July 27, 2021

Ghosts in the Mountains: The Soviet-Afghan War – Part 1

Ghosts in the Mountains: The Soviet-Afghan War – Part 1

When Soviet Russia invaded Afghanistan in December of 1979, few could have imagined what a seismic impact it would have on the modern world. In an attempt to prop up a wobbly client regime, the Soviets sparked a transnational jihad, inflamed Cold War tensions, and hastened the downfall of their own empire. Often referred to as “Russia’s Vietnam”, the Soviet-Afghan War is an overlooked, deeply misunderstood, and immensely important conflict. In this first installment of a multi-part series, we will explore how the Soviets found themselves ensnared in the “graveyard of empires”, through the eyes of the everyday people who experienced it firsthand.

When Soviet Russia invaded Afghanistan in December of 1979, few could have imagined what a seismic impact it would have on the modern world. In an attempt to prop up a wobbly client regime, the Soviets sparked a transnational jihad, inflamed Cold War tensions, and hastened the downfall of their own empire. Often referred to as “Russia’s Vietnam”, the Soviet-Afghan War is an overlooked, deeply misunderstood, and immensely important conflict. In this first installment of a multi-part series, we will explore how the Soviets found themselves ensnared in the “graveyard of empires”, through the eyes of the everyday people who experienced it firsthand. 



Ahmadi-Miller, Enjeela. The Broken Circle: A Memoir of Escaping Afghanistan. 2019.

Ansari, Mir Tamim. Games Without Rules: The Often-Interrupted History of Afghanistan. 2012.

Barfield, Thomas. Afghanistan: A Cultural and Political History. 2010.

Borovik, Artyom. The Hidden War. 1990.

Braithewaite, Rodric. Afgantsy: The Russians in Afghanistan, 1979-1989. 2011.

Coll, Steve. Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan and Bin Laden from the Soviet Invasion to 2001. 2004. 

Dobbs, Michael. Down with Big Brother: The Fall of the Soviet Empire. 1997.

Feifer, Gregory. The Great Gamble: The Soviet War in Afghanistan. 2009. 

Fremont-Barnes, Gregory. The Soviet-Afghan War, 1979-89. 2012.

Galeotti, Mark. Storm-333: KGB and Spetsnaz Seize Kabul. 2021.

Grau, Lester W. The Bear Went Over the Mountain: Soviet Combat Tactics In Afghanistan. 1996.

Hosdon, Peregrine. Under a Sickle Moon: A Journey Through Afghanistan. 1986.

Kalinovsky, Artemy. A Long Goodbye: The Soviet Withdrawal from Afghanistan. 2011.

Kaplan, Robert D. Soldiers of God: With Islamic Warriors in Afghanistan and Pakistan. 2001.

Rosen, Ethan. The Bear, The Dragon, & the AK-47. 2017.

Tanner, Stephen. Afghanistan: A Military History of Afghanistan from Alexander the Great to the War Against the Taliban. 2009. 


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Hello and welcome to Conflicted, the history podcast where we talk about the struggles that shaped us, the tough questions that they pose, and why we should care about any of it.


Conflicted is a member of the Evergreen Podcast Network, and as always, I’m your host Zach Cornwell.


Today’s episode is taking us to a historical era that I will never stop being fascinated with: The Cold War.


On this show, we’ve actually tackled several Cold War topics. We’ve looked at the American War in Vietnam, specifically the pattern of disillusionment and atrocity that culminated in the infamous My Lai Massacre of 1968. We’ve also dissected the wars that raged between the nation of Israel and its Arab neighbors in the late 60s and early 70s, specifically the Six Day War of 1967 and the Yom Kippur War of 1973.


But today, we’re going to be looking at a conflict that arguably served as the death knell for not only the Cold War, but one of its principal antagonists – Soviet Russia. Today we’re going to be examining the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan.


In America, we are very, very familiar with the country of Afghanistan, at least on a surface level. The US military has been fighting, killing, and dying there for more than two decades. And only very recently have we officially extricated ourselves from the so-called “Forever War”. But while the word “Afghanistan” has become a kind of grim wallpaper in our foreign policy over the last twenty years, there’s really not a widespread understanding of *how* this backwater, tribal nation made its debut on the world stage.


For many Americans, “Afghanistan” entered our common lexicon when a handful of committed, capable, and well-funded terrorists crashed some planes into the Pentagon and the World Trade Center. But those towers were just the two final dominos in a very old, very complicated, historical Rube Goldberg machine. A chain of events that had been triggered back in the late 70s. Of course some would say it goes even further back.


But I want to set expectations. This is not an American story. There are Americans in it; quite a few actually. But I want to resist the temptation to make it about my own country. This is not about us. In reality, this is a Soviet story. An Afghan story. A Pakistani story. It’s a story that belongs to millions of ordinary, flesh-and-blood people who found themselves thrust into an impossible situation.


There is, admittedly, an inherent problem in examining a topic that took place within living memory. And that problem, is that no one is ever going to be happy with the end result. It’s too fresh, it’s too raw. Even if it took place thirty-forty years ago. People have skin in the game. But that said, all we can do is try and peek through enough keyholes, little windows into the past, to try and arrive at some comprehensive understanding of the truth. It’s impossible to ever get the full picture in all its messy glory and complexity, but the more voices we hear from, the sharper it all comes into focus. And in this series, we will be looking through a lot of keyholes.


We’ll meet freedom fighters. Diplomats. Journalists. Nurses. Terrorists. Mothers. Fathers. Children. Soldiers. Refugees. Warriors. And hopefully by the end, we’ll leave with a deeper understanding of an international struggle that radically shaped the world we are currently living in.


I’ll be totally honest with y’all…I was pretty nervous about this one. The Soviet-Afghan War, just as a topic, is a big fish in a deep pond. In full transparency I think I did more research on this topic than any previous topic thus far. My maxim is and has always been “research = respect”. The more keyholes we look through, the more perspectives we look at, the more illuminated and honest the topic becomes. But for some reason, the deeper I went into this, the more complicated it became. The more ephemeral it seemed. It was slippery, shifty, and hard to grasp. Not unlike some of the Cold warriors we’re about to meet.


Initially, I thought this would be a simple topic. A one-and-done. An in-and-out. Ironically, that’s exactly what the Soviet Army thought as their tanks rumbled across the border into the Afghan mountains. And just like the Red Army, I got trapped, bogged down, pulled in a thousand maddening directions. I didn’t know who to trust, which sources to believe, which accounts to build a narrative on. Until finally, I had to stop reading. I had to come up for air with the best results I could muster.


