On May 15, 1988, the first Soviet military units were withdrawn from Afghanistan, ending nine years of Soviet presence in the country. It followed the signing of the Geneva Accords on April 14, 1988, which put an end to what the United States - and most of the international community - had then labeled an invasion and a brazin attempt to expand Moscow's influence.
But now, after high profile international terrorist attacks led the US to launch its own military operation in Afghanistan, the Soviet experience in the country has been reevaluated and is now referred to as a “counter-insurgency operation.”
Recent studies have revealed that in 1979 the CIA had drafted a devious plan to turn Afghanistan into a breading ground for what eventually became the Taliban and Al-Quaeda terrorist groups, the aim being to use them as a threat against the Soviet Union’s national security. There exists documented proof that the United States encouraged Islamic militant activity.
The mujahidin, armed by the United States and its allies, ambushed roads and harassed garrisons. The guerrillas' introduction of US-supplied Stinger anti-aircraft missiles in September 1986 curtailed the Soviet advantage of air power.
The Soviet army was not trained or equipped for counter-insurgency warfare at the time. It could mount offensives and seize control temporarily of a certain area, but the weak Afghan central government army was not able to fight against the American state-of-the-art technologies while at the same time retain the major cities and communication lines, making Soviet military presence was obligatory.
Overall, the help the Soviet Union provided was immense. Aside from military assistance and protection, the Soviets built roads, irrigation and even some oil pipelines. Many of the facilities are still functioning today.
Despite superior weapons and complete air control, the Soviets were repeatedly defeated by the rebels. The conflict eventually settled into a stalemate, with the Soviet and government forces in charge of the urban areas, and the Afghan guerrillas practically ruling the rural regions and mountain ranges. As the war progressed, the insurgents improved their organization and tactics, put more imported and captured weapons to use and were able to respond to the technological advantages of the USSR.
In 1989 the CIA celebrated the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan as the greatest victory of the Cold War.
The Afghan leader Mohammed Najibullah was greatly frustrated by the withdrawal and repeatedly asked the Soviet commandment and Gorbachev personally to leave at least a limited military presence in Afghanistan, as he feared the imminent uprising of the opposition. The troops were withdrawn, but the Soviet Union didn’t stop supplying Afghanistan with fuel and munitions up to its collapse in 1991.
After the pullout, Afhganistan was divided into multiple military formations, constantly in the state of war, and ended up as a safe haven for breeding international terrorism.