Civil war in Afghanistan (1989–1992)

Civil war in Afghanistan (1989–1992)
Civil war in Afghanistan
Part of the Afghan Civil War
Date February 15, 1989–April 30, 1992
Location Afghanistan
Afghanistan Democratic Republic of Afghanistan Afghanistan Mujahideen
Commanders and leaders
Afghanistan Mohammad Najibullah Afghanistan Ahmad Shah Massoud,
Afghanistan Abdul Haq,
Afghanistan Jalaluddin Haqqani,
Afghanistan Gulbuddin Hekmatyar,
Afghanistan Abdul Rasul Sayyaf
Afghan National Army:

55 000 (1989)[1]

Presidential Guard:

10 000 (1989)[2]

The 1989 to 1992 phase of the Afghan Civil War began after the Soviet Union withdew from Afghanistan, leaving the Afghan communist government to fend for itself against the Mujahideen. After several years of fighting, the government fell in 1992. However, the civil war continued with insurgents such as the Taliban attempting to bring down the new government.


War against the Afghan communist Najibullah-regime

Military assets of the Afghan communists

After the Soviet withdrawal in February 1989, the U.S. intelligence agencies expected the PDPA regime to collapse within three to six months.[3]

However, this estimation did not take into account several assets available to the government. The first of these was the large quantities of military hardware donated by the Soviet Union. In 1989, the army and pro-government militias still had 1568 tanks, 828 armoured personnel carriers, 4880 artillery pieces, 126 modern fighter-bombers and 14 attack helicopters. Also, the DRA continued to receive massive aid from the Soviet Union, valued between two and six billion dollars a year, and Soviet military advisors were still present in Afghanistan.[4] The government forces also came to rely on the use of large quantities of Scud missiles: between 1988 and 1992 more than 2000 of these were fired inside Afghanistan, the largest amount of ballistic missiles used since World War II. This considerable amount of firepower was sufficient to keep the mujahideen at bay.

Another strength of the DRA were the pro-government militias, of which the most effective was Abdul Rashid Dostum's Jozjani militia, officially called 53rd infantry division. Numbering 40,000 men drawn from the Uzbek minority, it took its orders directly from Najibullah, who used it as a strategic reserve. After 1989, this force was the only one capable of carrying out offensive operations.[5]

Meanwhile, some of the mujahideen benefited from expanded foreign military support from the United States, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and other nations. The primary beneficiary of U.S. support, delivered through its middleman Pakistan, was Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. The primary beneficiaries of Saudi support, especially financial one, were Abdul Rasul Sayyaf and Jalaluddin Haqqani who had had strong contacts to Arab fighters in the war against the Soviets. The U.S. provided Ahmad Shah Massoud with close to no support despite the Wall Street Journal calling him "the Afghan who won the cold war" and was primarily responsible for the mujahideen victory. Part of the reason why he still got only minor support was that the U.S. permitted its funding and arms distribution to be administered by Pakistan, which favored Gulbuddin Hekmatyar who considered himself the archenemy of Massoud. Massoud was also seen as "too independent". Primary advocates for still supporting Massoud instead were State Department's Edmund McWilliams and Peter Tomsen, who were on the ground in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Others included two Heritage Foundation foreign policy analysts, Michael Johns and James A. Phillips, both of whom championed Massoud as the Afghan resistance leader most worthy of U.S. support under the Reagan Doctrine.[6][7]

Battle of Jalalabad

Battle of Jalalabad
Part of Civil war in Afghanistan (1989–1992)
Date March 5, 1989 - 16 May, 1989
Location Jalalabad, Afghanistan
Result Operation failed
 United States
Afghanistan Mujahideen
Afghanistan Afghanistan SSR
Commanders and leaders
Pakistan PM Benazir Bhutto
Flag of the Pakistani Army.svg LGen Hamid Gul
United States Robert B. Oakley
Afghanistan Abdul Rasul Sayyaf
Afghanistan Gulbuddin Hekmatyar
GEN Rashid Dostum
Units involved
40th Army Division, XII Corps
Special Activities Division
SS Directorate
11th Division, ANA
10,000 15,000
Casualties and losses
3,000  unknown.
12,000 - 15,000 Civilians killed.