At the end of the day, I hope that extra effort shows.


So, without further ado, welcome to Episode 24: Ghosts in the Mountains: The Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan – Part 1.



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If you were a Western journalist trying to sneak into Afghanistan in the early 1980s to cover the Soviet invasion, there was really only one place to go. And that was a little town called Peshawar.


Peshawar is a small city in Pakistan, located about a three-hour drive east from the border with Afghanistan. Peshawar literally means “frontier town”. And that implies a certain remoteness. A kind of sleepy insignificance. In other times and other eras, Peshawar had been just another hamlet, or a run-down colonial outpost.


But in the early 1980s, during the Soviet-Afghan War, Peshawar was a white-hot flashpoint in Cold War politics. The very center of a clandestine struggle between multiple world powers, intelligence services, arms dealers, and guerilla militias. It was a hive of danger and competing ideologies, where money changed hands and people changed allegiances just as easily.


As people tell it, there was a bit of a “Wild West” vibe surrounding Peshawar in the 1980s. Like some kind of Cold War Dodge City. Or Deadwood.


At this time, in this part of the world, walking through a city like Peshawar felt like watching modernity and antiquity slam into one another other. Horse-drawn carriages rattled down dirt streets while Japanese televisions blared American pop music in the background. Swiss hippies and German tourists wandered through bazaars alongside Afghan tribesmen who had never seen a camera in their entire life. Merchants made delicious kebabs and rice dishes in the stalls, while billion-dollar batches of heroin were made in the hills surrounding the city. One wrong look at a Pakistani police captain and you might be thrown into a jail cell that you never came out of.


Peshawar was a scary place to be. But the journalists came anyway.


They came from Great Britain. They came from America. From France, Canada, all over the Western world. They came for a variety of reasons. Some were idealists looking to shine light on an ugly war and its subsequent refugee crisis. Some were just, as Robert D. Kaplan puts it, “war freaks who weren't satisfied unless they were in danger and physical distress.”


But they were all there for one very specific reason. To cross the border into Afghanistan and cover the war raging on the other side.


Now, getting into Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation was not as simple as driving through a checkpoint and flashing your passport. You couldn’t just walk into Afghanistan. Not if you wanted to stay alive anyway. Pakistan’s government had forbidden journalists from entering Afghanistan. And the Soviet Army would absolutely never let a Western reporter tag along in their outfits. The only way to get in, was to sneak in. And the only way to sneak in, was to make contact with the Mujahideen.


Now you may have heard that word before – “Mujahideen”; you may have not. Either way, that’s okay. We’re going to learn so much about the Mujahideen over the course of this series that you’re going to be able to spell the word on command and impress your friends. They have been called many things: rebels, guerillas, terrorists, freedom fighters. But for now, let’s just call them what they called themselves.


“Mujahideen” literally means “holy warriors”. They were the tribal resistance fighting against the invading Soviets. If the Red Army was a giant elephant, the Mujahideen were the mosquitos trying to slowly drain it of blood, one drop at a time, until the great beast dropped dead and left their country.


And if you wanted to cover the war; if you wanted to learn what exactly what was going on inside Afghanistan, you had to make contact with the Mujahideen. You had to ask them, beg them, convince them to take you back inside their war zone with them. Peshawar, the “frontier town” was the place people came to get in touch with the Mujahideen and their intermediaries.


As you can imagine, this was not an easy or safe process. Sometimes, you’d hand money to someone who you never saw again. Sometimes, you’d get in touch with the right people, only to be told that they didn’t trust you and refused to take you. But for the lucky few – or unlucky depending on your point of view – for a handful, the Mujahideen said “yes. We’ll take you. You can travel with us and tell our story.”


In his book Soldier of God, journalist Robert D. Kaplan, who spent time with the Mujahideen himself, describes what it was like to do some of this stuff:


Reporters permanently covering the Afghan war were tied to a wheel of psychological torture that never stopped turning. First there was the boredom and insecurity of waiting in Peshawar for the trip inside to materialize, something that didn't always happen, and when it did it was often weeks later than the mujahidin had promised. Then there was the attack of fear and dread when you suddenly found out — usually the night before departure — where exactly you would be going and that it was too late to back out. Finally came the loneliness, physical torment, and pure wonder of the trip itself.


Another journalist who covered the war, a Brit named Peregrine Hodson, was also allowed to go into Afghanistan with the Mujahideen. Beforehand, one of these Afghan warriors took him aside and warned him what he was in for. It would not be an easy journey. The warrior told Hodson:


“You will cross mountains and rivers and places where there is no water. In some parts the [Russians] have put mines in the roads. Be careful where you place your feet. The [Russians] try to stop Mujahideen bringing weapons into the country. They have machines with which they can see in the dark and sometimes they attack at night. During the day they look for mujahideen with helicopters and if they see anyone they shoot them with rockets. [….] For the first two or three days you will travel 18-20 hours a day. [….] Even if you are very tired, you must go on. None will wait for you. The food will be very simple. Rice, bread, and tea. Not like the food you eat here, which is good. While you are here you must eat as much as you can because you will need your strength later.”


When Hodson’s face turned pale, the man smiled and tried to reassure him.


“Don’t worry, everyone is afraid sometimes. But trust in God. He will be with you.”


Journalists like Hodson and Kaplan were given new names for their journey. Names like Abdul and Babar. They were given Afghan clothes, supplies, even weapons. And once they were ready, they made the trek across the border into Afghanistan. It was an eerie feeling, stepping into a warzone. Going into a harsh countryside with men whose way of life had barely changed in almost 500 years.


For journalists, covering the war in Afghanistan was like entering a black hole. You crossed the event horizon, beyond the view of public attention. And the only way anyone would learn about what happened to you on the inside, was if you happened to survive and make it back.


In his book, Kaplan describes the feeling of leaving Pakistan and entering Afghanistan for the first time:


Beyond those fields, where the landscape lost its watery, terra cotta glow and was replaced by a mass of corrugated, pie-crust hills, whose scarred, cindery gradients warned of heat and cold and all other means of physical discomfort. That was where the war was, and to understand who the mujahidin really were, you had to go there.


Luckily, you and I do not need to sneak into Afghanistan to understand the Soviet-Afghan War. We have the luxury of several decades’ worth of accounts, historiography, and analysis. But we do need to go back in time a little bit. To understand why Soviet Russia, one of the greatest superpowers the world has ever seen, invaded a tiny country in the middle of nowhere and lost – we need to turn back the clock. How had it all began? And why? What were the Mujahideen fighting for? What were the Soviets fighting for?


