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Afghan War News > History > Soviet Afghan War

Soviet Union Invasion of Afghanistan

The Soviets invaded Afghanistan on December 24, 1979. The intervention was initially planned as a limited incursion to restore stability to a communist government in Afghanistan. However, the Soviet Union was to stay for about ten years, finally withdrawing in 1989.

Soviet Troops in Afghanistan
Soviet Troops In Afghanistan (Department of Defense)

Reasons the Soviet Union Invaded Afghanistan

Historians cite a number of reasons for the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union. One of the primary reasons was to put an end to the internal political tensions among the Communists in power in the Afghan government and to assist the Afghan Army in defeating the Mujahideen insurgency that threatened the Afghan government and possibly the Central Asian region within the Soviet Union.

The West's View on the Soviet Motives for the Invasion of Afghanistan

Some observers of the Soviet-Afghan conflict point to the defensive nature of the invasion - the quest to ensure the survival of a friendly communist nation within the Soviet sphere of influence. Others pointed out that the invasion was a first step to acquiring access to the Indian Ocean - less than 300 miles from Afghanistan - and a major throughway for the shipping of oil.

Mistakes Made by the Soviets

Understanding Afghanistan. The Soviets lacked an understanding of the cultural, religious, and regional aspects of the Afghan population. The belief that a strong centralized government offering social reform and economic programs would provide support to that centralized government was missplaced. The concept of nationhood was rejected by a rural population that placed more emphasis on clan, tribe, ethnic, and religious allegiance.

Understanding an Insurgency. The Soviets were prepared to fight a short intervention where its troops would protect major garrisons and airfields while the Afghan Army would root out and kill the insurgents. The Soviets quickly found out the Afghan Army was not up to the task and that the Soviet Army was ill-suited and untrained in counterinsurgency.

Outside Support to the Mujihadeen

There were many countries that aided the Afghan insurgents fighting the Soviet Union troops in Afghanistan and the Afghan Communist regime's military forces. Principle among these nations were Pakistan, United States, and some Persian Gulf nations.

Soviet Withdrawal from Afghanistan
Soviet vehicles cross bridge from Afghanistan into
Soviet Union on February 15, 1989

Withdrawal From Afghanistan

The Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan in February 1989. The withdrawal went smoothly as a result of a truce with mujahideen with leaders based in northern Afghanistan. The Soviet-backed regime held out for three more years against the mujahideen. The regime collasped after Boris Yeltsin's Russia stopped aid and units of the Afghan army defected to the mujahideen.

Consequences of the Soviet-Afghan War

Many cite the Soviets experience in Afghanistan as one of the lead causes for the fall of the Soviet Union. The war was a costly endeavor which the centralized and flawed economic system could not afford. The war also had immense social ramifications on the home front.

Websites about the Soviet Afghan War

Soviet War in Afghanistan. Wikipedia.

The Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan and the U.S. Response, 1978-1980. U.S. Department of State, Office of the Historian.

Reports, Papers, and Publications about the Soviet Afghan War


Liffiton, Alexander. "The Soviet-Afghanistan War: Direct and Indirect Intervention", Small Wars Journal, August 1, 2016.


Evans, Ryan. Moscow's Clients from Kabul to Damascus: Strength and Strategy in International Politics, War on the Rocks, December 9, 2015.


Mehra, Uday Rai. Why Did the Soviet Union Invade Afghanistan in 1979?, E-International Relations, October 9, 2014.

Mehra, Uday Rai. Why Did the Soviet Union Invade Afghanistan in 1979?, E-International Relations, October 9, 2014.

Roh, MAJ Anthony M., Russian Organizational Learning in the Context of the Afghanistan and Chechnya Counterinsurgenices, December 2014. School of Advanced Military Studies of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Paper posted on the Homeland Security Digital Library.

Ruttig, Thomas. Crossing the Bridge: The 25th anniversary of the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, Afghanistan Analysts Network, February 15, 2014. The Soviets departed Afghanistan in February 1989 insisting they had not lost. Their withdrawal was a smooth one as a result of a truce with Ahmad Sha Massud - the main northern mujahedin leader.


Oliker, Olga. Building Afghanistan's Security Forces in Wartime: The Soviet Experience, RAND Corporation, 2011.

Sullivan, Charles J. The Kremlin and Kabul: "The 1979 Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan in Restrospect", The Washington Review, September 2011. . . .soviet-invasion-. . .


