico-religious doctrines.

Afghanistan because it would reinforce the lessons of Iran in the eyes of Soviet Moslem subjects and hasten the creation of a belt of Islamic states around the southern periphery of the S oviet Union which could hope to deter Soviet interference in their internal affairs by threatening to retaliate by fomenting reli gious turmoil in the Central Asian republics which have similar ethnic compositions has not yet been made manifest and will c e rtainly be severely circumscribed, if not circumvented, by the omnipresent Soviet internal security forces, the Kremlin cannot afford to underesti mate the strength of the Islamic threat Moscow can not countenance an Islamic victory in While the magnitude of the "green menancell The Soviets also had an interest in preserving the credibil ity of their commitments to client regimes, especially those in eastern Europe In December 1978, the Afghans signed a 20 year treaty of friendship, good neighborliness and cooperation1f which was remarkably similar to those signed by some East European nations in the 1940s. If Moscow abandoned its Afghan clients in the face of Islamic religious opposition, it ran the risk of encouraging East European opposition movements wh i ch might wish fully conclude that the Soviets would back down in a similar fashion if confronted with religious/nationalist uprisings in Eastern Europe, particularly in Poland While Pope John Paul If is by no means a Polish Khomeini and the Catholic Churc h is by no means comparable to the fundamentalist Islamic faith, the Pope may inadvertently unleash a pent-up anti-Soviet backlash in attempting to pry concessions out of East European regimes If the Soviets pennitted Kabul to fall into the hands of religi ous nationalist forces they would be setting a dangerous precedent for eastern Europe The Kremlin therefore did not wish to be perceived to be letting down an ally particularly one on its own doorstep.

Soviet officials in Kabul had long been telling foreig n diplomats that: IlTPs is a socialist revolution which is our duty to defend. If Premier Brezhnev further underlined the Soviet commit mext'in a conversation with the former Indian Prime Minister Moraji Desai by putting -8elf on record as saying "We shal l not leave our friend in need Such expressions of Soviet commitment signalled MOSCOW'S readiness to go to great 'lengths to preserve their Afghan clients 14 15 A Leftist Afghanistan Worries the West," Wall Street Journal, January 16, 1979, p 22. David K. W illis Afghanistan: Time Bomb Ticks for Soviets ,f' Christian Science Monitor, June 15, 1979, p. 11 U THE TIMING OF TEE INTERVENTION z After coming to power in the coup d'etat of September 14 1979, President Hafizollah Amin entered into a strained relation ship with his Soviet mentors. The Soviets resented Amin for ousting their annointed for Afghan leadership, Nur Mohammad Taraki, while Adn suspected (probably correctly) that Moscow was behind Taraki s apparent move to purge him from the ruling regime.

Bec ause Amin proceeded to place loyal friends and relatives in key positions in his regime and purge all potential challengers to his rule, the Soviets could entertain no hopes that he would eventually be overthrown by a Khalq leader more amenable to Moscow' s control. It appeared that only the rebels or the Soviets themselves could loosen his grip on power. The failure of a full-scale government offensive in November made it clear. that unless Moscow acted fast, the rebels would sweep Amin and his regime from power during their traditional spring offensive.