We need to get a little context. Well, a lot of context.




First, let’s get the basics out of the way. Where the hell is Afghanistan anyway? That’s a straightforward question, but it’s one that a lot of people could not answer with much specificity.


You’ll often hear people dismissively say that Afghanistan is in the middle of nowhere. But a better way to describe it, is that it’s on the way to everywhere. Some historians have compared it to a roundabout, a crossroads of empires. Afghanistan is situated more or less at the dead-center of the Eurasian continent. It’s squished between a bunch of very important places and very influential countries. It’s about the size of Texas.


Imagine yourself standing on the highest mountain peak in Afghanistan and turning to face each cardinal direction one at a time. To the north is Russia. To the South, Pakistan and India. To the West is Iran. To the East is China.


Think of Afghanistan as hallway or a corridor, filled with doors. You take this door to China. This door to India. This door to Iran. And so on and so forth. It’s an airlock that you have to pass through to get your destination.


You’ll often hear the old cliché that Afghanistan has never been conquered. The old “Graveyard of Empires” cliché, right. But that’s not really true at all. Walking through Afghanistan is like retracing the footsteps of some of the most influential conquerors in history. If Afghanistan was a lonely diner on the side of a highway, it’s walls would be covered in autographed pictures of historical celebrities who’d stopped there along the way.


In the 4th century BC, Alexander the Great passed through Afghanistan’s mountains on his way to India. Many centuries later, in the year 700 AD, Islam came to Afghanistan, rapidly becoming the dominant religion there, which it remains to this day. Genghis Khan passed through it in the 13th century, leaving his trademark brand of death and desolation. Then later, in the 16th century, the Turkic conqueror Babar took his army through the mountains and went on to found the Mughal Empire down in India.


Babar himself was especially entranced with Afghanistan’s beauty. He said it possessed: ‘the most pleasing climate in the world … within a day’s ride it is possible to reach a place where the snow never falls. But within two hours one can go where the snows never melt.’


In the 17th and 18th centuries, as European colonialism spread throughout the world, Afghanistan became an important buffer zone between the British and Imperial Russian spheres of influence.


For most of its history, Afghanistan was never really a unified country. In many ways it still isn’t. It has maintained this independence and autonomy, by being shapeless. Hard to grasp and harder to subjugate. It was a patchwork of countless tribes, ethnicities, languages – all living in a fragile balance of peace and trade, with the occasional blood feuds and spats. There were local kings, who ruled from population centers and let the rural areas do their own thing.


As Steve Coll writes:


The country staggered into the twentieth century in peaceful but impoverished isolation, ruled by a succession of cautious kings in Kabul who increasingly relied on outside aid to govern, and whose writ in the provinces was weak.


The truth is, Afghanistan had always been important to global politics in a peripheral sense, but in the mid- 20thcentury, things begin to change. And they change very quickly.


When the dust settled after the global cataclysm that was World War Two, a new status quo immediately emerged from the rubble. German militarism had been silenced forever. Japanese ambitions of a Pan-Pacific empire had been crushed. And the former self-styled rulers of the world, the British, were, according to historian Stephen Tanner: “permanently humbled by the war”, their empire receding and “shrinking back to its foggy English center”.


As we all know, history abhors a vacuum, and into this vacuum stepped a new world order. A binary between East and West. The American Empire and the Soviet Union. Two very big fish in a not-quite big enough pond. I won’t belabor the basics of the Cold War – we’ve covered this before - but essentially, each side, the Soviets and the Americans, each lived in a paranoid state of existential terror that the other side was going to take over the world and end their way of life.


Americans feared Communism and autocracy. The Soviets feared the chaos and instability of western-style capitalism. Obviously its more complicated than that, but the point is, the world suddenly becomes a very big chess board. A zero-sum game. And the Americans and Soviets spend the latter half of the 20th century moving pieces around on that board to try and contain the spread of the other’s influence and ideology.


And wouldn’t you know it, one of those squares on the chess board, happened to be a little backwater country called Afghanistan.


So that begs the question. Why would the Soviet Union or America be interested in Afghanistan at all? The answer – more or less – boils down to geography. As we mentioned earlier, during the Cold War, Afghanistan was situated directly beneath the Soviet Union’s southern flank. Its “soft underbelly” as some historians occasionally call it. Today, if you were to walk North from Afghanistan, (although I wouldn’t recommend it) you’d pass through independent nations that border the Caspian Sea like Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and so on.


Well in the late 1970s, that all belonged to the Soviet Union.


So they have this little neighbor right beneath them. A neighbor that they absolutely cannot allow to flip to the United States and become an American client state. By the late 70s, the Soviets have a nightmare scenario clouding their decision-making process. They’re worried that

Afghanistan could become to Russia what Cuba was to the continental United States during the Cuban Missile Crisis. A potential launching point for nuclear warheads, right in their backyard; They envisioned, as Stephen Tanner writes: “US missile silos carved into the mountains of the Hindu Kush.” A sharp, red-white-and-blue dagger nicking and pricking at that soft underbelly.


In reality, that was all very unlikely. The Americans never had any serious intentions of positioning warheads in Afghanistan and provoking the USSR in that way…but this was the Cold War. The paranoia was like oxygen, it was everywhere, inescapable. People lived it and breathed it.


Even as early as the 1950s, the Soviets realized how strategically vital it was for them to be friends with the Afghans. So they say, “we are going to be very, very good friends with the Afghans. The best friends. And how do you make friends? Well in the world of international relations, the answer is often money, money, money.


The Soviets pour money into Afghanistan. They build roads. They build bridges. They build schools. Airports, Dams, Irrigation, you name it. By 1979, they were spending about a billion dollars a year. They’re building up this country, modernizing it, arming its military, making it more indebted to their charity. They’re transforming the country of Afghanistan into a buffer zone, a bulwark against any aggression from places like Pakistan, Iran, or China. They’re strapping armor onto that soft underbelly, right?


But it wasn’t just the landscape the Soviets were trying to transform. They were trying to terraform the very hearts and minds of the Afghan people. To put it very plainly, they wanted to turn the people of Afghanistan into good, card-carrying Communists. How do you do this?


Well, the Soviets bring thousands upon thousands of young Afghan army officers and cadets to be educated back in Russia. The KGB, that shadowy, sinister arm of Soviet intelligence that we all know and love, trains and radicalizes these Afghan officers into rabid, uncompromising Marxists. True believers, who would go back to their home country and spread that ideology to their people.


In theory, the Soviets were planting a seed of communism that they believed would blossom into a beautiful red flower in Afghanistan. It’ll would start small – they think -  but over time, it’ll grow into a robust communist nation. Another brick in the wall of the Soviet world order.


