Editor’s Note: Whilst chronicling Afghan history clear back to Alexander the Great, award winning author and historian Jonathan Steele does clearly confirm here that the US were already active in Afghanistan long before the Soviets occupied that country, and believes that the US actually baited the USSR into the country using their CIA-backed Mujahideen guerrilla force. Many other US narratives about the region are shattered in Steele’s detailed analysis, part of his new book about the war-torn region.
September 28, 2011
The Soviet invasion led to a civil war and western aid for the Afghan resistance
Armed opposition to the government in Kabul long pre-dated the arrival of Soviet troops in December 1979. Every one of the Pakistan-based Afghan mujahideen leaders who became famous during the 1980s as the Peshawar Seven and were helped by the United States, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and China had gone into exile and taken up arms before December 1979, many of them years earlier. As Islamists, they opposed the secular and modernising tendencies of Daoud Khan, [the Afghan PM] who toppled his cousin, King Zahir Shah, in 1973.
Western backing for these rebels had also begun before Soviet troops arrived. It served western propaganda to say the Russians had no justification for entering Afghanistan in what the west called an aggressive land grab. In fact, US officials saw an advantage in the mujahedin rebellion which grew after a pro-Moscow government toppled Daoud in April 1978. In his memoirs, Robert Gates, then a CIA official and later defence secretary under Presidents Bush and Obama, recounts a staff meeting in March 1979 where CIA officials asked whether they should keep the mujahideen going, thereby “sucking the Soviets into a Vietnamese quagmire”. The meeting agreed to fund them to buy weapons.
The CIA’s supply of Stinger missiles to the mujahideen forced the Soviets out of Afghanistan
This myth of the 1980s was given new life by George Crile’s 2003 book Charlie Wilson’s War and the 2007 film of the same name, starring Tom Hanks as the loud-mouthed congressman from Texas. Both book and movie claim that Wilson turned the tide of the war by persuading Ronald Reagan to supply the mujahideen with shoulder-fired missiles that could shoot down helicopters. The Stingers certainly forced a shift in Soviet tactics. Helicopter crews switched their operations to night raids since the mujahideen had no night-vision equipment. Pilots made bombing runs at greater height, thereby diminishing the accuracy of the attacks, but the rate of Soviet and Afghan aircraft losses did not change significantly from what it was in the first six years of the war.
The Soviet decision to withdraw from Afghanistan was made in October 1985, several months before Stinger missiles entered Afghanistan in significant quantities in the autumn of 1986. None of the secret Politburo discussions that have since been declassified mentioned the Stingers or any other shift in mujahideen equipment as the reason for the policy change from indefinite occupation to preparations for retreat.