Here’s some forgotten history. Not ancient history, but nonetheless forgotten. Just a week over 30 years ago, the end of 1979, Afghanistan had a functioning government, the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan (DRA). The fact that it functioned, which now sounds remarkable, was not a good thing as far as the US was concerned because this was also a communist government allied to the Soviet Union (just over its border to the north). In the flight from reality known as The Cold War, the US wished the functioning government in Afghanistan would be toppled. Does the phrase, “Be careful what you wish for” come to mind?
The Afghan government faced immediate resistance from local Islamist militants. The government asked its ally to the north for help. On Christmas Eve, 1979, Leonid Brezhnev sent in the first detachment of the Soviet 40th Army, beginning what was to be a 9 year military debacle for the Russians and the beginning of a slide into chaos for Afghanistan, a slide set up by the Soviet intervention and the active connivance of the US via support for the Islamist mujahideen. India supported the Afghan government, while Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and other Muslim nations joined the US in giving military aid to the Islamist Mujahideen Resistance. Osama bin Laden, member of a wealthy Saudi family, was one of an all-Arab group of foreign volunteers in the Islamic resistance who benefited from US aid.
The seemingly endless Afghan War, often called The Soviet Vietnam, ended in February 1989, shortly before the Soviet Union itself collapsed in 1991. But the DRA survived, even, by many accounts, becoming more effective than during the Soviet years. The crushing blow came when one of its military leaders, Abdul Rashid Dostum, switched to the mujahideen in 1992. As the country descended into chaos he would again switch sides to become a general and Chief of Staff to the Commander in Chief of the Afghan National Army. He was ousted and spent a year in exile in 2008 because of a well-deserved reputation for brutality and human rights abuses. But last June Afghan President Hamid Karzai brought him back as Chief of Staff. Nice.
Let’s return to 1980, the year the Olympics were to be in Moscow. President Jimmy Carter threatened a US boycott of the Olympics if the Soviets didn’t pull out of Afghanistan by midnight EST on February 20, 1980. The Soviets dug in further. On March 21 the US was joined by Japan, West Germany, China, the Philippines and Canada in announcing a boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics. You can read more about it here. Or you can listen to Tom Paxton sign about it. This still seems timely, even though the occupiers have changed: