The United States and Soviet Union in Afghanistan: A Tale of Two Withdrawals

News Analysis When the cash-strapped Soviet Union stopped providing military support to its client government in Afghanistan in February 1989, U.S. intelligence officials predicted immediate demise for the Russian-backed Afghan regime. They were wrong. “Weeks passed and then more weeks. [Soviet-backed leader Mohammad] Najibullah, his cabinet, and his army held firm. Amid heavy snows, the Afghan military pushed out a new defensive ring around the capital, holding the mujahedin farther at bay,” author Steve Coll wrote in “Ghost Wars,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning history on Afghanistan in the 1980s and 90s. “As March approached, the Afghan regime showed no fissures.” The Soviet-backed government survived for three more years, until the Taliban captured Kabul in 1992. Some observers say the Najibullah regime could have lasted indefinitely had the Soviet Union not collapsed in 1991—taking with it the remaining financial, intelligence, and arms it had been providing. Commenting on the failure to accurately …

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