Throughout the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union competed for power and influence in different areas of the world. The Soviet Union began trying to build its influence in Afghanistan to counter the American alliance with Pakistan beginning in 1954. Soviet support for Afghan communists eventually led to the war in Afghanistan.

The Saur Revolution

Before 1978, Afghanistan was a monarchy ruled by King Zahir Shah. However, the king was unable to unify the nation's many tribes under a single government. Most of Afghanistan was rural, tribal and deeply Muslim. However, a communist movement called the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan sought to overthrow the monarchy, modernize Afghan society and ally with the Soviet Union. The People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan had two distinct factions: the more moderate Parcham and the extreme Marxist Khalq faction. In 1978, the Khalq staged an uprising known as the Saur Revolution, killed the prime minister of Aghanistan and formed a revolutionary government under Khalq leader Noor Muhammad Taraki.

Muslim Insurgency, Soviet Invasion

The Khalq's attempts to rapidly turn Afghanistan into a socialist society alienated the country's tribal leaders, most of whom were fervent Muslims. The Soviet Union saw the Khalq as being too extreme and preferred to support the Parcham, but under the "Brezhnev Doctrine" the Soviets were committed to preventing any socialist government from falling to a counter-revolution. When an insurgency of guerrillas known as mujahadeen or "holy warriors" began to threaten the government of Taraki's successor Hafizullah Amin, the Soviet 40th Army invaded the country in December 1979 to support the communists.

Power Struggles

As the mujahadeen insurgency continued, the Soviet occupation force got caught up in the power struggles between the Khalq and the Parcham factions of Afghan communism. Believing that the Khalq's radicalism was provoking the insurgency, a team of Soviet KGB agents assassinated Amin and put the Parcham leader Kamal Barbak in power. However, the severity of Soviet counter-insurgency tactics had just as much to do with the growing insurgency as the policies of the communist government. The Soviet occupation force grew to 100,000 soldiers, including Special Forces units. Soviet forces tried to break the insurgency through bombings, executions and the torture of prisoners, but these methods only angered the population and fueled the resistance.

Proxy War

The United States was not the only nation concerned by the Soviet presence in Afghanistan. China and Pakistan both saw the Soviet occupation as a threat to their own interests in the region, and both nations joined the United States, Saudi Arabia and Egypt in providing weapons and money to the mujahadeen insurgents. With so much support from outside the country, the mujahadeen were able to keep staging guerrilla attacks despite the huge numbers of Soviet troops in Afghanistan. In 1989, after 10 years and tens of thousands of casualties, Soviet forces withdrew. However, the mujahadeen never succeeded in forming an effective central government. Instead, a new force called the Taliban took over much of the country in 1996 and set the stage for yet another conflict.