Trump endorses Soviet invasion of Afghanistan

The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979 “because terrorists were going into Russia,” President Trump told a cabinet meeting Wednesday, adding, “They were right to be there.” Read story here.

No, they weren’t. The Soviet occupation of Afghanistan was an evil exercise comparable to what the Nazis did only on a smaller scale. Although Islamic terrorism originating in Afghanistan is a problem for Russia now, it wasn’t then; that started with the Taliban after the breakup of the Soviet Union. The Soviet-Afghan War had completely different origins. The 1979 invasion was triggered by factional infighting among the Afghan communists who seized power in a 1978 coup, their inability to defeat an Islamic-inspired insurgency, and Moscow’s paranoia about CIA involvement in Afghanistan.

Let’s be clear about what Trump is endorsing: The Soviet-Afghan War killed over a million Afghans and turned millions more into refugees. The Soviet military perpetrated genocide against the Afghan people as part of a deliberate strategy to depopulate Afghanistan in order to deprive the Afghan resistance of indigenous support. Soviet genocidal acts included shelling and burning villages, mass murder of civilians, destroying irrigation works and sowing farm fields with mines — actions that drew worldwide condemnation. Meanwhile, the U.S., Pakistan, China, and Saudi Arabia sided with the resistance and provided weapons, pack animals, intelligence, and refugee aid while Iran and Pakistan sheltered over 5 million Afghan refugees, by far the world’s largest refugee group at the time. American taxpayers spent billions of dollars to help secure the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan.

Now for some history to help you understand the origins of that war. In 1973, Afghanistan’s king was overthrown by his cousin, Daoud, who ruled until 1978, when he provoked a coup by pro-Soviet army officers in which he was overthrown and killed. He was replaced by Taraki, head of the Afghan communist party’s Khalq faction, who in September 1979 was overthrown and killed by Amin, another Khalq leader.

Taraki and Amin attempted to impose profound changes on Afghan society, which were not well received by the populace, and soon the country was in full-fledged revolt under the leadership of seven Islamic parties organized more or less along ethnic lines and backed by Pakistan. The communists in Moscow and Kabul saw the uprising as a “counter-revolution,” but in reality a deeply religious people were defending their religion. The Afghan communists in Kabul insisted Islam had to go; Soviet officials in Moscow, whose government for decades had tolerated the open practice of Islam in their southern republics where the populations were predominantly Muslim, were skeptical and tried, without success, to get their Afghan counterparts to leave Islam alone.

It was a given that Afghanistan’s devout Muslims  — i.e., 99% of the population — would fight the Kabul regime. Its crackdown on religion — one of the first things they did after seizing power was go into rural villages and arrest the religious leaders, take them away, and torture and kill them — turned the uprising into a holy war or jihad.

Faced with a rapidly expanding insurgency, the Kabul regime repeatedly asked for Soviet military assistance, which initially was refused, but Amin’s arrogant belligerence alienated and alarmed the Soviet leaders, and they decided to get rid of him. The December 1979 invasion began with a KGB-led attack against the presidential palace in Kabul with the objective of killing Amin. While Soviet elite units were carrying out this task, Soviet regular troops seized the city and airfield, and once the airfield was in their hands, reinforcements poured in to subdue the Afghan army if need be.

With Kabul in their possession, the Soviets installed Karmal, a leader of the rival Parcham faction who was friendly to Moscow, at the head of an Afghan government now subordinate to Soviet diktat. Fast forwarding to 1986, with the war going badly, Moscow deposed and exiled (but did not kill) Karmal, who was succeeded by Najibullah, who outlasted the Soviet occupation and remained in power until 1992, but refused to flee when he had the chance and was killed by the Taliban in 1996. (Note that all Afghanistan’s leaders during this period except Karmal were murdered; such is the nature of Afghan politics.)

By the way, Gorbachev, who ascended to the pinnacle of Soviet leadership in 1985, isn’t the grandfatherly teddy bear he pretends to be. Before he gave up on the war in Afghanistan, he wanted to win it, and gave the Soviet generals one year and complete freedom of action to do it. The Soviets’ worst atrocities occurred on his watch and he did nothing to stop them. Gorbachev is a war criminal with innocent blood on his hands.

