Afghanistan: Withdrawal Lessons

A World Policy Journal exclusive interactive look into lessons from the Soviet Union's withdrawal from Afghanistan in the late 1980s.

Adapted from Jack Devine and Whitney Kassel's article [Afghanistan: Withdrawal Lessons]( that appeared in [World Policy Journal]('s Fall 2013 issue.

1987-01-01 00:00:00

Lessons from the Soviet Union’s Withdrawal

The withdrawal of NATO forces from Afghanistan in 2014 is likely to be followed by a civil war between a predominantly non-Pashtun security apparatus and Pakistan-backed Taliban forces. As the U.S. confronts this reality, it would be wise to look closely at the experience of the Soviet Union following its occupation of Afghanistan in the late 1980s.

1987-02-01 00:00:00

USSR Establishes Stability

In the aftermath of its retreat from Afghanistan in 1989, the already crumbling Soviet Union was able to provide funding and military support to prop up President Mohammed Najibullah for three years.

1989-01-01 00:00:00

Military Support to Karzai Regime

Support comparable to the Soviet Union’s support of President Najibullah will be necessary to sustain the Karzai regime for even one year after the U.S.’s departure, whether that regime is led by Hamid Karzai himself or an American-aligned successor.

1989-01-01 11:35:19

Establishing Political Infrastructure - Then

Between 1989 and the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Moscow supplied the Afghans with an estimated $300 million per month, in addition to a vast array of weaponry, MiG-27 fighter jets, and the majority of the military material they had brought into the country as part of their own effort against the Mujahideen. It was only after Soviet support dried up in 1991 that Najibullah’s regime began to unravel, with the Taliban finally sweeping to power in April 1994.

1989-01-03 11:35:19

Establishing Political Infrastructure - Now

The U.S. is now facing a dangerously similar predicament with President Karzai. Should the federal government prove unwilling to forego the necessary resources to keep him or his allies in Kabul, we will likely see a swift descent into chaos.

1989-02-04 11:35:19

Moving Towards Stability

President Karzai is widely despised for a range of failings—corruption but also poor governance, vote-rigging, and a continued unwillingness to cooperate fully on key issues such as detainees.

1989-02-24 11:35:19

Avoiding Civil War

Should the country find itself in the midst of a civil war, creating a more democratic and stable society in a post-withdrawal Afghanistan cannot be accomplished.

1990-01-01 11:35:19

Allowing Some Room for Negotiation

It is inevitable that some elements of what is currently considered “the enemy” will have to be drawn into the fold to achieve something resembling order in the country. But as President Barack Obama observed in a 2009 white paper, they must be willing to “lay down their arms, reject Al Qaeda, and accept the Afghan constitution.”

1990-01-30 11:35:19

Backing a Strong Negotiation

Afghanistan is a land where money goes far. Karzai may be able to negotiate these terms if the international community provides him with the necessary resources.

1992-01-01 11:35:19

Leaving Military Equipment

The military equipment we have and likely will continue to provide will allow the Afghan military to fend off any groups who choose not to negotiate.

1993-01-01 00:00:00

Resources to Pakistan - A Critical Player

The Haqqani network is a key example of a group that has not been quashed by 11 years of extensive military action by U.S., NATO, and Afghan forces. They have, however, proven themselves to be amenable to financial incentives, as the Inter-Services Intelligence has found in its own negotiations with the group.

1994-01-05 00:00:00

The Dangers of Ignoring Pakistan

Just as the world witnessed, in the wake of the Soviet withdrawal, the subsequent rise of the Taliban with Pakistani support, as long as Pakistan continues to fund Afghan insurgents, violence will continue to plague any effort to govern the country.

1995-01-01 00:00:00

Increasing Incentives for Pakistan

Pakistan President Nawaz Sharif’s recent overtures toward Afghanistan do present a more hopeful picture than that of the past.

1996-01-01 00:00:00

Working for Regional Stability

Pakistan has demonstrated through its continued support of insurgent groups operating in Afghanistan a concerted desire to see both continued unrest in Afghanistan and a resurgence of a Pashtun-dominated, Taliban-aligned center of power in Kabul.

1997-01-01 00:00:00

Preparing for Pakistan Rejection

Should Pakistan not choose the path of least resistance and turn down U.S. aid in an effort to assert its sovereignty either domestically with regard to counterterrorism, or with respect to our goals in Afghanistan, the U.S. should respond with appropriate covert action.

1998-01-01 00:00:00

The Continuation of Covert Action

The role for covert action will be even more essential in the region as military operations in Afghanistan end.

1999-01-01 00:00:00

Looking Forward

Had the USSR survived after 1991 and employed these methods—providing financial and military support to Kabul, soliciting political support from Pakistan, and maintaining robust covert action and intelligence presence in the region—they may well have prevented the violence and conflict that brought the Taliban to power in 1994.

2000-01-01 11:35:19

New Opportunities

The new Sharif government presents an opportunity to improve relations with Pakistan and move forward with a political solution in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan: Withdrawal Lessons

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