The Afghanistan conflict (1979) that took place during the Cold War era can be described as a war between the US and Russia by proxy. What arguments support this idea if any and do you agree with them?
It is important to firstly establish what is meant by a war between the USA and Russia by proxy.
A proxy war is a conflict that has no direct military action, the conflict may be fought through economic and political actions such as espionage and through surrogates. Surrogates are typically known as states that are allied to the conflicting nations or under their political influence. A proxy war implies that the disputing states provide military or economic aid to the satellite states. (Bills, 1986) Proxy wars are have proven to be most effective during cold wars as they become a vital in conducting armed conflict between at least two belligerents while conducting cold warfare.
The Cold War of 1945 – 1991 was an arms race between the rivalling superpowers, The Soviet Union and the United States of America. More than any other cold war in history, both powers needed to avoid direct fighting as both countries had nuclear capabilities. This taken into account both countries would have to display superior force without actually using it. Cold wars have been fought throughout history, the first between Rome and Carthage around 200 BC, this was fought through the Punic Wars. Cold wars continue to be fought to this day (North Korea vs. South Korea). Because of the immense destructive capabilities of the US and the Soviet Union, the cold war of 1945 had to be fought with more care than any other.
The Afghanistan Conflict, was fought between the Marxist government (The Democratic Republic of Afghanistan) with the support/control of the Soviet Union vs. The Islamist Mujahideen Rebels who were supported by the USA, UK, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Egypt and other Muslim nations. Originally the soviet invaded Afghanistan after repeated requests for military support from the Afghan Government. The Afganistan Government was able to call upon the Soviet Army for reinforcement following a treaty that was signed in December of 1978. On the 24th of December the Soviet Union sent their forces into Afghanistan and at 7pm on the 27th December 1979 the soviet forces captured Tajbeg palace (Urban 1988). According to the Soviet Politburo the invasion of Afghanistan was in compliance with the 1978 Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Good Neighborliness – The same treaty which enabled the Afghan government to call for the support. On this day, Hafizullah Amin, The president of Afghanistan was then executed by members of the soviet KGB. (Hammond)
By definition the war in Afghanistan was a proxy war. Although the Afghanistan was already in a civil war, the wars intensity grew as a result of the contributions from each side. There is no such thing as a pure proxy war as the fighting parties will always have their own agenda. Both the Soviet Union and the United States supplied opposing sides with the means (economic or military) to continue fighting. While the Soviet Union provided their own military and in turn took control of the government, the US supplied the rebels, the Pakistan government and its agencies and operated their own covert operations. The US total contribution to the conflict included weapons and training, the Stinger Anti-Aircraft missiles being the most notable of these. The US CIA’s Special Activities Division trained the rebels in the use of the missiles and in guerrilla fighting tactics, including car bombing, bridge bombing and secure communications. The CIA also provided extensive intelligence to both the Mujahideen rebels and to the Pakistan ISI (Inter-Services Intelligence) in the form of radio communications between the Soviets and Satellite images of Soviet occupied areas. In addition to the aid supplied to the mujahideen rebels, the US also offered 2 packages of support to Pakistan to aid them in the war against the Soviet Union. These packages included military and economic assistance and in combination with the support to the mujahideen rebels financial and military contributions from the US totals at an estimate of 10-20 billion dollars US. The US also sold 40 f-16 fighter jets to Pakistan.
The less obvious question however was whether the United States lured the Soviet Union into ‘The Afghanistan Trap’, a proxy war as part of CIA Cold War tactics.
Carter advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski stated: “According to the official version of history, CIA aid to the mujahideen began during 1980, that is to say, after the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan, December 24, 1979” The reality however is quite different and for a long time was a closely guarded secret, even from the fighting mujahideen rebels.
On July 3, 1979, US President Jimmy Carter signed an executive order authorizing the CIA to conduct covert propaganda operations against the communist regime also authorising funding for anticommunist guerrillas in Afghanistan, this was six months prior to the invasion by the Soviet army. This later became part of ‘Operation Cyclone’ The most expensive and longest CIA covert operation ever undertaken. Originally funding for the operation was 20 – 30 million US$ per year and in 1987 rose to a staggering 630 million US$ per year. Over 2 billion dollars was contributed to the operation. The Goal of the operation was to aid the mujahideen efforts and therefore draw the soviets into a costly and distracting conflict, a proxy war.
“We didn’t push the Russians to intervene, but we knowingly increased the probability that they would… That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Soviets into the Afghan trap… The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter, “We now have the opportunity of giving to the Soviet Union its Vietnam War.” – Brzezinski
Operation Cyclone defines the USA’s stance on the war in Afghanistan and identifies the war as a proxy war.
The advantage for the US to involve themselves in the afghan conflict was obvious, the war was costly to all parties involved particularly the Soviet Union. The use of Operation Cyclone as a cold war tactic proved very useful for the US as the Soviet Union shortly after withdrawing their soldiers from Afghanistan in 1998 contributing majorly towards the dissolution of the Union in 1991.
The US involvement was also attributed to preventing the spread of communism through Europe as the takeover/invasion of Afghanistan could eventually lead the Soviet Union further south toward a warm water port, something which the soviet army was lacking.
A warm water port would have provided a year round port for the Russian aircraft carriers and in the midst of a cold war, this posed a serious threat to the US. Under the ‘Domino Theory’ that is, the theory that if one nation would collapse to communism, others would follow in a domino like fashion. Therefore the US saw the Soviet Involvement in Afghanistan as a serious threat to world peace and democracy. Us president Jimmy Carter claimed that the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was ‘the most serious threat to peace since the second world war.
Although the spread of communism was a serious concern for the US and the western world, it has to be considered that the United States and the Soviet Union were fighting the most intense of cold wars to date. The US involvement in Afghanistan prior to the Soviet Invasion begs question as to wether the Afghanistan Conflict was a planned war by the US. It is almost common knowledge now, that the US did have a hand in drawing the Soviet Union into Afghanistan to cost them money and soldiers, however as a large amount of intelligence relating to this topic is still kept a secret, there is no official report from the US government. It would be realistic to assume that the US did have a larger part to play in the Afghanistan Conflict than what is officially reported. After all the funding to what has now been labelled as Islamic Extremists, the US now faces criticism for creating their current largest problems ie. Osama Bin Laden, who is quoted as saying the collapse of the Soviet Union … goes to God and the mujahideen in Afghanistan … the US had no mentionable role,” but “collapse made the US more haughty and arrogant. The US is believed to have supplied funds to rebels and guerrilla movements directly related to what is now known as Al-Qaeda. Assuming that the US involvement in Afghanistan was as official records indicate, funding into Project Cyclone, six months prior to Soviet invasion, the operation could be seen as successful cold war tactics on the US’s behalf. “We did spawn a monster in Afghanistan. Once the Soviets were gone [the people trained and/or funded by the US] were looking around for other targets, and Osama bin Laden has settled on the United States as the source of all evil. – benahir Bhutto
The war in Afghanistan did not require any involvement from the US, regardless of the concern of the spread of communism; this was a cold war concern and not related to the civil war in Afghanistan in any way. As far as the US involvement is concerned, the Afghanistan Conflict was a proxy war as they funded and helped fight a battle that they themselves managed to keep their hands clean of.