Since Amin was aware of the precarious position of his regime vis-a-vis the rebels, he naturally desired Soviet military assistance, and this fitted into Soviet plans because a military buildup would admira bly camouflage the Soviet putsch. snow would impede the pace of the Soviet buildup and subsequent deployments, but it would also hamper the mobility of rebel forces and prevent them from opportunistically seizing the initia tive when the Sovieta turned on their Afghan clients. In any event, the Soviet Army could be expected to perform more than adequately in winter conditions while-the rebels fell into their customary mid-winter hibernation Winter The November 4 seizure of the U.S. embassy and the drawn-ou t crisis over the American hostages could be expected to occupy Washington's attention in much the same way that the Suez crisis had distracted it from the 1956 intervention in Hungary and the Vietnam war had muffled its reaction to the 1968 invasion of Cz e choslovakia. The questionable perfomance of the Carter Administration in the September 1979 crisis over Soviet troops in Cuba would hardly make the Soviets think twice about moving into Afghanistan. Based'on that experience, the Kremlin may have been temp t ed to believe that even if the Carter Administration found the invasion of Afghanistan to be anathema, it would learn to live with it after a few weeks and redefine the crisis out of existence By late November it was apparent that the SALT agreement was n o t likely to be accepted without drastic modifications in the U.S. Senate so there was little loss there. In addition, lengthy talks with the Chinese Communists had clearly revealed that the post-Mao leadership was not ready to reach accommodation with Mos c ow on Soviet terms so the Soviets had no reason to concern themselves with the possibility of antagonizing the Chinese in Afghanistan. Since the pro-Soviet Indira Gandhi was the front runner in the Indian elections, the Kremlin could expect minimal protes t from that quarter. The Western' Europeans could be expected 16 to wring their hands but do little more, as Afghanistan was a distant nonoWestern state and they had acquired a significant vested interest in the East-West detente From the Soviet vantage po i nt, the most damaging potential However, the Soviets could try to blunt the reaction to the interv-ention might be expected to originate in the ?slamic world rage of the Islamic world by trying to build a hybrid Islamic Socialist state. Moreover, anti-Sov i et reaction in the staunchest Moslem countries would be partially offset by residual anti American sentiment engendered by the Camp David Accords and the Iran crisis. The Soviets map have expected that the U.S. would eventually be drawn into a military co n frontation with the Khomeini regime thereby limiting the negative fallout of the Soviet inter vention in Afghanistan In any event, the Soviets appear to have calculated and to have accepted in advance the substantial losses of diplomatic capital involved i n the invasion. Once again, they have sacrificed short-term mariginal influence in a number of countries in order to extract long-term total control of another country Indeed this may yet happen TEE SOVIET STRATEGY IN AFGHANISTAN The Soviet intervention w a s aimed at stabilizing the politi cal situation in Afghanistan by preventing the insurgents from decisively defeating the pro-Soviet regime and giving them incen tive to terminate their twenty-month guerrilla war, possibly by reaching some kind of politic a l accommodation with the newly installed Kannal regime. Such an accommodation would have been impossible with the bloody Amin regime given the highly developed Afghan sense of vengeance. But the Karmal regime, although it suffers from its close relationsh i p with the hated Russians, is st-ng with a relatively clean slate. Karma1 himself has pointedly made an attempt to mollify the Islamic opposition movement through a public relations campaign which stresses the regime s adherence to Islamic precepts While K armal is almost certainly just paying lip service to The Afghans Islam in order to cultivate an image of moderation, there is a real possibility that his attempt to siphon off some of the support for the rebellion may meet limited success have been fighti ng a savage civil war for almost two years and may become demoralized by the massive infusion of Soviet strength.

A small core of the insurgent movement is fighting for national liberation, but most rebels are fighting for tribal rights, loot weapons and a gainst the centralized control of Kabul. Since the insurgency is organized along tribal lines, it can be dismantled by a selective policy of making separate peaces with amenable tribes, and exploiting tribal rivalries. There have been reports that the Sov i ets have been buying the loyalty of several tribes 16 in the Khyber Pass area and. have turned them against the rebels If Karma1 can entice some,groups into a national front-type government, and the Sovierc can buy off some of the less committed insurgent s the sense of isolation and impotence of the remaining guerrillas may eventually enervate the strength of Afghan resist ence over the long haul, especially if no aid from external sources is forthcoming.