By the spring of 1989, the Afghan government showed no signs of falling apart, and the American and Pakistani supporters of some of the mujahideen decided to hasten its demise. An operation was planned, under the impulsion of U.S. ambassador to Pakistan Robert B. Oakley, and the Prime Minister of Pakistan Benazir Bhutto, to capture Jalalabad. The Americans and the Pakistanis both wanted a conventional victory, each for their own reasons. The Americans wished to humiliate the Soviets, and send them out of Afghanistan "clinging to their helicopters", and thus avenge the American setback in Vietnam. The Pakistanis were intent on installing a government under Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, with affiliations with Pakistan, with Jalalabad as their provisional capital.[8] The Afghan Interim Government, which they supported, had Gulbuddin Hekmatyar as Prime Minister and Abdul Rasul Sayyaf as Foreign Minister. The central organizer of the offensive on the Pakistani side was Hamid Gul.

Involved in the operation were forces of Hekmatyar's Hezb-i Islami, Abdul Rasul Sayyaf's Ittihad-i Islami and Arab fighters, altogether 10,000 men. The attack began on March 5, 1989, and went well at first for the mujahideen, who captured the village of Samarkhel and the Jalalabad airfield. When government troops started to surrender, however, they were tortured and executed by Hekmatyar's and Sayyaf's forces, making the option of surrender impossible for the communists who then fought harder. Consequently, the attacking forces were soon blocked by the main Afghan army positions held by the 11th Division, that were protected by bunkers, barbed wire and minefields. The government troops could count on intensive air support, as the Afghan air force flew up to 100 to 120 sorties a day over the battlefield. An-12 transport aircraft, modified to carry bombs, flew at high altitude out of range of the Stinger missiles used by the mujahideen; cluster bombs were used intensively. Three Scud firing batteries, deployed around Kabul and manned by Soviet troops fired more than 400 missiles in support of the Jalalabad garrison. Despite their imprecision, these weapons had a severe effect on the morale of the mujahideen, who could do nothing to prevent them.[9] By the middle of May, they had made no headway against the defenses of Jalalabad, and were running low on ammunition. In July, they were unable to prevent the Afghan Army from recapturing Samarkhel, and Jalalabad was still firmly in the hands of Najibullah's government. The mujahideen suffered an estimated 3,000 casualties during this battle.[10] An estimated number of 12,000 - 15,000 civilians were killed, while 10,000 had fled the fighting.[11]

Contrary to U.S. and Pakistani expectations, this battle proved that the Afghan Army could fight without Soviet help, and greatly increased the confidence of government supporters. Conversely, the morale of the mujahideen involved in the attack slumped and many local commanders of Hekmatyar and Sayyaf concluded truces with the government.[12] In the words of Brigadier Mohammed Yousaf, an officer of the ISI, "the jihad [meaning the plans for Hekmatyar to be installed as prime minister] never recovered from Jalalabad".[9] As a result of this failure, Hamid Gul was sacked by Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. He was replaced at the head of the ISI by General Shamsur Rahman Kallu, who pursued a more classical policy of support to the Afghan guerillas.[9] The government forces further proved their worth in April 1990, during an offensive against a fortified complex at Paghman. After a heavy bombardment and an assault that lasted until the end of June, the Afghan army, spearheaded by Dostum's militia, was able to clear the mujahideen entrenchments.[10]

Criticism of the operation by Abdul Haq and Ahmad Shah Massoud

The Jalalabad operation was seen as a grave mistake by some mujahideen leaders such as Ahmad Shah Massoud and Abdul Haq, who considered that the mujahideen did not have the capacity to capture a major city in conventional warfare.[13] Neither Massoud nor Haq had participated in the attack on Jalalabad. Massoud even said it was by BBC radio that he learned about the operation.[14] Haq advocated the pursuit of coordinated guerilla warfare, that would gradually weaken the communist regime and cause its collapse through internal divisions. Abdul Haq was also quoted as asking: "How is that we Afghans, who never lost a war, must take military instructions from the Pakistanis, who never won one?”[11] Ahmad Shah Massoud criticized the go-it-alone attitude of Pakistan and their Afghan followers stating: "The damage caused by our [meaning the mujahideen forces] lack of a unified command is obvious. There is a total lack of coordination, which means we are not launching simultaneous offensives on different fronts. As a result the government can concentrate its resources and pick us off one by one. And that is what has happened at Jalalabad."[14]

Success of some resistance forces

The forces of Ahmad Shah Massoud, that were in north to central Afghanistan, controlled the strategically important Salang highway and made steady progress to capture the Bagram airbase just outside Kabul.[14]

After an eleven-year siege, Khost fell to Jalaluddin Haqqani's troops, that were in east Afghanistan, on April 11, 1991, following a negotiated surrender of the communist garrison.[15]

Attacks by Hekmatyar on other resistance forces

According to published reports during the 1980s, Hekmatyar's Hezb-i Islami developed a reputation for attacking other resistance forces, especially those of Ahmad Shah Massoud, and raiding or blocking their food and arms supplies as well as caravans of relief organizations.[16] According to author Steve Coll, Hekmatyar attacked Ahmad Shah Massoud so often that Washington (who was supporting him through Pakistan) "feared he might be a secret KGB plant whose mission was to sow disruption within the anti-communist resistance."[16] Reports suggest that Hekmatyar's commanders were saving their men and weapons to establish Hezb-i Islami as the dominant organization once the Soviets departed.[16]

In 1989 Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's forces once again conducted an attack on forces of Ahmad Shah Massoud, this time targeting Massoud and the senior leadership of Shura-i Nazar - Massoud's military and political alliance of 130 northern commanders.[14] While they were not able to kill or injure Massoud, Hekmatyar's forces killed and tortured to death 30 of Massoud's men, some of whom were close friends of Massoud.[14] Survivors describe the torture as pulling their eyes out, cutting their ears and noses off, and cutting their stomachs open.[14] Massoud consequently ordered an operation to hunt down the murderers. Shura-i Nazar were able to capture the assassins, but instead of revenge killings, Massoud send them to Peshawar to have them tried before a court.[14] The courts sentenced them to death.

Ahmad Shah Massoud for the sake of Afghan unity declared: "My message to Hekmatyar's people is that without a united front we cannot succeed, we cannot achieve anything in Afghanistan."[14] Roy Gutman of the United States Institute of Peace considered Massoud “the only Afghan leader with an integrated vision”.[11]

Growing weakness of the Najibullah regime

Internal dissensions

Despite its military successes, the communist regime was still plagued by its traditional internal divisions, namely the opposition between the Khalq and Parcham factions.

The DRA defense minister, Shahnawaz Tanai, disagreed with Najibullah's policy of National Reconciliation with the mujahideen. Also he had become convinced that his Khalq faction was losing its share of power in favour of Najibullah's Parcham. For these reasons he entered in secret negotiations with Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and plotted against Najibullah. Launched on 6 March 1990, his coup failed, despite almost killing Najibullah, and Tanai was forced to flee to Pakistan, where he joined Hekmatyar. A severe repression followed, as Najibullah ordered the army to be purged of Tanai's supporters. In the ensuing fighting, several airports were bombarded, damaging 46 military aircraft.[17] This episode reinforced Najibullah's suspicions and led him to govern through his personal allies rather than the government apparatus, further deepening the rift between Khalqis and Parchamis.

Economic crisis

By 1992, Afghanistan was in dire straits. Reserves of natural gas, Afghanistan's only export, had dried out since 1989, rendering the country completely dependent on Soviet aid. This amounted to 230,000 tons of food per year, but by 1991, the Soviet economy was itself faltering, preventing the Soviets from fulfilling their commitments.

In August 1991, following his arrival in power, Boris Yeltsin announced that all direct assistance to Najibullah's regime would be curtailed. In January 1992, the Afghan Air Force, which had proved vital to the survival of the regime, could no longer fly any aircraft through lack of fuel. The army suffered from crippling food shortages, causing the desertion rate to rise by 60 percent between 1990 and 1991.[18]

The pro-government militias that had grown to replace the army in many of its assignments, were faithfull to the regime only so long as it could deliver enough weapons to enable them to conserve their power. With the end of the Soviet aid, the government could no longer satisfy these demands, and the loyalty of the militias began to waver.

