In an important move signaling the close of the nearly decade-long Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan, the last Russian troops withdraw from the capital city of Kabul. Less than two weeks later, all Soviet troops departed Afghanistan entirely, ending what many observers referred to as Russia’s “Vietnam.”
Soviet armed forces entered Afghanistan in December 1979 to support that nation’s pro-Soviet communist government in its battles with Muslim rebels. Almost immediately, the Soviet Union found itself mired in a rapidly escalating conflict. Afghan rebels put up unexpectedly stiff resistance to the Russian intervention. Soon, thousands of Soviet troops were fighting a bloody, costly, and ultimately frustrating battle to end the Afghan resistance. By the time the Soviets started to withdraw in early 1989, over 13,000 Russian soldiers were dead and over 22,000 had been wounded. The Soviet Union also suffered from a very negative diplomatic response from the United States–President Jimmy Carter put a hold on arms negotiations, asked for economic sanctions, and pressed for an American boycott of the 1980 Olympics in Moscow.
By 1988, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev decided that the manpower and financial drains imposed by Afghanistan were unacceptable and indicated that Soviet troops would shortly begin their withdrawal. The Soviet Union was in the midst of tremendous internal political and economic instability at the time, and Gorbachev’s action in regards to Afghanistan was yet another indication that Soviet power was on the wane. In less than three years, Gorbachev had resigned and the Soviet Union had ceased to exist. For Afghanistan, the Soviet withdrawal did not mean an end to the death and destruction. The Afghan rebels, who had been armed to the teeth by U.S. aid, simply turned their attention to political and religious rivals within the country. Civil war continued to wrack the nation.