In the military sphere, the Russians can be expecte d to move ruthlessly against rebel strongholds, making full use of their airpower, heavy artillery and helicopter transports. Widespread use of napalm and phosphorous incendiary power can be expected to be used to neutralize rebel hilltop redoubts, and ch e mical or biological weaponry cannot be ruled out men are fierce warriors, the Soviets are likely to use their air mobility to.keep them off balance and their firepower to keep them at bay. Due to the absence of an effective rebel anti- aircraft capability , Soviet airpower will be unopposed in provid ing tactical fire support, reconnaisance, and constraining rebel movement during daylight hours, and the rebels may find it neces- sary to wage a primarily nocturnal war in order to avoid Soviet retaliation fro m the air While the Moslem tribes On the other hand. the Soviets will DrObablV face serious logistical difficulties in keeping their ?orwardmunits supplied with the immense quantities of materiel necessary to support a modern anny in the field. roads are o f ten no more than dirt paths. tend to confine vehicles to the roads where they will be subject to frequent ambushes Afghanistan has no railroads--ad its The rugged terrain will The Soviets are also likely to be hampered by a lack of experience in guerrilla warfare. have been tailored to the needs of a conventional war. Their command and control system is likely to prove to be awkward and inflexible. In order to engage and defeat their elusive foe they will need to make quick decisions at the battalion and c o mpany level. However, the Soviet military, like their civilian counterparts, have never encouraged individual initiative at the lower levels of the command chain, preferzing to rely on central ized control at higher command levels. This could markedly red u ce their effectiveness in a guerrilla conflict Their organization and doctrines Because the Soviets have had little experience in fighting guerrillas, they may refer to their own studies of the U.S involvement in Vietnam. These are known to be critical of the slowness of the Amerip buildup and the limited scope of many offensive operations. It If they take these criticisms to heart 16 17 Drew Xiddleton Soviet Display of Flexibility New York Times, December 28, 1979, p. A 13.

Drew Middleton Options and Problems for Russian Forces in Afghanistan,"

New York Times, December 29, 1979, p. 7. 18 c c they can be expected to build up their forces swiftly to exert relentless pressure on the insurgents to keep them from regrouping and seizing the initiative. Also, th ere is a real danger that the Soviets may be tempted to strike at rebel sanctuaries in Pakistan an action which could provoke direct U.S. involvement under the 1959 defense agreement signed with Pakistan.

However the conflict in Afghanistan will not resemble the while the United States was Vietnam conflict for many reasons. fighting a war thousands of miles across the Pacific in a country with a totally different set of cultural traditions, the Soviets are engaged in a war in the i r own backyard in a country which is inhabited by ethnic groups with close ties to its own Moslem population in Central Asia Viet Cong allies shared a strong central leadership and a common sense of purpose, the Afghan resistance movement is composed of a n ad hoc coalition of 62 separate groups fighting for divergent political, religious tribal and .nationalist goals. Those that profess to see a close parallel between the Soviet involvement in Afghanistan and U.S. involvement in Vietnam would do well to re m ember that the North Vietnamese were able to withstand U.S military pressures for as long as they did because there were deluged with militnry aid from both Moscow and Peking. The Afghan rebels enjoy no such luxury on their own without any significant ext ernal support. without such support, they have little chance of driving out the Soviets through military means- Perhaps the closest similarity between the two confli.cts is likely to be the duration of the struggle.

Given the strength of anti-Communist fee ling in Afghanistan and the scope of the Soviet military commitment, the war in Afghanistan promises to be a long drawn-out ordeal While the North Vietnamese and their They are fighting the Soviets I CONCLUSION Afghanistan is a remote Texas-sized country w hich is perhaps the most difficult nation in the world to govern, given the complex mosaic of staunchly independent ethnic groups which inhabit its isolated valleys. When the urban-based pro-Soviet Khalq Party led by Nur Mohammad Taraki came to power thro u gh a coup in April 1978, it attempted to accomplish too much too fast and thereby precipitated a fundamentalist Islamic backlash in rural areas which spontaneously spread to engulf the entire country. The Tar& regime undermined its own narrow base of powe r through intennittent purges to such an extent that it was forced to depend on imported Soviet advis,ors to administer the country, a dependence which only served to exacerbate the virulent xenophobia of Moslem tribesmen.

On September 14, 1979, Prime Mini ster Hafizollah Amin over threw President Taraki in a bloody coup which blocked Soviet efforts to broaden the base of the communist government and take the steam out of the rebellion. It soon became apparent that the Amin regime was doomed without a massi v e influx of Soviet military 19 i aid. On December 27, the Soviets overthrew President Amin under cover of their military buildup and replaced him with Babruk Ramal, a more pliable pro-Soviet communist. The Soviet interven tion was a well-prepared, efficie ntly executed operation designed to transform Afghanistan into a garrison-type state similar to Mongolia in order to achieve both defensive and offensive aims.

