Twenty nine years ago – today – 5 February 1989, the former Soviet Union announced its complete withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, ending a nine-year war that claimed the lives of millions of Afghans.
In 1979 the Soviet Union entered then neighboring Afghanistan in the hope of shoring up the newly-established pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. Quickly almost 100,000 Soviet Union soldiers took control of major cities and highways around the country but war soon broke out with the rise of the Mujahideen.
The war lasted nine years and in that time an estimated one million civilians, including children, were killed, along with 90,000 Mujahideen fighters, more than 20,000 Afghan troops and over 14,000 Soviet soldiers.
Marking the anniversary, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said on Thursday on Twitter that “Feb 15 marks the end of the Soviet Union occupation of Afghanistan. Since the invasion, Afghans have paid a heavy price in life and treasure. I pay tribute to the Afghan nation in fight against the Soviets and to those who have lost their lives during and after the withdrawal.
“But none of that has broken our resolve as a nation to invest in and to rebuild our country together. In the same spirit, we must be self-reliant economically to achieve full independence.
“I, therefore, encourage all Afghans to stand behind government’s reforms agenda to increase our productivity and economic growth in order to restore a nation free of war and instability for our future generations,” he said.
In 1979 Hafizullah Amin was the ruler of Afghanistan. The Soviets were told by its KGB spies that Amin's rule was a threat to the part of Central Asia that was the USSR and they suspected that he was not loyal to the Soviet Union.
The Soviets also suspected that Amin was behind the death of his predecessor president Nur Muhammad Taraki.
In light of this they decided to remove him and on 22 December 1979, Soviet advisers to the army of Afghanistan took many steps. They stopped all telecommunication links in Kabul. No messages could come inside the city, or go outside the city. Soviet air force troops also reached Kabul.
Noting some danger, Amin sought refuge in the presidential palace but on December 27, about 700 Soviet troops took over major government and military buildings in Kabul.
On the same night the Soviet troops reportedly destroyed Kabul's communication systems and minutes later stormed the presidential palace.
By morning, Amin and his two sons had been killed. Babrak Karmal was immediately appointed as head of government and ruled the country until he resigned in 1986.
Dr Najibullah Ahmadzai took over in 1987 and ruled until 1992.
Soviet soldiers remained in control of most major cities thereafter, while the Mujahideen continued to fight them around the country.
Globally there was dissatisfaction about the Soviet’s occupancy and the then president of the United States, Jimmy Carter, said the Soviet action was "the most serious threat to the peace since the Second World War".
By the mid-1980s, many Mujahideen groups had organized themselves and were receiving help from a number of countries including the United States, United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan.
At the time, Islamabad felt the Soviet war in Afghanistan was also a threat to Pakistan.
As the war continued, and more and more Soviet soldiers were killed, the USSR’s leader at the time, Mikhail Gorbachev, was quoted as saying their war in Afghanistan was a “bleeding wound”. The Soviets were also treated as invaders and morale among Soviets was low.
But after their withdrawal, peace in Afghanistan remained elusive as civil war broke out. This lasted for about 10 years and was then followed by the Taliban’s takeover – a regime that lasted just over five years.