ROAR: “The Soviet Union wanted to stop Americans in Afghanistan”

Vladimir Kremlev for RT
As Russia marks the 30th anniversary of the introduction of Soviet troops into Afghanistan, most observers say the decision was a huge mistake.

On December 27, 1979, Soviet special force officers stormed the presidential palace in Kabul, killing President Hafizullah Amin and members of his family. The operation had been planned to support one of the rival factions in the ruling People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA).

A war between mujaheddin groups and Soviet troops quickly followed and only ended in 1989. According to different estimates, some 15,000 Soviet troops and army personnel, and one million Afghans were killed during the conflict.

Years have passed since the soviet withdrawal, but geopolitical reasons remain one of the main reasons behind the introduction of combat forces into USSR’s neighboring country. General Valery Vostrotin who fought in Afghanistan, believes that the main task was “to stop Americans there.” To do this the USSR had “to occupy their place there and to secure a loyal leadership,” he told Vesti TV channel.

“Amin by that time started to look at Americans, and we had other tasks – to defend our borders,” he said. “The task was fulfilled, even if with such a price,” the channel said. Many analysts think that the decision to send troops to Afghanistan “delayed the breakup of the Soviet Union for not less than 10 years,” it added.

General Leonid Ivashov, president of the Academy of Geopolitical Problems, believes that Afghanistan “became a victim of its geographical situation.” During a discussion held at RIA Novosti news agency Ivashov described Afghanistan as “the solar plexus of Eurasia.”

Controlling the Afghan territory, “it is possible to influence other countries of the region,” Ivashov said. “At that time, it was possible to influence the Soviet Union, and now Central Asian countries like China, Pakistan, Iran,” he added.

The analyst thinks that there were “strategic grounds” for the introduction of troops. The main cause for that was “the country’s importance for the security of the USSR.” “We could not ignore the fact that if Amin had strengthened its position, American and NATO troops could have been deployed on Afghanistan’s territory,” he said.

Some analysts think that the storm of the palace in Kabul was revenge for the death of previous PDPA’s leader Nur Muhammad Taraki, who had been overthrown and executed by his rival Amin. Ivashov agreed in part with this theory, stressing “that moral obligations of the Soviet leadership before the Taraki regime, which we had supported, also played a role.”

However, many others believe that the decision was a big political mistake and one of the main causes of the USSR’s collapse. At a discussion held in the Central House of Journalists, Sergey Nebrenchin of the Foundation of National and International Security said that “sending troops in December 1979 was not justified.” “The USSR had many other levers and possibilities to influence the situation in Afghanistan,” he added.

Viktor Korgun, head of the Afghan sector at the Institute of Oriental Studies, called the events of 1979 “a political mistake and a crime against two peoples, Soviet and Afghan.” What happened after the storming of the presidential palace “were not in the interests” of both peoples, he told the information portal of the Moscow State Institute of International Relations.

Korgun thinks that one of the most important causes of sending troops was “an attractive geographical situation of Afghanistan rather than fighting the radical forces that had emerged there.” During its entire history Afghanistan was “an intersection of international routes,” he said.

Journalist Mikhail Kozhukhov who worked as a war correspondent in Afghanistan in the 1980s believes that “a chain of absurd events and insufficiently considered decisions led to the introduction of troops.” Dozens of special forces officers and thousands of servicemen had to pay the price for those decisions, Kozhukhov told Rosbalt news agency.

He also stressed that Afghanistan is “a strategic intersection of Asia and a dream of all empires,” but added that no one was able to conquer the country. The Soviet Union had “to defend its interests by some other means, revealing more wisdom, skill and sense of purpose,” he said.

Yury Rubtsov of Strategic Culture Foundation believes that the USSR-supported regime in Kabul could not be described as “a socialist one.” It was a certain “mix of Pushtun nationalism and Marxist ideology,” he said.

“The overthrow [of President Mohammed Daud Khan] was widely proclaimed a people’s revolution, but it was actually another event of the struggle at the top of power between different political forces that did not enjoy people’s support,” the analyst noted. The party that only had slogans loyal to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union came to power in Afghanistan, he said.

The Soviet leadership was enthusiastic about Afghanistan’s “leap from feudalism to socialism,” the analyst said. However, the Taraki regime only relied on the USSR’s help,” he said.

While the Kremlin did not want “to lose Afghanistan,” it was strange that the military leadership except the defense minister “recommended to restrain from solving political problems by military means and stressed the danger of sending troops,” the analyst noted.

However, the radical decision “was prompted by the killing of President Taraki in September 1979, organized by Amin, who after the coup occupied top posts in the party and state,” he added.

The opinion of competent analysts who warned of catastrophic consequences was ignored by the country’s leadership, the analyst said, adding that “by December 1979, the members of the supreme political leadership actually discussed the problem in their narrow circle.”

The decision was not legitimized, the aims of sending troops, methods of their activities and the legal status of the limited contingent were not determined, Rubtsov said. “The population of the Soviet Union was placed before an accomplished fact and had to be satisfied with the propaganda slogans about rendering international assistance to the ‘friendly Afghan people’,” he said.

At the same time, Rubtsov also recognized the existence of “geopolitical reasons” behind the decision. Afghanistan “was traditionally considered a country under the USSR’s geopolitical influence, and the US wanted to break this balance… and increase its military potential in the region,” he said.

Analysts believe that the present Russian leadership should not repeat old mistakes and be cautious about new strategy in Afghanistan and assistance to NATO and the US. “It is a traditional Western policy to prompt other countries to pull chestnuts out of the fire for them,” he said. “Do we need any other warnings after [what happened with Soviet troops in] Afghanistan?” he asked.

Nebrenchin of the Foundation of National and International Security is also concerned about the fact that the idea of “more serious interference of Russia in Afghanistan is attracting supporters.” “Now history repeats itself,” he told website. In 1979, the opinion of those who said that “Soviet troops should under no circumstances enter Afghanistan” was ignored, he said.

Sergey Borisov, RT

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