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My favorite show, “The Americans,” has gotten off to a great 3rd season. This season, one of the major focuses is on the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan, and also on the American response to it. The 2 main protagonists, Elizabeth and Philip Jennings, have been running assets to gain the Soviet upper hand against American involvement with the opposition to the Soviet-backed Afghan Government. This decade of conflict, from the Saur Revolution of 1979 to Soviet troop withdrawal in 1989, has still been a major influence on foreign and domestic events in the years since and will only become even more influential.
Unfortunately, until “The Americans,” the only widely-viewed media about this conflict was the 2007 movie “Charlie Wilson’s War,” and the novels written by Khaled Hosseini.
To understand many of the world’s events beyond the basic rhetoric put out by pundits on TV, we must understand the events of the 1980s in Afghanistan. I will only focus on the events in Afghanistan until 1982, the same year Season 3 of “The Americans” is set in.
Credit Here. The Saur Revolution.
The Beginning: The Saur Revolution:
In 1973, Mohammed Daoud Khan overthrew the King, his cousin, who had ruled Afghanistan since the 1930s. This dissent began during his service in many different Afghan government positions and as Prime Minister. As Prime Minister, his major focus was on the Afghan reunification with the Pashtuns, but conflict that came with that led to his resignation. After taking power in a bloodless coup, Daoud Khan passed major reform to strengthen the military and promoted a republic in Afghanistan by naming himself President. His greatest mistake was siding with the Pashtuns over the other tribal groups in Afghanistan, which led to the direct opposition by Islamic Fundamentalists and indirect opposition by the Soviets, who Daoud Khan had tried to reduce ties with.
After the murder of Mir Akbar Khyber, a leader of the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA), the leading Communist Party in Afghanistan, it was the beginning of the end for Daoud Khan. The Communists gained support from the people by inflammatory speeches and other propaganda. In April 1978, the Daoud Khan government came to a violent end when PDPA rebels stormed the presidential palace and Daoud Khan was killed, putting the Communists in power.
Communist Trouble From The Beginning:
The first Communist leader to take over, Nur Muhammed Taraki, was assassinated in an inside coup by fellow PDPA member Hafizullah Amin. Distrusting Amin, the Soviets had him assassinated in December 1979, and they replaced him with the Soviet-organized government of Babrak Karmal. The Soviet government also mobilized troops to back the Karmal Government, which changed the game in the region substantially.
Carter Administration Response And Conflict Continuation:
After the installation of Karmal by the Soviets and troop mobilization of the Red Army, American politicians- both on the Republican and Democratic sides- worried that the Soviets would begin to move further into the Middle East. The Soviet Union had long coveted a warm-water port, and the invasion of Afghanistan positioned them for further invasion possibly into Pakistan. The worry that the Soviets were moving to take over Middle Eastern oil and that the ideology behind the Iranian Revolution would spread was prominent.
Americans were ready to end détente.
When the invasion happened, and that it was certain that the Soviets were there to stay, President Jimmy Carter made really good moves and really bad ones.
The Good Moves:
• Carter ended the Soviet Wheat Deal in 1980, which was a major institute of the Détente Era.
• Carter also issued the Carter Doctrine, which was to state that, quoted from Carter’s National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski:
“An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.”
• Carter supported generous American contributions to the refugees from Afghanistan who had fled to Pakistan.
The Bad Moves:
• Carter decided to refuse to allow American Olympic athletes to participate in the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow. This caused great unhappiness among the people, who believed it would be better to beat the Soviets in medal count than to not compete at all.
• Carter also reinstated registration for the draft for young males.
Overall, I believe that Carter took very appropriate actions, and I support his good moves not because we share the same party (we do) but that they worked. Unfortunately, his bad moves, along with the Iranian Hostage Crisis, led to the election of Ronald Reagan as President in 1980.
Credit Here. Mujahideen Fighters In The Kunar Province.
The Reagan Administration: The First 2 Years
(I will only cover the years of 1981 & 1982 here because that is the point “The Americans” has reached so far. It is not to say that the events after 1982 are unimportant. I will include some information from 1983 and on, but only limited amounts.)
The Carter Administration had authorized funding for anti-Communist fighters- Mujahideen- in Afghanistan, but under Reagan this program greatly expanded. Operation Cyclone, as it was called, became part of the larger Reagan Doctrine that supported anti-Soviet and anti-Communist resistance around the world. Partnering with similar programs initiated by Egypt, Britain, China, and others, over $3 billion was spent on the opposition effort in Afghanistan by the U.S.
The ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence service, was the intermediary for the activities conducted during Operation Cyclone. While it is easily to image a large American force training the Mujahideen, only about 10 CIA operatives were in the region because the Agency didn’t want to have the threat of being blamed if something went wrong. With American and other international funding, the ISI trained and armed over 100,000 Mujahideen.
At the current point “The Americans” is at, I do not want to overextend what I feel is necessary information. In the future I may write another article, a sort-of Part 2, covering 1983-1989, but I do not see that coming in the foreseeable future.
Now, I leave you in the trustworthy hands of the creators, directors, and producers, Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields, to reveal how the events in Afghanistan in the 1980s are very relevant and influential to today’s world.
“The Americans” is currently airing on FX Wednesday nights at 10 PM EST.