But the problem is, the seed does not blossom. It detonates.




It’s October 1978.


We’re in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. And something big is happening.


All over the city, the flag of the old Afghanistan is being taken down.


The old flag featured a large ribbon of green, a traditional color of Islam. Ever since the Prophet Muhammed’s time, green has symbolized life, nature, and paradise. It is central to the Muslim religion. And Afghanistan, being a deeply religious, deeply conservative nation, was proud to display the Prophet’s color on their flag.


But in October of 1978, the green flags were being ripped down. And a new flag was going up.


This flag was red. A flat, featureless field of blood red. And in the top left corner was a yellow seal, which featured a branch of wheat and a five-pointed star. Yellow stars on a field of red. Communism had come to Afghanistan.


To a forty-nine-year-old Afghan man named Hafizullah Amin, it was a beautiful sight.


Four months earlier, a tiny coalition of homegrown communists, Marxists, and leftist radicals in Kabul had pulled off something remarkable. They’d successfully executed a coup against the traditional government. The coup was a bloody one. And on a day just as red as the new flag that fluttered over the capitol, the Communist revolutionaries had murdered the former President and his entire family.


Just like that, there was a new sheriff in town in Afghanistan. And for all intents and purposes, that sheriff was this man, this new character, Hafizullah Amin. That’s H-A-F-I-Z-U-L-L-A-H, Hafiziullah, A-M-I-N. I’m not going to throw a ton of important names at you in this episode, but this is one I really want you to commit to memory. Hafizullah Amin.


Amin didn’t look at all like a Communist revolutionary all. He wasn’t a peasant; he was a college graduate. He didn’t wear rags or carry a rifle; he wore a three-piece suit and carried a handkerchief. He didn’t have a wild beard or tangled hair; he was clean-shaven, clean-cut, and well put-together. A handsome, salt-and-pepper politician. He would’ve looked more at home in the halls of Congress than in the bazaars of Kabul.


But appearances can be deceiving. Amin was many things to many people, but there was one thing he was for certain: a ruthless radical, dedicated to transforming religious, traditional Afghanistan into a modern, atheist, socialist republic. By any means necessary.


Amin had been one of the architects of the coup that had brought the communists to power in Kabul. And now he was Prime Minister of the new regime, second only to the President of the new Communist government, his boss, a doddering old man named Taraki. But the true power and initiative of the government lay with Hafizullah Amin. According to historian Mir Tamim Ansary, his boss Taraki was: A dull-witted, self-educated buffoon who functioned as a mere token of that power. […] Not so much a leader as a piece of furniture upon which others were competing to sit.


And our cunning, well-groomed friend Hafizullah Amin made himself very comfortable on that furniture. Over time, he would consolidate his power, blackmail or kill his rivals, and isolate his boss Taraki into irrelevance. Amin’s ultimate goal, was to seize full power for himself. To graduate from #2 to #1.


But in October of 1978, as the red flags whipped and fluttered over Kabul, there were more glorious objectives to achieve. Since the coup had elevated them to power, the Afghan Communists had waited patiently for 4 months. And now that their hold on Kabul was secure and settled, it was time to implement reform. Reform that they believed Marx and Lenin and Stalin themselves would’ve been proud of.


With the new flag, came a new way of life. Or at least that’s what Amin and his fellow Communists hoped would happen. In October of 1978, they unveiled their vision for their country. A vision that, in some ways, would not seem at all alien or offensive to us in the Democratic West. Some of it seems, frankly, like table stakes in a modern society.


To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, here are some of the “radical” reforms Amin and the new Communist government of Afghanistan wanted to implement.


As historian Mir Tamim Ansary writes:


In theory, many of its decrees were progressive, even noble. For example, they improved the status of women. Early decrees banned the domination of daughters by fathers and wives by husbands, outlawed the bride price, and forbade underage marriages—[…]The new regime decreed that literacy classes be established for women and mandated 270 days of paid maternity leave to new mothers.


Equal rights and education for women? Okay…so far so good.


They also gave more legitimacy and status to the various ethnic minority groups in Afghanistan. Ending discrimination, expanding representation, all that good stuff.


The new government went even further. And this would not be so welcome here in the West. They instituted land reform. They said, we’re going to redistribute land to the rural peasant class, we’re going to abolish the debts you owe your feudal landowners. Everyone’s going to get a clean slate. The poor workers who’ve toiled in the service of tyrannical tribal warlords – guess what? You get to *own* that land now! You can be your own masters, your own boss.


Modernizing reform followed modernizing reform. Prime Minister Hafizullah Amin and his fellow Communists basked in the glow of what they saw as a new dawn for their country.


On paper, it all seemed pretty great.


In the urban population centers and cities like Kabul, things like women’s rights and self-determination were not controversial or new at all. In fact, they’d been a fact of life for decades. For little Afghan girls like Enjeela Ahmadi, who was the youngest daughter of a well-to-do family in Kabul, the future seemed a boundless well of possibility. In her memoir about her childhood in Afghanistan, Enjeela shares a memory about her mother:


She taught us about our faith, constantly telling us stories of the Prophet, of the end of the world according to the Quran, and of how we were to behave as Muslim women. But she also told us that we were free to have the lives we wanted to have. “You don’t have to marry if you don’t want to,” she said to me and my sisters one day. “What?” my sister Laila said. “We don’t need husbands?” “No, you don’t. You can do things for yourselves.


Not only did Enjeela not need a husband if she didn’t want one, her mother told her that education could unlock opportunities for her in the future. Enjeela remembers her mom saying to her and her sisters:


“Education is like eating,” she said. If we weren’t learning, we weren’t growing.”


If Prime Minister Hafizullah Amin and his new Communist government had only been enacting their reforms amongst the plush progressives in Kabul, history might have unfolded very differently.


But there was another world outside Kabul. The real Afghanistan.


Kabul, with its nightclubs, blue jeans, miniskirts, cafes, universities, and progressive ideas about gender roles…was an illusion. A fantasy. It was a tiny little bubble, and outside of it was a deeply religious, deeply conservative, deeply traditional rural society that could not have been more different from – or more opposed to– the world Amin and his fellow communist reformers wanted to create. As a Soviet journalist named Gennady Bocharov mused:


“To the peasants, the revolutionary government was as remote and incomprehensible as a government on another planet”


Everything about the new government’s reforms deeply offended the sensibilities of the rural Afghan population. Afghanistan was mostly, as historian Rodric Braithwaite describes it:


A land of devout and simple Muslims, where disputes between individuals, or families, or clans and tribes, were still settled in the old violent way, where women were still subject to the absolute authority of their menfolk, where the writ of the government in Kabul barely ran, and where the idea of national rather than family or local loyalty was barely formed.”