Finally, after negotiations between communist General Dostum and Ahmad Shah Massoud, the Junbish militia defected to the mujahideen. This reversal of fortunes effectively turned the tables in favour of the resistance, and forced Najibullah to resign.[19]

Fall of Kabul

With the end of the Soviet Union, Najibullah's regime lost all credibility and by 1992, after a Russian decision to end fuel shipments to Afghanistan, Najibullah's regime began to collapse. In April 1992, General Abdul Rashid Dostum defected to the forces of Ahmed Shah Massoud and began to take control of Kabul. On April 14, 1992 it was confirmed that Massoud and his forces had taken Charikar and Jabalussaraj in Parwan province with only minimal fighting.[20] At this point it was reported that Massoud had approximately 20,000 troops stationed around Kabul.[21] It was further reported that the Government's Second Division had joined Massoud. General Mohammad Nabil Azimi then proceeded to reinforce Bagram Air Base and sent further reinforcements to the outer perimeter of Kabul. By mid-April the air force command at Bagram had capitulated to Massoud. With no army to defend it, Kabul had become completely defenseless.[19]

Professor Burhanuddin Rabbani, President of the Islamic State of Afghanistan from 1992 to 1996, was assassinated by a Taliban member in September 2011.

Najibullah had lost internal control immediately after he announced his willingness on March 18 to resign in order to make way for a neutral interim government. As the government broke into several factions the issue had become how to carry out a transfer of power. Najibullah attempted to flee from of Kabul on April 17, but was stopped by Dostum's troops who controlled Kabul International Airport. Najibullah then took refuge at the United Nations mission where he remained until 1995. A group of Parchami generals and officials declared themselves an interim government for the purpose of handing over power to the dominant and most popular military force: Massoud.[19]

Massoud was hesitant to enter Kabul, waiting for the political parties to reach a peace and power-sharing agreement first. In April 1992, with the Peshawar Accords, an interim government was formed with a Supreme Leadership Council, and a transitory presidency that was given to Sibghatullah Mojaddedi for two months, after which Burhanuddin Rabbani was to succeed him. Hekmatyar was given the post of Prime Minister, but he did not accept this position for he did not want to share power and Pakistan was urging him to take power for himself. Massoud in a recorded conversation tried to convince Hekmatyar to join the peace agreement and not to enter Kabul. But Hekmatyar replied he would enter the capital with "our naked sword. No one can stop us." Hekmatyar's Hezb-i Islami forces began to infiltrate Kabul. This forced Massoud to advance on the capital in order to preserve the Peshawar Accords and prevent the establishment of a Hekmatyar dictatorship.[22]

The different Mujahideen groups entered Kabul from different directions. Hezb-i Islami made the first move and entered the city from the south. Hekmatyar had asked other groups such as Harakat-Inqilab-i-Islami and Khalis faction to join him while entering Kabul, but they declined his offer and instead backed the Peshawar Accords like Massoud. Hekmatyar's men were armed and financed by Pakistan. Jamiat-i Islami had seized massive amount of weapons while overrunning the communist garrisons in Bagram, Charikar, Takhar, Kunduz, Fayzabad and other northern cities. Adding to that, all the forces of Abdul Rashid Dostum's Junbish-i Milli had aligned themselves to the Jamiat, and the former communist government of Afghanistan had decided to surrender all its weapons to Jamiat, instead of Hezb. All the Parchamis had fled abroad through the Jamiat controlled areas. Jamiat had seized massive stockpiles of heavy weapons such as T-62 and T-55 tanks, Scud missiles and MiG-21s.

The Hezb forces were very far from key points of the city such as the Presidential Palace, Prime Minister's office, Kabul International Airport, the Defense Ministry and many other important government offices, and much of the city lies in the North Bank of the Kabul River. The Jamiat forces quickly took control of these strategically important offices. Although Hezb forces got to the gates of Ministry of Justice and had got control of Ministry of Interior, they were quickly repulsed after bombing from the Afghan Air Force, which was supported from artillery shells fired from TV Tower onto Jade Maiwand. Hundreds of Hezb Fighters were killed or taken prisoners including some foreign fighters.

