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About this book

A whole generation has grown up in Afghanistan knowing little but the ravages of war. The dramatic overthrow of the Taliban regime in 2001 was simply one event in a series of interrelated struggles which have blighted ordinary people's lives over the last three decades, and which continue to interfere with reconciliation and reconstruction.

This new edition of The Afghanistan Wars provides a meticulously-documented history of these successive waves of conflict. It explores in detail:
• the roots of Afghanistan's slide into disorder in the late 1970s
• how the Soviet Union came to the rescue of unworthy clients and was then sucked into a quagmire
• the frightening consequences of state breakdown and self-interested meddling by Afghanistan's neighbours in the period after communist rule collapsed
• the rise and fall of the Taliban regime.

Thoroughly revised in the light of the latest research, the second edition also features a new final chapter which examines post-Taliban Afghanistan, bringing the story up to the present day and mounting a strong case for continuing support for this troubled country.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Abstract
Afghanistan is a land of extremes. For nearly fifty years of the twentieth century — from 1929 until 1978 — it was one of the most peaceful countries in Asia. It maintained its neutrality during the Second World War, avoided war with its neighbours, and was internally free of mass killings and mayhem. All this fell apart with a Marxist coup in 1978. From that point, it saw out the century in an ocean of blood. Afghanistan’s wars have come in three waves. First, from 1979 to 1989, following the USSR’s December 1979 invasion of the country, an embattled communist regime and its Soviet backers were battered by popular resistance groups, known as Mujahideen, some of whom received significant external support. The Soviet-Afghan war was one of the seminal events of the late twentieth century, a struggle which cast into sharp relief the defects of the Soviet model of mono-organizational socialism, and contributed to the mood swing which ultimately led to the end of the Cold War and the disintegration of the Soviet Union itself. But more than this, it confirmed Clausewitz’s depiction of war as a continuation of politics with the admixture of other means. Military force proved unable to provide a legitimate foundation for communist rule: no matter how impressive the military performance of elements of the Soviet armed forces, they were unable to deliver the political outcomes by which success was defined. Big Nations do indeed lose Small Wars (Mack, 1983).
William Maley

1. The Road to War

Abstract
The road to war in Afghanistan was not a straight one. There is by now a vast and sophisticated modern literature on the causes of war (see, e.g., Waltz, 1959; Aron, 1966; Blainey, 1973; Holsti, 1996; Doyle, 1997; Black, 1998), building on the insights of such classical theorists as Thucydides, Hobbes, Rousseau, and Kant, which points to the potential roles of individuals, state structures, and anarchical interstate orders in contributing to the outbreak of war. There is also a very useful body of work on the role of perception and misperception in the shaping of policy (Jervis, 1976; Vertzberger, 1990). Making proper use of this material is always a challenge. On the one hand, it is perilous to become fixated with any single factor which the literature identifies. As the late Bernard Brodie once shrewdly observed, ‘any theory of the causes of war in general or of any war in particular that is not inherently eclectic and comprehensive, that is, which does not take into account at the outset the relevance of all sorts of diverse factors, is bound for that very reason to be wrong’ (Brodie, 1973: 339). At the same time, to explore all the insights which these writings can offer to those interested in the causes of the Afghanistan War would rapidly exhaust the patience of the reader. My hope is rather that echoes from these magisterial analyses will be audible at many different points in the pages which follow.
William Maley

2. Soviet Strategy, Tactics, and Dilemmas

Abstract
Having opted to inject its armed forces into a somewhat unpromising theatre of operations, the Soviet leadership was immediately confronted with a number of choices relating to the strategy to be pursued in Afghanistan, and to the military tactics which would best further that strategy. Many of the most important of these decisions were left to the Soviet military to take. In Chapters 4 and 5, I will discuss in more detail the most important specific operations in which the Soviets engaged, setting these in the context of the politics of the times. The aim of this chapter is to introduce the reader to the Soviet armed forces, and to examine in some detail the general types of strategic objectives and tactical approaches which the Soviets pursued. First, I give a brief sketch of the Soviet military. Second, I examine key dimensions of Soviet military strategy, both at a theoretical level, and in terms of the broad objectives of the Afghanistan commitment. Third, I outline briefly the different tactical approaches which the Soviet military adopted in Afghanistan. Finally, I set out four major challenges which the Soviets confronted in Afghanistan, and which they ultimately found it either difficult or impossible to meet.
William Maley

3. The Development of Afghan Resistance

Abstract
If there was one thing predictable following the Soviet invasion, it was that Soviet forces would encounter significant popular resistance. What was unclear was just how significant that resistance would be, how well-organized, how sustainable, how determined. However, there were grounds at the outset for the Soviet leadership to be pessimistic. In his great treatise On War, published posthumously in 1832, Carl von Clausewitz had analysed the circumstances under which what he called ‘a general uprising’ could be effective, and identified five preconditions: that the war ‘must be fought in the interior of the country’; that it ‘must not be decided by a single stroke’; that the ‘theatre of operations must be fairly large’; that the ‘national character must be suited to that type of war’; and that the ‘country must be rough and inaccessible, because of mountains, or forests, marches, or the local methods of cultivation’ (Clausewitz, 1984: 480; see also Smith, 2005: 31–4). The parallels with the situation in Afghanistan in 1980 are almost perfect.
William Maley

