Year
1978

Afghan president is overthrown and murdered

Afghanistan President Sardar Mohammed Daoud is overthrown and murdered in a coup led by procommunist rebels. The brutal action marked the beginning of political upheaval in Afghanistan that resulted in intervention by Soviet troops less than two years later.

Daoud had ruled Afghanistan since coming to power in a coup in 1973. His relations with the neighboring Soviet Union had grown progressively worse since that time as he pursued a campaign against Afghan communists. The murder of a leading Afghan Communist Party leader in early April 1978 may have encouraged the communists to launch their successful campaign against the Daoud regime later that month. In the political chaos that followed the death of Daoud, Nur Mohammed Taraki, head of the Afghan Communist Party, took over the presidency. In December 1978, Afghanistan signed a 20-year “friendship treaty” with the Soviet Union, by which increasing amounts of Russian military and economic assistance flowed into the country. None of this, however, could stabilize the Taraki government. His dictatorial style and his decision to turn Afghanistan into a one-party state alienated many people in the heavily Moslem country. In September 1979, Taraki was himself overthrown and murdered. Three months later, Soviet troops crossed into Afghanistan and installed a government acceptable to the Russians, and a war between Afghan rebels and Soviet troops erupted. The conflict lasted until Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev withdrew the Soviet forces in 1988.

In the years following the Soviet intervention, Afghanistan became a Cold War battlefield. The United States responded quickly and harshly to the Soviet action by freezing arms talks, cutting wheat sales to Russia, and boycotting the 1980 Olympic games in Moscow. Tension increased after Ronald Reagan became president in 1981. The United States provided arms and other assistance to what Reagan referred to as the “freedom fighters” in Afghanistan. For the Soviets, the Afghanistan intervention was a disaster, draining both Soviet finances and manpower. In the United States, commentators were quick to label the battle in Afghanistan “Russia’s Vietnam.”

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