In the western sector of the city, the Hezb forces crossed the Kabul River and arrived at the northern bank after taking control of the Karta-e Seh area. While charging towards the Kote Sangi and Kabul University, Sayyaf's forces attacked Hezb forces from the Ghazi School area in a surprise move, and the Hezb forces were separated into two groups after being cut off by Jamiat forces. Throughout the night, the exhausted and demoralized forces of Hezbi Islami, fought on, some to the bitter end. After suffering heavy casualties, Hezb forces in the southern bank fled out of Kabul towards Logar and deserted their positions.

Kabul came completely under Islamic State control on April 30, 1992, but the situation was far from stabilized. The Hezb-i Islami had been driven out, but they were still within artillery range, and soon started firing tens of thousands of rockets into the city supplied by Pakistan.

When the Hekmatyar's forces had overrun Pul-e-Charkhi prison while still in the centre of Kabul, they had set free all the inmates, including many criminals, who were able to take arms and commit gruesome exactions against the population.[23] With the government institutions either collapsing or participating in the factional fighting, maintaining order in Kabul became almost impossible. The scene was set for the next phase of the war.


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ Dixon, Norm (2001-12-12). "Revolution and counter-revolution in Afghanistan". Retrieved 2007-07-27. 
  4. ^ Marshall, A.(2006); Phased Withdrawal, Conflict Resolution and State Reconstruction; Conflict research Studies Centre; ISBN 1-905058-74-8 [1]
  5. ^ Marshall, p. 3
  6. ^ Phillips, James A. (May 18, 1992). "Winning the Endgame in Afghanistan", Heritage Foundation Backgrounder #181.
  7. ^ Johns, Michael (January 19, 2008). "Charlie Wilson's War Was Really America's War".
  8. ^ Kaplan, p.178
  9. ^ a b c Yousaf, Mohammad and Adkin, Mark. "Afghanistan - The bear trap - Defeat of a superpower". [2]. Retrieved 2007-07-27. 
  10. ^ a b Marshall, p.7
  11. ^ a b c Roy Gutman. How We Missed the Story: Osama Bin Laden, the Taliban and the Hijacking of Afghanistan (January 15, 2008 ed.). United States Institute of Peace Press. pp. 304. ISBN 1601270240. 
  12. ^ "Rebels without a cause". PBS. 1989-08-29. Retrieved 2007-07-27. 
  13. ^ Kaplan, Robert D. (2001); Soldiers of God: With Islamic Warriors in Afghanistan And Pakistan; Vintage Departures; ISBN 1-4000-3025-0, p.166
  14. ^ a b c d e f g h "Afghanistan - the Squandered Victory". BBC. 1989. 
  15. ^ The Demise of the Soviet Union, 1991- Library of Congress country studies - Retrieved on 2007-08-21.
  16. ^ a b c "Gulbuddin Hekmatyar - The Master of Darkness". Huffington Post. 2010. 
  17. ^ Marshall, p.8
  18. ^ Marshall, p. 8
  19. ^ a b c The Fall of Kabul, April 1992- Library of Congress country studies - Retrieved on 2007-07-26.
  20. ^ Corwin, Phillip. "Doomed in Afghanistan: A U.N. Officer's memoir of the Fall of Kabul and Najibullah's Failed Escape." 1992. Rutgers University Press. (31 January 2003), 70
  21. ^ Doomed in Afghanistan, 71
  22. ^ Urban, Mark (1992-04-28). "Afghanistan: power struggle". PBS. Retrieved 2007-07-27. 
  23. ^ De Ponfilly, p.405

External links

Afghanistan - the Squandered Victory (documentary film) by the BBC

(documentary film directly from the year 1989 explaining the beginning of the turmoil to follow)

Massoud's Conversation with Hekmatyar (original document of 1992)
Commander Massoud's Struggle (documentary film) by Nagakura Hiromi

(from 1992, one month after the collapse of the communist regime, after Hekmatyar was repelled to the southern outskirts of Kabul, before he started the heavy bombardment of Kabul with the support of Pakistan)

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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