Everything about the new world Amin wanted to create, seemed tailor-made to spit in the old world’s face. Take, for example, education and equal rights for women. That is a no-brainer for us. But a woman’s place in traditional rural Afghan society was – and in some places still is - almost incomprehensible to the modern mind. One Pashtun lawyer (that’s the dominant ethnic group in Afghanistan) said this: “Women are the holy of holies in a culture where the men act as the barricades.”


Journalist Robert D. Kaplan puts it much more bluntly, writing that in rural Afghanistan:


Women simply don't exist. “They're not even in the background. They're just not there,” said a Pathan woman who left the Northwest Frontier to live in New Jersey.


Kaplan continues:


The very existence of women in a Pashtun's life is an intimate secret, sacred to him but also a source of shame. Women threaten the facade of splendid male isolation that is central to a Pashtun's sense of self. A Pashtun knows women are needed for procreation, but that is an unfortunate and embarrassing fact to him, and if he could change it, he would. In the Arab world and even in Iran, pregnant women are a common sight. Among the Pashtuns, one never sees them, for as soon as a woman's womb begins to expand, she is locked away in the house.”


That is the reality of rural Afghanistan in 1978.


And now, all of a sudden, if you’re a rural Pashtun man, a handful of Communists with guns from a city you’ve never been to in your life are saying that your wives and sisters and daughters must leave home, every day, to go to school. For a compulsory, socialist, atheist education. Alongside strange men from other families - who they do not know. Can you even imagine?


Well unfortunately, we don’t have to imagine. Because the outraged reaction to these reforms is swift and violent. According to one historian:


The revolutionary government decided to introduce co-education in all the schools. Fathers killed daughters who stepped into a room with boys. Young wives who found themselves in classrooms with strange young men had their throats cut by enraged husbands. The authorities in Kabul tried to introduce a communist subbotnik, or day of voluntary, unpaid labour, on a Friday, the most important day of the week for Muslim prayer. Attendance at the mosques plummeted, resulting in riots.


But that was only the tip of the iceberg. Not only were these Communists with guns trampling on centuries-old gender dynamics and trying to change them literally overnight, but they were upending Afghanistan’s economic structures as well.


The land reforms that Kabul tried to enact ended up causing much more harm than good. As one historian writes: “Land reform, the most important of the changes, often consisted of rounding up landowners and farmers, shooting them, and burying their bodies with bulldozers. The direct attack on the rural mode of life, as it was seen, prompted unrest all over the country.”


Congratulations, the Kabul Communists said to the peasants. You own this land now. But the new “owners” of the land were dirt-poor tribal peasants. They didn’t have the resources to buy the equipment needed to make a living off their newly acquired land. They had co-existed with those tribal landowners in a complex, delicate system of generational debt, favors and counter-favors. Without those landowners and their resources, the fields lay untilled, unharvested. Naturally, those villagers starved.


For the rural population, the humiliation was ceaseless. As one historian writes:


PDPA  members [that’s the Afghan Communist government] committed cardinal social sins, such as intervening in marriage ceremonies—a grave offense in Pashtun culture. Party officials stormed into houses and scolded the local elite in front of their families—violating the Islamic code that prevents guests from glimpsing the household’s women.


Bottom line, what this small coalition of Afghan Communists back in Kabul wanted to achieve was absolutely, fundamentally, incompatible with the vast majority of the country. It was like trying to introduce bad software to an operating system. Like putting an Xbox disc in a PlayStation. It just did not compute. So, rural Afghanistan angrily rejects these reforms. All across the country. Riots. Demonstrations. Disobedience. You name it.


Back in the capital of Kabul, our pinstriped strongman Hafizullah Amin is undeterred.


So what?, he thought. So what if the vast majority of his country was rejecting his party’s ideas like a bad organ transplant? So what if they wanted to cling to what he saw as barbaric, backwards religious traditions? Who cares what they want, Amin thought.


He had not watched that beautiful red and yellow flag being raised above Kabul, only to suffer the complaints of a few million tribal medievalists. If his countrymen would not change. He would make them change. Under the barrel of a gun, if necessary. As Rodric Braithwaite writes: “The new government was nothing if not determined […] and when persuasion failed it used ruthless measures of repression.”


Under Amin’s direction, the Afghan secret police arrested and detained thousands, imprisoning people indefinitely on the most spurious of charges. And those were the lucky ones. Amin’s secret police tortured suspected “enemies of the revolution.” They conducted summary executions without a second thought. In the countryside, Amin’s dutiful troops bombed, burned, and leveled with airstrikes villages who would not comply with the new reforms.


Estimates vary, but it’s believed anywhere from 20,000 to 50,000 people were murdered in Amin’s purges and crackdowns.


Back in Moscow, the Soviets were horrified. When they cautioned their Afghan friends against brutal methods like this, warning that they would only inflame revolt further, the Afghan Communists just threw it back in their faces. As one official said:


“Lenin taught us to be merciless towards the enemies of the revolution and millions of people had to be eliminated in order to secure the victory of the October Revolution”


After all, they said, were these not the same kinds of violent methods the Russian Communists had used decades earlier to secure their own glorious revolution?


Amin famously kept a portrait of Stalin on his desk. The man of steel was one of his heroes. An example to emulate. As Amin beamed on one occasion: ‘Comrade Stalin showed us how to build socialism in a backward country: it’s painful to begin with, but afterwards everything turns out just fine.’


As time went on, Prime Minister Amin’s methods became more and more brutal. And they began to turn the stomachs of even his staunchest supporters. In one disturbing incident, he had an entire village burned and its inhabitants buried alive. A colleague expressed shock and horror directly to Amin, saying “We carried out the revolution for the people, not to kill them.”


In the capital of Kabul, it was clear things were getting worse and worse. It was a change even a five-year-old girl could detect. As the former refugee Enjeela Ahmadi-Miller remembered:


There existed two completely different Afghanistans. The official version was that of a progressive country marching forward into a bright future as a modern nation. My sisters told me of another Afghanistan, of fighting to force the government to stop changing the textbooks in the schools to ones that teach atheism and socialism.


After the government changed, so did the tone of our mealtimes. I heard more about the fighting taking place in the countryside and cities to the south. I didn’t know what all of this meant or how it could change my life.