The Soviet invasion was actually an intervention in a civil war their side was losing. From the outset, the Soviets insisted they had limited aims, and throughout their occupation of Afghanistan they called their forces “the Limited Contingent of Soviet Forces in Afghanistan.” This probably was true. We know from Soviet archives that several of the Kremlin leaders were reluctant to intervene in the first place, and there’s no evidence they ever contemplated using Afghanistan as a stepping-stone to the Persian Gulf, as the CIA feared, and to do that they’d have to go through Iran, which was now in the hands of ill-tempered Islamic revolutionaries. The Soviets never committed more than 140,000 troops in Afghanistan, far less than needed to fully pacify the country, and the Soviet occupation forces largely contented themselves with occupying the major cities and airfields and protecting their supply lines. In other words, they bore no resemblance to a conquering army.

As for what motivated the Soviet intervention, there probably was no single cause. Soviet leaders had long been nervous about the Muslim populations and Islamic movements in their southern republics and the neighboring countries of Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. The Brezhnev Doctrine may have played a role; while Moscow didn’t instigate the communist coup in Kabul, once their Afghan communist clients had a foothold, they weren’t inclined to yield it back. In particular, they didn’t want an Islamic government in Kabul or one friendly to the West. They were paranoid about the CIA’s intentions in Afghanistan, and suspected Amin of being a CIA collaborator — another reason for installing their own man in Kabul. Moscow also had investments in Afghanistan; since the 1950s, the Soviets had provided aid to Afghanistan, including military training and equipment and construction projects (roads and dams). By 1979, a significant number of Soviet military and civilian advisers were working and living in Kabul and other Afghan cities. Some of these were massacred in March 1979 during an uprising in the Afghan city of Herat, thus an element of protecting their own citizens may have entered into the Soviet decision to send their troops to Afghanistan.

The Soviet commanders initially expected the Afghan army to do the fighting, with their own forces in support, but the Afghan army was an ineffective fighting force — a problem that would later bedevil the Americans in their battles against the Taliban. Conscripts defected to the mujahideen in large numbers, and the rest were unreliable, so the Soviets had to fight the insurgents themselves and do it with unmotivated Russian conscripts suffering from low morale.

The highly motivated insurgents, using Pakistan as a base and sanctuary, and supported by western aid funneled through the Pakistani intelligence services, concentrated their efforts on ambushing enemy supply convoys and mounting rocket and mortar attacks against occupied cities and enemy bases. Except for a few Soviet elite units operating against mujahideen travel routes, Soviet soldiers rarely left the roads or ventured into the countryside. By the mid-1980s, after several years of war, the Soviets adopted more aggressive tactics, but shortly after Gorbachev became leader of the Soviet Union, he decided to pull out of Afghanistan. The Soviet departure in 1989 was followed by a civil war between the resistance factions and then the Taliban takeover in the 1990s.

At first glance, Trump’s remarks come across as ignorant and silly, but something deeper is going on here. His words echo Russian propaganda, so it’s no mystery where the thought came from. As David Frum wrote in The Atlantic,

“It’s amazing enough that any U.S. president would retrospectively endorse the Soviet invasion. What’s even more amazing is that he would do so using the very same falsehoods originally invoked by the Soviets themselves: ‘terrorists’ and ‘bandit elements.’ It has been an important ideological project of the Putin regime to rehabilitate and justify the Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan.” (Emphasis in original; see story here.)

Given the CIA was deeply involved in the Soviet-Afghan War and Trump’s well-known hostility toward the CIA, it’s clear this wasn’t an off-the-cuff remark, but Trump calculatedly lashing out at the CIA and earning bonus points from his pal Putin in the process. Seen from this perspective, it’s not surprising he did it, and it certainly wasn’t spontaneous.

The Soviet-Afghan War was a brutal attempt by a superpower to impose a communist government on a small country that cost millions of innocent lives. The world was right to condemn the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and its genocidal campaign there.

Now we see Trump, a man who couldn’t care less about such things, stick a thumb in the eyes of the Afghan dead to serve his own selfish political interests. He took a cheap shot at the Afghan martyrs to ingratiate himself to Putin. That’s not worthy of a skinhead, much less the titular leader of the free world.

Photos: Afghan refugees fleeing to Pakistan and an Afghan refugee camp in Pakistan during the Soviet-Afghan War.

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