4. The Karmal Period, 1979–1986

Abstract
The Soviet-Afghan War fell into a number of distinct phases. In the most detailed study of the rhythm of the Afghan War, Goodson divides it into eight stages. This chapter is specifically concerned with the second and third stages which Goodson identifies, namely those which he calls ‘National resistance and Soviet entrenchment (1980–1983)’ and ‘Air war, interdiction, and destabilization (1983–1986)’. The first of these he classifies as a period of medium but increasing intensity, and the second as a period of high and increasing intensity (Goodson, 1998: 486). What unites these stages, however, was the occupancy by Babrak Karmal of the position of head of the PDPA; indeed, Goodson argues that it was the replacement of Karmal as party leader that brought the third stage of the war to a close. While Soviet military tactics certainly shifted in 1983, because of new approaches to counter-insurgency activity and associated improvements in the use of airpower, the USSR’s political dilemma remained the same: that Karmal’s reputation was irretrievably contaminated by the way in which he had come to office. This justifies treating the Karmal period in its entirety. In 1942, Winston Churchill described the allied victory in Egypt as marking ‘perhaps the end of the beginning’. The fall of Karmal played a similar role in the Afghanistan war. But history rarely falls into neat categories, and one can also argue that as far as Afghan communism was concerned, the rise of Mikhail Gorbachev marked the beginning of the end. It certainly did for Karmal, even though Gorbachev’s rise initially led to a major escalation rather than reduction of Soviet military activities.
William Maley

5. The Najibullah-Gorbachev Period, 1986–1989

Abstract
The fall of Babrak Karmal led to a period of what Goodson calls ‘Resistance gains and Soviet withdrawals’, marked by high and stable intensity (Goodson, 1998: 478). It concluded in February 1989 when the withdrawal of Soviet combat troops from Afghanistan was completed. While the next chapter examines in detail the specific processes by which the Soviet leadership decided to undertake the withdrawal, and the orchestration and conduct of the withdrawal, this chapter is concerned with the wider developments in both Afghanistan and the USSR which left the Soviet leadership with little taste for its Afghan commitment. A key theme which emerges is that while Afghanistan was more public a preoccupation in the Soviet Union during this period than it had been previously, the real interest of the Soviet leadership in its Afghan clients was declining sharply as it focused inward on domestic political reforms such as glasnost’, perestroika, and demokratizatsiia, the very changes which ultimately were to eat away the foundations of Soviet power. The reality of failure in Afghanistan was finally grasped in Moscow, and as the composition of the Soviet leadership changed, so did its commitment to adventures abroad.
William Maley

6. The Road to Soviet Withdrawal

Abstract
In a radio broadcast on 8 February 1988, General Secretary Gorbachev announced the intention of the Soviet Union to begin the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan by 15 May 1988. In his Vladivostok speech of 28 July 1986, he had signalled an intention to withdraw six regiments by the end of the year, but the announcement had met with widespread scepticism (Saikal and Maley, 1991: 91). The February 1988 commitment was of a totally different character: the proposal was for a complete rather than partial withdrawal, and was ultimately to lead to the signing in April 1988 of the so-called ‘Geneva Accords’ which provided a formal cover for the USSR’s retreat. Gorbachev’s announcement had not been widely anticipated: apart from the analyst Anthony Arnold, who had long argued that the USSR would be obliged to withdraw (Arnold, 1988), few observers had held out much hope that the Soviets would ever be prepared to accept that the gains of a Marxist-Leninist ‘revolution’ could be reversed. In this sense, the withdrawal from Afghanistan was a seismic development in world affairs, and the subsequent fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet sphere of influence in Eastern Europe represented the extension and expansion of a principle which had already been conceded in the remote reaches of Southwest Asia.
William Maley

7. Consequences of the Soviet-Afghan War

Abstract
The completion of the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan was not a moment of rapturous joy for Afghans, although there were certain grounds for celebration. On the one hand, those who had battled Soviet forces since the December 1979 invasion felt overwhelming pride that a superpower had been forced into what they saw as a retreat. But on the other hand, the suffering which the people of Afghanistan had been forced to endure during a decade of occupation was enormous, and even on the most optimistic of scenarios, the damage which had been inflicted on the country would take years if not decades to put right. From the Soviet point of view, too, there was little about which to be satisfied. Thousands of young soldiers had perished in a harsh land for little gain, leaving grieving relatives to ponder how and why such a disastrous commitment had come to be undertaken. Yet the war affected the two states very differently, and the aim of this chapter is briefly to identify some of the more important of these effects, together with two particularly important lessons of the war. In Afghanistan, the war produced a multilayered destructuring of politics, economy, and society, in ways which remain massively apparent at the beginning of a new century.
William Maley