The situation in Afghanistan was spinning wildly out of control. If Afghanistan was a tea kettle, it was rattling and squealing and sputtering. The entire world was watching anxiously for what would happen next.


The Soviet Union, deeply alarmed by what was happening along their southern flank, tried to rein in their Marxist cousins, but to no avail. These reforms were happening too fast, the Kremlin counseled. Amin and his ilk were…delusional. Detached from reality. What were they thinking? Trying to drag their country’s conservative population from 1379 to 1979 overnight. The Afghan Communist regime, barely two years old, was beginning to look like a lost cause. The Kremlin concluded, according to Rodric Braithwaite:


Afghanistan had not been ripe for a full-blown socialist revolution in the first place. The leaders of the new regime were not up to their tasks. They were inexperienced and prone to excess. They were bloodily divided among themselves; they had alienated the Islamic clergy, the party, the army, and the administration by their ruthless repression of real and imagined dissent; and they had pressed ahead too fast with half-baked socialist reforms which had backfired among the very people they were supposed to benefit.


No less a figure than Yuri Andropov, director of the KGB, echoed that sentiment.


“It is completely clear to us that Afghanistan is not ready at this time to resolve all of the issues it faces through socialism. The economy is backward, the Islamic religion predominates, and nearly all of the rural population is illiterate. We know Lenin’s teaching about a revolutionary situation. Whatever situation we are talking about in Afghanistan, it is not that type of situation.”


The critical turning point came in October of 1979.


Prime Minister Hafizullah Amin, the well-groomed spider whose secret police had put the country through so much pain, decided to take the final, violent step towards ultimate political power. As I mentioned earlier, Amin technically had a boss, President Taraki. Well, their personal and professional relationship had been deteriorating as Amin grabbed more and more power for himself; and eventually, Amin decided he didn’t need Taraki anymore.


Amin had once used a colorful, folksy metaphor to describe their closeness. He said if Takaki was the finger, he was the fingernail. Two parts of the same whole. Inseparable. He used to call his President the “Great Teacher”.


Well, on October 8th, 1979, Amin had his Great Teacher smothered with a pillow. It was like something out of Shakespeare or Caligula’s court. With that climactic killing, Amin had finally graduated from #2 to #1. Like that red flag running up the pole, he was on top now.


Amin didn’t have very long to savor his political victory. The countryside was in full-scale revolt. Even Kabul teetering on chaos. In the mountains, counterrevolutionary guerrillas had begun waging war against Amin’s godless government. They were motivated by countless outrages and humiliations. The reforms. The massacres. The repression. These “soldiers of God”, the Mujahideen, were on the move.


Amin had finally become “king” in a metaphorical sense. He was Prime Minister. He was President. He had all the power in his hands. But in reality, he was king of a burning building. And whether he could feel it in his gut or not, Amin’s days were numbered.


Because far away in Moscow, the Soviets had already decided that he had/needed to die.


---- MUSIC BREAK----


December 27th, 1979 was the last day of Hafizullah Amin’s life.


But as the sun dipped below the jagged mountain peaks surrounding Kabul, the Prime Minister believed he was safe and warm and among friends.


Some political leaders choose to live in a house, or on an estate. Well, Hafizullah Amin lived in a fortress. In recent weeks, fearing the growing unrest in Kabul and in the countryside, he had holed up in a three-story, intensely fortified palace on the outskirts of the capital. The Tajbeg Palace, it’s called.


As Amin’s paranoia had swelled, so had the defenses of the Tajbeg. By the 27th of December, it was a citadel. The palace itself sat on a high sloping knoll, with clear lines of sight in every direction. The surrounding lawns were pregnant with hundreds of landmines. A dozen anti-aircraft guns pointed upwards into the clear, cloudless night. And to top it all off, the palace was swarming with a small army of Amin’s most trusted guards; two-and-a-half thousand of them, to be exact.


To a casual observer, trying to breach the Tajbeg Palace seemed like suicide. Hafizullah Amin was as safe and secure as a turtle in its shell. But what he did not know, what he could not know, was that the architects of his death were converging on his location with every passing minute.


Weeks earlier, a hand-picked group of Soviet special forces commandos had stepped off an airplane at the Kabul airport – about sixty men, in total. All in plain clothes. Their arrival was no cause for alarm to the Afghan authorities. The country was already full of Soviets – advisors, civilians, ambassadors and staff. Sixty more Soviet soldiers was actually a welcome sight. Amin and his government needed all the help they could get to put down the rebellion.


But these men were not in Afghanistan to help Amin’s government. They were here to kill him.


This small contingent of Soviet commandos belonged to the infamous Spetsnaz, Soviet special forces. They were KGB-trained specialists. Experts in what one historian called “the science of killing”. These were serious dudes. And they were here to decapitate Afghanistan’s problem child government in one fell swoop.


On the night of December 27th, these commandos, supported by a larger regiment of Soviet special forces, begin to surround Amin’s palace. They were disguised in Afghan uniforms, indistinguishable from Amin’s own soldiers except for the white scraps of cloth they had tied around their arms to recognize each other in the coming bloodbath.


As the sun began to set, the Spetsnaz commandos waited for the signal to begin their deadly work. Shortly after, 6:30PM, a secondary team of Spetsnaz would use high-explosive charges to destroy Kabul’s communications center, which would cut power to the entire city. Once the capital went dark, it was lights out for Amin.


As the Spetsnaz commandos waited for the signal, few of them had any idea what a complex and tortured chain of political decisions had brought them to a negative 4-degree Fahrenheit winter’s night in Afghanistan. Just two weeks earlier, on December 12th, 1979, 2500 miles to the north, Amin’s death warrant had been authored by a geriatric cabal of Soviet statesmen in Moscow.




In the months following Hafizullah Amin’s complete takeover of the Afghan government, no one was more disgusted with the turn of events than the leader of the Soviet Union, Leonid Brezhnev.


The Soviet Union had never really been led by spry young men, but the elderly Brezhnev was beginning to strain the limits of efficacy. He was getting old. Like, really old. As Mir Tamim Ansary writes:


Brezhnev still gripped the country with an iron fist, but the arm attached to that fist had corroded, and the brain directing that arm had begun to wander and stammer. In short, Brezhnev was old and sick. By the following year, he would be virtually incapacitated, and, for the next two years after that, the Soviet Union would have a figurehead at the helm while behind the scenes faceless bureaucrats in black greatcoats and sable caps struggled for power.


