Stalemate: The Civil War, 1989-92

Stalemate: The Civil War, 1989-92

The Soviets left Afghanistan deep in winter with intimations of panic amongKabul officials. Hard experience had convinced Soviet officials that thegovernment was too faction riven to survive. Pakistani and American officialsexpected a quick mujahidin victory. The resistance was poised to attackprovincial towns and cities and eventually Kabul, if necessary. The first one tofall might produce a ripple effect that would unravel the government.

Within three months, these expectations were dashed at Jalalabad. An initialassault penetrated the city's defenses and reached its airport. A counterattack,supported by effective artillery and air power, drove the mujahidin back.Uncoordinated attacks on the city from other directions failed. The crucialsupply road to the garrison from Kabul was reopened. By May 1989 it was clearthat the Kabul forces in Jalalabad had held.

The Mujahidin were traumatized by this failure. It exposed their inability tocoordinate tactical movements or logistics or to maintain political cohesion.During the next three years, they were unable to overcome these limitations.Only one significant provincial capital (Taloqan) was captured and held.Mujahidin positions were expanded in the northeast and around Herat, but theirinability to mass forces capable of overcoming a modern army with the will tofight from entrenched positions was clear. A deadly exchange of medium-rangerockets became the principal form of combat, embittering the urban population,and adding to the obstacles that prevented millions of refugees from returning.

Victory at Jalalabad dramatically revived the morale of the Kabul government.Its army proved able to fight effectively alongside the already the hardenedtroops of the Soviet-trained special security forces. Defections decreaseddramatically when it became apparent that the resistance was in disarray, withno capability for a quick victory. The change in atmosphere made

recruitment of militia forces much easier. As many as 30,000 troops wereassigned to the defense of Herat alone.

Immediately after the Soviet departure, Najibullah pulled down the fašade ofshared government. He declared an emergency, removed Sharq and the othernon-party ministers from the cabinet. The Soviet Union responded with a flood ofmilitary and economic supplies. Sufficient food and fuel were made available forthe next two difficult winters. Much of the military equipment belonging toSoviet units evacuating Eastern Europe was shipped to Afghanistan. Assuredadequate supplies, Kabul's air force, which had developed tactics minimizing thethreat from Stinger missiles, now deterred mass attacks against the cities.Medium-range missiles, particularly the SCUD, were successfully launched fromKabul in the defense of Jalalabad, 145 kilometers miles away. One reached thesuburbs of Pakistan's capital, Islamabad, more than 400 kilometers away. Sovietsupport reached a value of $3 billion per year in 1990. Kabul had achieved astalemate which exposed the mujahidin's weaknesses, political and military.

Country Studies main page | Afghanistan Country Studies main page