Kalinovsky, Artemy. The Blind Leading the Blind: Soviet Advisors, Counter-Insurgency and Nation-Building in Afghanistan, Working Paper #60, Cold War International History Project, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, January 2010.


Gibbs, David N., "Afghanistan: the Soviet invasion in retrospect", International Politics 37:233-246, June 2000. . . . afghan-ip.pdf


CNA, Beyond Afghanistan: Changing Soviet Perspectives on Regional Conflicts, CNA Analysis & Solutions, October 1, 1991.


Collins, Joseph J. "The Use of Force in Soviet Foreign Policy: The Case of Afghanistan", Conflict Quarterly, pages 20-47, Spring 1983.


Singleton, Dr. Seth. "The Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan", Air University Review, March-April 1981. Maxwell Air Force Base. . . . /mar-apr/singleton.htm

Weinland, Robert. An (The?) Explanation of the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan, Professional Paper 309, May 1981. Center of Naval Analyses, Institute of Naval Studies.


Phillips, James. The Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan, The Heritage Foundation, January 9, 1980.

Videos about Soviet Afghan War

July 12, 2014. Bruce Riedel on the Lessons From Afghanistan, Lawfare Podcast. A video of a discussion about the CIA's involvement in the mujahadeen fight against the Soviet occupation. Based on the book "What We Won: America's Secret War in Afghanistan, 1979-1989", by Bruce Riedel. Riedal is a Senior Fellow and Director of the Intelligence Project at Brookings Institute. In this talk, Riedel discusses why the American intelligence operation was so successful.

1982. Afghanistan 1982. Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan, 1979. The Russian Army against the Afghan Insurgents.  (46 minutes). International Communication Agency, United States of America.

Books about Soviet Union and Afghan War

Riedel, Bruce. What We Won: America's Secret War in Afghanistan, 1979-89", Brookings Institute, July 2014.

Historical Documents on the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan

April 15, 2007. Predicting the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan: The Intelligence Community's Record, Central Intelligence Agency. . . . record.html

January 4, 1980. Address to the Nation on the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan", President Jimmy Carter. The American Presidency Project, UC Santa Barbara.

December 28, 1979. Memoradum of Conversation between President Carter and PM Thatcher on Afghanistan. Margaret Thatcher Foundation.

Afghanistan & the United Nations. UN News Centre. A history of the UN involvement in Afghanistan since 1979 to the present.

Photographic Collections of the Soviet Afghan War

March 5, 2014. "The Jihad Museum: Afghanistan Remembers the Soviet Invasion". The Atlantic. A series of photographs of the People's Museum in Herat City, Afghanistan.

December 17, 2004. In pictures: Afghan tour of duty,  Soviets in Afghanistan.

Views of Afghanistan. Russian photo collection.

Reading Lists and Bibliographies of the Soviet-Afghan War

Yeremeev, Mikhail. The War in Afghanistan and its Effects on the Soviet Economy, Boston University, undated.

News Reports and Articles about Soviet Occupation of Afghanistan

July 31, 2016. "Afghanistan Still Hasn't Recovered from the Soviet Invasion", by Shawn Snow of The National Interest. The author contends that "Afghanistan's current situation is haunted by the ghosts of the Soviet invasion, which disrupted the country's rural subsistence economy. The dissolution of Afghanistan's social fabric and rapid urbanization from rural communities created a spiral into warlordism and the constate cycle of competition between warlords and strongmen."

February 22, 2015. Six Days that Shook Kabul: The '3 Hut uprising', first urban protest against the Soviet occupation, by Thomas Ruttig, Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN). A detailed recounting of the early 1980 demonstrations and protests against the Soviet occupation.

October 1, 2011. "Launching the Missle that Made History". The Wall Street Journal. Three former mujahedeen recall the day when they started to beat the Soviets; the use of the Stinger anti-aircraft missile.

January 3, 2010. "Why Did the Soviet Union Invade Afghanistan?". By daryl Morini, E-International Relations.

October 10, 2006. The Soviet Occupation of Afghanistan, PBS Newshour.

Books about the Soviet Invasion and Occupation of Afghanistan

1995. Afghanistan: The Soviet Invasion and the Afghan Response, 1979-1982, By M. Hassan Kakar, University of California Press.


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