Russian journalist Artyom Borovik went even further, writing that Brezhnev was:


“Incapable of making any political decisions on his own and couldn’t even sustain an intelligent conversation for more than twenty or thirty minutes; his attention span and intellectual capacities fading by the moment. “


Brezhnev was old, but he was still in charge. And Hafizullah Amin’s brazen actions down in Afghanistan had stirred the dusty embers of his anger. The Afghanistan Situation, as we’ll call it, distressed Brezhnev and the Soviet Union for reasons both personal and political. Amin’s murder of his predecessor and mentor, the Afghan President Taraki, had especially rankled the aging General Secretary.


Brezhnev’s famously bushy eyebrows crinkled as he seethed about Amin: “What scum he [Amin] is. How can you smother a man with whom you participated in a revolution?”


The irony of that statement is, of course, palpable. Brezhnev was willfully ignoring his own country’s early history. Betrayal and backstabbing built the USSR.


But anyway, for the rest of the Kremlin, the Afghanistan Situation was more than a matter of honor. Amin’s brutal, oppressive regime, and the uprising it inspired, was awful for the global Communist brand. Communism worked. It had to work. That was the dogma. In theory, once a country turned to socialism, it never went back. Ever. There was no need for it to. It was a perfect system. But Afghanistan was embarrassing evidence to the contrary. The optics were terrible.


Hafizullah Amin had watched the red colors of Communism run up the Afghan flagpole, and in the eyes of Moscow, he had totally blown it. He had wasted his opportunity and bungled the entire situation. As one historian writes:


The Soviets blamed the breakdown on Amin. From the Soviet perspective, this man combined the worst of three characteristics: First, he was a ruthless bully whose tactics were inciting hatred of Communism. Second, he was an incompetent commander who couldn’t manage the rebellion he was inciting. Third, he wouldn’t take orders.


Not only was Amin unstable and disobedient, there were even unsubstantiated rumors that he was a CIA asset. In his youth, Amin had studied in America, and there were suspicions that he had cultivated ties with America’s intelligence community while he was there. It was all paranoid gossip, but the Soviet were genuinely concerned that Amin might kick them to the curb and cut a deal with the Americans. 


In short, Moscow wanted a puppet in Afghanistan. Someone pliable. A good little brother who did what he was told. Amin was none of those things. He was intelligent, independent, vain, cruel, paranoid and ambitious. What good, the Soviets thought, was a puppet that pulls and tugs at its own strings? What happens when Pinocchio wants to become a real boy? Well, on December 12th, 1979, two weeks before the Spetsnaz commandos surrounded Amin’s compound, Brezhnev and his inner circle decided to cut the strings, and replace the puppet.


Amin had to die. That was clear. But what would come afterwards?


The Soviets knew that killing Amin would plunge the country into even deeper chaos. The beehive was already buzzing. Killing the President would be like hitting that beehive with a baseball bat. The Soviet military -  The Red Army -  would need to go into Afghanistan to maintain stability and control. After a brief transitional period, the Afghan Army, under the direction of a new, Soviet-approved President, could suppress the Mujahideen, quell the uprising, and bring order to the country themselves. If they didn’t, the local Islamic uprising against Communism could trigger a chain reaction in other areas of the Soviet empire, where the millions of Muslims living there might rise up in revolt as well.


So, the Soviets began sleepwalking towards one inevitable course of action. A full-scale invasion of Afghanistan.


It wouldn’t be forever, they said. The Soviets just needed to pop in real quick, for just a second, to stabilize things. Then they’d be out in six months. Mission accomplished. If you’re an American listening to all this, it probably sounds painfully, tragically familiar. Well, hindsight is 20/20, and the Russians did not have a crystal ball. Invasion started to seem more and more like the only real option available.


In the hallowed halls of the Kremlin, there was fierce debate over whether the Red Army should invade Afghanistan to remove Amin and prop up a new regime. Lots of people knew this was a bad idea from the jump. The skeptics believed, according to Rodric Braithwaite:


“The Afghan problem had to be settled by political means; the Afghans had never tolerated the presence of foreigners on their soil; the Soviet troops would probably be drawn into military operations whether they liked it or not.”


Braithwaite continues, saying that the anti-war faction within the Kremlin foresaw:


“All the disadvantages of forceful intervention – bloody involvement in a ferocious civil war, a huge expenditure of blood and treasure, and international pariahdom.”


Even the Soviet military protested. This was a very bad idea, they said. Have we learned nothing from watching the Americans bleed themselves dry in Vietnam? We literally just watched that happen; And now we’re going to do the exact same thing? But the Generals were chastised and ignored, accused of meddling in political policy. As one Party official sneered at them: “Are generals now making policy in the Soviet Union? Your task is to plan specific operations and to carry out your orders.”


The KGB and its leader Yuri Andropov also sharply disagreed with the timid doves. Afghanistan was critical. As Andropov told the Politburo: “We will be labeled as an aggressor, but in spite of that, under no circumstances can we lose Afghanistan.”


Above all, Leonid Brezhnev was worried about what it would mean for his personal and political reputation if they didn’t invade Afghanistan and prop up its wobbly socialist regime.


“What will they say in other countries? Is it possible to believe the word of Brezhnev if all his assurances of support and protection remain mere words?”


So, on December 12th, 1979 a dozen members of senior Soviet leadership signed their names to a document, approving the invasion of Afghanistan. Brezhnev, having rationalized the decision to himself and his loyal circle of elderly compatriots, gloated. Soon Hafizullah Amin would be dead. A new, more compliant successor would be in place, and the fanatic, primitive Mujahideen would be crushed.


“It will all be over in three to four weeks.” He assured himself.




When we think of political assassinations, we tend to picture clockwork competency. Scary men in tailored suits, carrying out perfectly executed plans. Cold-blooded John Wick types and sinister secret agents sticking needles into unsuspecting necks.


But that’s not really how it works. That’s not the real world. Killing important people is very hard. Especially when they’re surrounded by minefields, anti-aircraft guns, and two thousand armed guards. In the weeks leading up to Christmas 1979, the Soviets tried to kill Hafizullah Amin in a variety of sneaky ways. Unfortunately, through a series of mishaps and miscommunication, it starts to become a Cold War comedy of errors.


First, they tried using a KGB sniper to take out Amin on his way to work, but his routine was changed at the last minute, so that plan had to be abandoned. Some accounts even say the sniper took a shot, but missed. Either way, it was a bust.


Next, the Soviets try poisoning him. KGB agents disguised as cooks mix poison into a glass of Coca-Cola that was served to Amin. He drinks it, gulps it down, and….nothing happens. The carbonation in the beverage had somehow rendered the poison inert.


