How Afghanistan Was Broken: The Disaster of the Soviet Intervention

Journal article

Baev, Pavel K. (2012) How Afghanistan Was Broken: The Disaster of the Soviet Intervention, International Area Studies Review 15 (3): 249–262.

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The self-propelling dynamics of violence in Afghanistan, which appears set to outlast the as yet on-going peace-making, is rooted in the impact of the Soviet intervention, in which fighting was only an element of the complex political drama of destruction of the Afghan state. The intervention was launched in response to the escalation of domestic crisis in Afghanistan, about which the Soviet leadership knew much but understood little. The Soviet Army showed the capacity for learning but the improved tactical skills and upgraded operations brought only greater destruction, which was counter-productive in the absence of a coherent strategy and turned out to be politically unsustainable. No retrospective analysis can establish with any certainty whether the war had a ‘military solution’ or not, but it is quite clear that the USSR in its autumnal decade had neither Stalinist determination nor Leninist ingenuity to find one. The Soviet military machine was not over-burdened by the peripheral war and could have absorbed the defeat, but the consequences of the Mujahedin victory for Afghanistan were truly devastating. The USA helped to mobilize the most aggressively radical forces and remained in denial on their anti-modernization agenda, assuming that the ‘black hole’ that would emerge after the Soviet withdrawal was an isolated problem of no global significance.

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