8. The Interregnum of Najibullah, 1989–1992

Abstract
Few observers expected Najibullah’s regime to last for very long after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. Yet over three years were to pass before it finally disintegrated, years of what Goodson called ‘high intensity civil war’ (Goodson, 1998: 480). These years were marked by a growing indifference to Afghanistan in the wider world, driven in part by the emergence of dramatic events elsewhere. The fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of communism and the end of the Cold War were momentous developments which overshadowed Afghanistan and the Afghans’ contributions to political change in the Soviet bloc. The Bush Administration and its key policymakers were preoccupied with the careful management of transition in the Soviet Union (Beschloss and Talbott, 1993; Bush and Scowcroft, 1998), and then from August 1990 with the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and its regional and international consequences. The situation in Afghanistan after the Soviet troop withdrawal appeared a minor concern when compared with these great events, and that unfortunately was how it was treated. Yet it was a period of great significance in the long run, for Afghanistan became the venue for a bitter transnational war which permitted groups such as Osama Bin Laden’s to find a haven, and was brought to an end only in September 2001 when Pakistan, under intense US pressure, was forced to abandon the active promotion of its Taliban clients.
William Maley

9. The Rise and Fall of the Rabbani Government, 1992–1996

Abstract
The period from 1992 to 1996 is one of the more misunderstood in modern Afghan history. It is all too frequently depicted as a period of unmitigated despair during which undisciplined ‘warlords’, seemingly determined to establish that they were even less appetising than the communist regime, battered each other for no obvious purpose at hideous cost to the civilian population. The vocabulary of ‘tribal warfare’, of ‘honour’ and ‘revenge’, and of the ‘blood feud’ is deployed to give a semblance of anthropological respectability to such claims.
William Maley

10. The Rise and Rule of the Taliban, 1994–2001

Abstract
On the morning of 27 September 1996, the residents of Kabul awoke to a grisly spectacle. Two dead bodies were hanging from a traffic policeman’s pylon in a downtown square. The dead men were Dr Najibullah and his younger brother. Just a few days earlier, during a meeting with UN Under-Secretary-General Marrack Goulding, Najibullah had declined to leave Kabul. ‘He had no fear of the Taliban, he said; his only enemy was Ahmed Shah Masood’ (Boutros-Ghali, 1999: 301). It was the worst, and the last, mistake of his life. Photographs of the spectacle were flashed around the world, and although the exact identity of the killers was never firmly established, it was universally interpreted as a manifestation of the Taliban character.
William Maley

11. The Fall of the Taliban

Abstract
On 9 September 2001, some Arab journalists carrying Belgian passports arrived in Khwaja Bahauddin to conduct an interview with Ahmad Shah Massoud. It proved to be anything but a normal interview. They presented Massoud with a list of 15 questions typed in French. Two questions might have provoked more caution than they did: ‘Why do you call Osama Bin Laden a killer?’ and ‘If you take Kabul, what will you do with him?’ But nobody spotted anything out of the ordinary, until the Afghan Ambassador to India, Masood Khalili, happened to notice that the cameraman had a ‘nasty smile on his face’. It was too late: an instant later, a bomb hidden in the camera exploded. Khalili said that he saw ‘a dark blue, thick fire rushing towards us’ (Dugger, 2001). Within a short space of time, Massoud was dead, although his death was not officially announced until 15 September. Such an assassination had no precedent in Afghan circles. Suspicion immediately fell on Osama Bin Laden (Fitchett, 2001), and what looked like proof positive finally surfaced at the end of 2001, when computer files in Kabul belonging to Bin Laden’s organisation Al-Qaida (‘The Base’) were found by Western journalists to contain the list of questions presented to Massoud, typed out in May 2001 (Cullison and Higgins, 2002).
William Maley

12. Post-Taliban Afghanistan

Abstract
The overthrow of the Taliban regime confronted Afghanistan with a substantial new set of challenges, and the years which followed were largely devoted to meeting them. Yet the outcomes, perhaps inevitably, were mixed, with a notable gulf between the formal requirements of the 2001 Bonn Agreement, and the wider needs of ordinary Afghans in Afghanistan itself. Positive developments such as improvements in the position of at least some women (Azerbaijani-Moghaddam, 2006; Azerbaijani-Moghaddam, 2007), a major currency reform, the drafting of a new constitution, and the holding of presidential and parliamentary elections were interspersed with darker developments such as major bombings, serious attempts on the life of the president in 2002 and 2008, the brazen assassination of Vice-President Haji Abdul Qadir on 6 July 2002, and mounting violence in the south and east of the country. The story of the years since 2001 is one of notable achievements mixed with tragically missed opportunities, often as a result of short-sighted decisions taken beyond Afghanistan’s borders. By April 2008, Afghanistan was once again a focus of international alarm, dominating discussion at President George W. Bush’s final NATO Summit held in the Romanian capital of Bucharest (Yaqub and Maley, 2008; Maley, 2008c).
William Maley
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