But the most absurd part of all is, as Amin is walking past sniper’s crosshairs and gulping down harmless poison, he has no clue that the Soviets want him dead. In fact, he was practically begging the Soviets to bring troops into the country and help him put down the uprisings in the countryside. He thinks his relationship with Moscow is great. They need me, he thinks.


A few weeks later, the KGB tries poisoning him again. They sneak a toxin into a bowl of soup, which he promptly devours.  And this time, it works. Amin slips into a coma. He’s on death’s door. In a matter of hours, his heart would stop and the KGB could claim that they’d fixed the problem without firing a single shot. But the comedy of errors was in full swing. A pair of Soviet medics, who were not privy to the assassination plot, rush to the scene and perform urgent medical care on Amin, saving his life. They probably thought they’d get a medal.


As they say, communication is key. And the various branches of Soviet intelligence were not coordinating with each other. To paraphrase one historian, the left hand had no idea what the right hand was doing. But Amin’s fate was sealed regardless. What a bowl of soup could not accomplish, a bullet would do just fine.


Around seven o’clock on December 27th, 1979, Hafizullah Amin was hobbling around his palace with an IV drip in his arm, recovering from what he believed was food poisoning.


Suddenly, he hears the distant rat-a-tat of gunfire outside his palace. Then the lights flicker. Then the building shakes as artillery shells slam into the walls. All Amin felt in that moment was confusion. Disorientation. His children were screaming, his wives were screaming, his guards were screaming. Everyone was screaming.


He demands to know what was happening outside. Contact the Soviets, he says. “They will help us”. An advisor tells Amin that, sir it’s the Russians who are attacking us. They’re storming the palace, surrounding the grounds, cutting the phone lines; they’re killing everyone.


Amin refused to believe it. It didn’t make any sense. The Soviets were their comrades, their brothers in Marxist principles. How could they be attacking him? He was scared and confused, and he reacted in the way that scared and confused people often do. He got angry and threw an ashtray at the aide who’d told him the truth.


In a daze, Amin wanders through the upper floors of his palace. The gunshots get closer and closer. They’re inside the palace, he realizes. Grenades are going off on the staircases below. He hears shouting and curses. In Russian.


Eventually, the gunfire stops. And men in Afghan Army uniforms walk up the stairs and approach Amin. But when he hears their voices, he realized they are not his countrymen. These are Soviets. Spetsnaz. And one of these Spetsnaz commandos is holding a picture in his hand. A picture with Amin’s face on it.


Suddenly. Amin hears a child’s voice. It’s his son, who rushes towards him and hugs him. Amin looks at the soldiers, the soldiers look at him. And then they raise their AK-47s. They put several bullets in Amin’s chest, with his little son still clinging to him. Then they pull a pin on a grenade and roll it towards his head. No one bothers dragging the little boy to safety.


When dawn broke the next day, Hafizullah Amin, the ruler of Afghanistan, was dead. There’s an Afghan saying about the Soviets that Amin had clearly never heard: “Never trust a Russian with a rope. He’ll throw you one end of it, and use the other to tie you up.”


While the Spetsnaz were storming the palace, the Red Army was seizing strategic objectives all over the country and in the major population centers. Within a matter of weeks, there would be 80,000 Soviet troops in Afghanistan.


Less than ten miles away from Amin’s palace, in the capital of Kabul, five-year-old Enjeela Ahmadi was sitting in a peach tree outside her family’s home. She liked to sit in that tree often. It was a place she could be alone, look down the streets, enjoy the breeze.


Here’s what she remembers from that morning:


The branches of the trees began to shake. I thought it must be an earthquake. We had one once, and many buildings had been destroyed. Just then, warning sirens went off all over the city. These were the emergency warning sirens for disasters, not the police or fire sirens. The rumbling grew louder, and something large and mechanical rolled up my street. I scurried down, hit the dirt hard, ran across the grass, and clutched the gate, squeezing my face through the bars.


A long line of dark-green machines trundled up the road, churning up dust, creaking and grinding. I remember that I didn’t have any idea what these machines could be. They were some form of tractor. But these were much larger than tractors, and they were covered with green metal plates, and each of them had long barrels sticking out of the front. They reminded me of the barrels of rifles, only they were far too long and heavy for a man to carry. I had never seen an army tank, and I didn’t know until later what they were used for.


They had a blazing red star painted on their sides, and soldiers with grim faces were on top pointing machine guns. They didn’t look at all like Afghan soldiers, who were thin and wore baggy uniforms. These men were ruddy, well fed, and had the hard look of warriors ready to do battle.


The Soviet occupation of invasion of Afghanistan had begun.


----WRAP-UP ----


Well guys, that’s all the time we have for today. I hope you enjoyed Part 1 of what I’m thinking is gonna be a three-part series on the Soviet-Afghan War.


Now I know we covered a lot of ground during this fairly brisk episode. A lot happened. Some people died. But believe it or not this is all just table-setting. In the next installment, things really get cooking, because we’ll be diving into the War itself.


Now, if you’re like me, you’re probably feeling a little “Team Nobody” about this conflict right now. Who are we supposed to root for anyway? The Soviets? The Mujahideen? The Americans? Well unfortunately, there are no good guys in this story.


There are just people. And next time, we’ll spend a lot of time with those people on the ground. We’ll occasionally pop by the Kremlin or the Pentagon to get the strategic lay of the land, but for the most part, we’ll be traveling with the people who experienced the war firsthand. People who had skin in the game. Not the bureaucrats who directed it from the comfort of an air-conditioned office.


We’ll meet these mysterious freedom fighters, the Mujahideen. We’ll dig into what makes them tick and try to understand what and why and who they were fighting for. We’ll also spend a lot of time with the Soviet soldiers who found themselves sucked into a nasty, neverending war against a shapeless, elusive enemy. Their very own Vietnam. We’ll try and peel back the layers of them too, and understand their humanity.


All in all, I’m very excited to see where this goes. And more importantly I’m very excited to share it with you. So with that, I’ll see you next time.


Don’t forget to follow the show on social channels. I’m posting cool pics and art and factoids all the time on the show’s Facebook page. If FB’s not your thing, and you want to avoid getting conspiracy theories from your crazy uncle, you can follow the show on Instagram. There’s also a Twitter, there’s even a Tik Tok. It’s crazy. Whatever strikes your fancy.


And lastly if you like what you heard today, do me favor and give the show a quick five-star rating on iTunes. If you loved what you heard today, write a review. Even better. I know it’s annoying, but it’s a huge help. It really is.


Anywho, that’s all for me. Have an awesome rest of your day, morning, evening, wherever you are in the world.


This has been Conflicted. Thanks for listening.


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