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A Picture From History: Mujahideen

Continuing our history series, we look at the Mujahideen and their fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan during the 1980s.

Agree with them or not, there are some warfighters that we must simply agree were badasses.

Among that list, I would place the Mujahideen of the 1980s.

Mujahideen armed with SMLEs and AK-47s, Afghanistan, 1980s

I won’t even attempt to list or explain the politics involved in detail.

However, here is a very rough and very simplified version of who and what the Mujahideen were and why the United States spent $2 billion dollars (almost $5B in 2021 money) arming them in the late ’80s.

The socialist Democratic Republic of Afghanistan (DRA) staged a coup in 1978 to take over the country of Afghanistan. As you might expect, not everyone in Afghanistan liked that. Rebel groups quickly formed.

Seeing the socialist government threatened, the Soviets quickly moved in to support the DRA — to the tune of over 80,000 troops.

40th Army departing afghanistan
Soviet 40th Army departing Afghanistan, 1988

While governments around the world wrung their hands and tisk tisk’d the Soviet’s invasion, they didn’t really do anything about it.

The USA boycotted the 1980 summer Olympics and the USSR took home 80 gold medals that year. We sure showed them a thing or two!

If you’re wondering, the USSR would then boycott the 1984 games in Los Angeles. (The US took 83 gold medals that year.)  

While the invasion of 80,000 Soviets would stop most rebellions in their tracks, the Afghanis are built differently. For years the Mujahideen would wage a losing war against the Soviets.

A boy soldier in the Mujahideen with his arms full of RPGs and an AK, 1992. Bet no one tries to steal his lunch money.

Starting in 1980 the USA decided to get in the game — but at a distance.

Spearheaded by U.S. Congressman Charlie Wilson managed to knit together a secret war. It was a stunning act of bipartisanship within congress and international alliance making.

Widely, but quietly, supported by congress the CIA moved to arm the Mujahideen with modern weapons.

With the help of China, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and a number of other nations, the CIA began moving arms and money to the rebel forces.

Armed with Lee-Enfield .303 British rifles, AK-47s, Stingers, mortars, and lots and lots of explosives — the Mujahideen quickly became a force the Soviets would fear.

A guerilla soldier points a stinger rocket launcher at a passing aircraft. The US-supplied stinger rocket launchers have been called the key to the mujahideen’s ultimate victory in Afghanistan. Safed Koh Mountains,

It still took almost 10 years of fighting, billions of dollars, and tens of thousands of lives but the Mujahideen would eventually break the Soviet’s will, causing them to withdraw all troops in 1989.

This defeat, along with the massive economic strain the war placed on the USSR, would play a major role in the collapse of the union in 1991.

By the end of the war, the USSR lost over 14,000 troops. The Mujahideen lost between 75,000 and 90,000. Some 2 million Afghan civilians were killed and another 7 million displaced.

The war would have a number of repercussions in the decades since the war. 

From the rise of Al Qaeda and the Taliban to the fall of the Twin Towers to massive political and social changes throughout the Middle East, this seemingly small war over a landlocked nation of almost no strategic value gravely impacts our lives to this day.

A newspaper clipping shows Osama bin Laden (center) among the Mujahideen fighters who are receiving arms and aid from the United States, Afghanistan 1988

While the story of the Afghan rebels ends in tragedy, one must still admit they had guts. There are few that stood up directly to the full might of the Soviets and won.

This is a new style of article for Pew Pew Tactical, if you liked it — let us know in the comments! If you didn’t enjoy it…well phooey. To catch up on previous Pictures From History, click on over to our History Category.

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8 Leave a Reply

  • Commenter Avatar
    Jonathon L Siple

    Thank you

    September 12, 2021 9:01 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Mike Porter

    Love historical articles. Keep them coming.

    May 25, 2021 1:55 pm
  • Commenter Avatar
    Jim Foreman

    Good article. Keep factually based historically relevant topics coming. The article had sufficient context to deliver the major theme/intent of the article. Well done!

    May 24, 2021 5:15 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    Good stuff

    May 24, 2021 6:53 am
  • Commenter Avatar
    Joe in TX

    I'll take 1,000,000 more of these. None of the time studying history is wasted. There's a reason Hardcore History, Martyr Made, Jocko Podcast, etc., are so popular. Fascinating.

    May 23, 2021 3:40 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    Definitely liked this type of content. Would love to see more of it!

    May 22, 2021 11:48 pm
  • Commenter Avatar

    Much like the U.S. in Vietnam. They won but at an enormous cost.

    May 22, 2021 10:32 am
    • Commenter Avatar
      Mel A. Sustento

      The US lost, with tremedous costs to lives armaments and money. They were overrun by Ho Chi Mihn and Vietcong.

      May 24, 2021 6:21 am
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