In the last few months, we have seen the U.S. attempt to end the forever war in Afghanistan. Both former President Trump and President Biden pledged to reduce the U.S.’s footprint in the country, as both made attempts to pull out the troops. Trump made a deal with the Taliban in February 2020, which set the stage for Biden to make the final withdrawals. The deal stated that the U.S. would leave the country by May 2021. The U.S. also pledged to reduce the number of troops in the country to 8,600 and withdraw their forces from five military bases. Both Biden and Trump have been criticized by war hawks who have allied themselves with military interests. However, the crisis in Afghanistan is not the fault of Trump or Biden, it is the result of imperialism and mistakes in foreign policy by previous administrations.
The first step that led to the crisis in Afghanistan was the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union. Leonid Brezhnev ordered the Red Army to invade Afghanistan on Dec. 24, 1979, to uphold the Soviet-Afghan Friendship Treaty of 1978 and to install Babrak Karmal as the head of government. The Soviet-Afghan Treaty was signed by the Kremlin and Mohammed Taraki, accompanying a traditional Kremlin ceremony. This agreement effectively pledged military and economic aid to both countries. This set the stage for future conflict within the region because in response to the Afghan coup in 1978, the U.S. started supporting right-wing opposition groups in the region. The main group in opposition to the new Afghan-Soviet government was the Mujahideen, who used guerilla tactics to resist the new regime. The U.S. was so concerned in slowing the influence of Soviet states, that they ended up funding a group in which some members would go on to form the Taliban. The U.S. gifted the Mujahideen various types of weapons including Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and other types of military and economic aid. Ronald Reagan even invited the Mujahideen leaders to the white house in 1987.
The effects of this imperialistic war proved to be devastating for the Afghan civilians. Throughout the Soviet-Afghan war, which lasted from 1979-1989, 1 million civilians were killed. Millions were displaced by the fighting as well, as many had to flee the country as refugees. This war was not fought by the U.S. and the Soviet Union to better the lives of the Afghan civilians, it was fought to prop up their own individual economic and political interests. It is also important to remember the characteristics of Afghanistan before this 10-year war broke out. While Afghanistan had been hurt by internal conflict and foreign inference for decades, the country was not as decimated as it is today. Many pictures show Afghanistan as a stable, modernizing country. Also, from 1880 to 1978, the country was somewhat stable, with only having six rulers over that period.
When one looks at the effects of the conflicts in the late 20th century, numerous effects still apply today. The Brezhnev Doctrine, which required Soviet intervention to save communism in neighboring states, had the largest impact on the region. The Soviet’s goal was to stabilize the region, but it ended up in Taliban rule, the rise of Islamic extremism, and extreme opposition. In other words, it created the start of the downfall for the country. However, the effects of the U.S.’s actions in the region have similar effects. The U.S. propped up Jihadist groups to avoid the domino effect, which critics argue doesn’t exist. The funding of the Mujahideen set the stage for the Taliban and al-Qaeda to dominate the region after the fall of the Soviet regime. While other factors have contributed to the downfall of Afghanistan, including U.S. nation-building in the early 21st century, the desires of economic supremacy by the U.S. and the Soviets created the conditions necessary for Afghanistan to fall.