Afghanistan is a stepping stone for the Soviet strategic penetration of the South Asianpersian G ulf area as well as a stepping stone for Islamic religious penetration of Soviet Central Asia to the strategic Straits of Hormuz as well as U.S. naval units in the Arabian Sea. Because Afghanistan is a potential staging area for subversive and separatist activities in Pakistan and Iran, a pro-Soviet Afghanistan enhances Soviet leverage over both states and increases the risks that one or both will be dismembered in the future, possibly paving the way for a pro-Soviet Baluchistan.

Moscow could not afford to permit a communist government to be overthrown in Kabul because such a defeat would undennine the credibility of its commitments elsewhere and acknowledge the incompatibiliw of Marxism and Islam, a dangerous acknowledgement given the rising tide of Islam i c fundamentalism in the Middle East Soviet aircraft based in Afghanistan constitute a threat While Afghan rebels have exhibited a fierce determination to resist the Soviet onslaught, it is unclear how long they can hold out against modern Soviet weaponry. Comparisons with Vietnam aze misleading because the Afghans do not have the Unity, experience leadership, weapons, or external sources of supply which the North Vietnamese enjoyed. In order to have a fighting chance of driving the Soviets out of their cou n try, they must acquire modern anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons. This would greatly complicate the Soviet effort ta suppress the insurgency and would raise the military costs of eliminating the rebels to the point where the Soviets might eventually be t e mpted to settle for a political solution, especially if powerful and persistent multi lateral diplomatic pressures are brought to bear on their aggres sive activities within Afghanistan The United States would be a logical choice to provide military assis t ance to the insurgents and should not rule out doing so under appropriate circumstances.' The attitude of the Pakistani government would be crucial to such an endeavor, but it is by no means clear that Islamabad can withstand Soviet pressures to m-btain s trict neutrality vis-a-vis the conflict in Afghanistan given the perceived meliability of its American connection in the past, its potentially explosive internal problems and the prospective return of the pro-Soviet Gandhi government in India.

Extending support to the Afghan rebels through Iran would go far toward convincing the Iranians that the United States shares many of its concerns and interests in the area, but such a course is impossible as long as American hostages are held in Tehran.

Joint Sino-A merican action holds some promise, but once Badakhshan province is sealed off by the Soviets, such action will be subject to Pakistani annroval. 20 In the final analysis, the Afghan affair represents more of a collision between Soviet and Islamic interest s than between Soviet and American interests. The Afghan rebels are neither pro-Western, nor pro-American they have been defending their tribal interests against the threat of non-Islamic centralized authority, whether that threat emanates from an indigeno u s commu nist dictatorship in Kabul or an insecure imperialist regime in Moscow. Even if they win their war of national liberation, they will be forced to seek some sort of accommodation with Moscow simply because Soviet power looms so.large in Central Asi a. In this sense, the United States cannot "win" in Afghanistan. It is only a question of how much it loses.

Consolidated Soviet control of Afghanistan threatens American interests insofar as it constitutes a potential strategic threat to the Persian Gulf oil routes and pro-Western states in the area. The. United States can contain the damage done to some extent by strongly reaffirming commitments to its friends in the region and by developing its own bases in the Indian Ocean basin to offset the new Sovie t forward outpost in Afghanistan. Even if the best-case assumption is made that the Soviets intervened in Afghanistan for exclusively defensive. purposes, the United States cannot afford not to react similarly in a defensive manner given the critical impor tance of Persian Gulf oil to the long-term strength of the Western alliance Now that the Soviets have seized Afghanistan, they are extremely unlikely to p.edt Afghanistan to slip away.

Islamic powers wish to contest Soviet control, the United States should by all means help pull their chestnuts from the fire, but Washington should do so on its own tenns If the In any event, the invasion of Afghanistan has reinforced the lessons of the Soviet bloc buildup in the Horn of Africa and the South of the Arabian p eninsula: in the long-run, the Islamic and Western worlds will find it in their mutual interest jointly to oppose the expansion of the Soviet bloc i James Phillips Policy Analyst


James Phillips

Former Visiting Fellow, Allison Center