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Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan: The Definition of a SNAFU

In military jargon, a SNAFU is an acronym which stands for “Systems Normal: All F***ed Up.” This acronym perfectly sums up the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan, for several reasons. But how did the entire situation come about?

As described by the Seventeen Moments module, the invasion was prompted by a sort of “domino-esque” executions of Afghani leadership. At the time of the invasion, which began on December 25, 1979, the leader of Afghanistan had executed his predecessor, who had executed his predecessor( I know it’s a little confusing, but bare with me.×300/81/163481-004-F3434EB5/Hafizullah-Amin.jpg
Hafizullah Amin, brief leader of Afghanistan

The first leader to be ousted in this murderous timeline, Nur Mohammad Taraki, was executed by Hafizullah Amin, whose background is important to this timeline. Amin was a reformist and member of the Democratic party within Afghanistan. So, naturally, the Russians weren’t thrilled when he took over. Adding to their distrust of Amin, he was a nationalist, and supported improving relations with Pakistan and the US(
Babrak Karmal, took over after Amin’s death

In steps Babrak Karmal, installed by the Russians after the disposal of Amin, who was to restore order in the already tumultuous environment that was Afghanistan at the time. Karmal had the task of trying to make peace with the mujahideen, or Islamic freedom fighters who were not happy with the previous regime’s attempts at secularization and reform. This didn’t go well, and after US support and armament, they became a real force to be reckoned with(
Soviet troops in Afghanistan, armed with modern era equipment

On to the war. The Russian’s didn’t really like to think of the whole thing as an invasion; they preferred the phrase, “exertion of fraternal aid”( The war was a complete disaster. The guerrilla fighters opposing the Soviets had the home field advantage, not to mention help from Western powers which included modern era fighting equipment. They used the mountainous terrain which they knew extremely well, as well as their fancy new equipment to keep the Soviets at bay for ten grueling years. The Soviets poured money and manpower into a losing war, and at the end of the day it cost them dearly. Tens of thousands of young Soviet men never came home after having been drafted into service, and the money diverted from the civilian economy into the war effort only made the economic situation at home worse than it already was(
Mujahideen Islamic freedom fighters, in the hills of Afghanistan

The Soviet war in Afghanistan is comparable to the US intervention in Vietnam. Public support was extremely low, as the public watched young men off to fight a war they had no business being in. After ten long years, the Soviets withdrew. Foreign relations with the Western world were severely hurt as a result, and all the efforts of détente from Brezhnev’s government were seen as fallacy. The growing dissident movement didn’t help either, along with the failing economy( Ch. 13).

All this put together made the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan into the SNAFU that I mentioned earlier. It is also a great example of how economic, cultural, and political developments were all interconnected during this time period. A poor decision made by the Brezhnev regime on the international level, growing dissent at home, and a failing domestic economy all made for a terrible war for both sides. Not to mention the fact that it would go on to fuel a similar conflict pitting the West against an enemy it had hand fashioned for itself.

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13 thoughts on “Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan: The Definition of a SNAFU

  1. Hi Rory, I thought your post took an interesting view of this disastrous foreign policy blunder during Brezhnev’s reign. I had never truly considered that, like the US during Vietnam, the Soviet public was also turning against their war with Afghanistan as time went on. Great post!


  2. Hi Rory, great blog post! As I started to read you post, all I could think about was how this the exact same position the United States was in during the Vietnam War, and really enjoyed reading the exact analogy in your post! I think it is very interesting, in certain cases, how, just because certain countries do not like leaderships in surrounding countries they think they have a right to invade and take over their country..


    1. Hey Siria thank you for the feedback! I agree that those two wars are so alike, and how no matter a countries position on the map, people oppose wars which their country seemingly has no business being in. And the second point you brought up was a signature move of the two major power during the Cold War (i.e. Bay of Pigs in Cuba)


  3. Hey Rory I really enjoyed your post describing the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. I thought that your post was able to capture the almost futility of the war for the Soviets. Although the Soviets had modern military equipment, much like the US in Vietnam, they did not know the terrain like the Mujaheddin and also did not know how far their enemy would go to achieve victory. I also like your use of the military phrase SNAFU as I think it encapsulates this conflict, which had huge ramifications, not only for the Soviet Union, but for the West as well in the future.


    1. Thank you Isaiah, I’m glad you enjoyed it! You’re exactly right with that comparison, and I appreciate that you liked that terminology as well. I learned it from an old show that used to be on the History channel called Lock n’ Load with R. Lee Ermey, who was the drill instructor from Full Metal Jacket if you’re familiar with that Vietnam era film.


  4. I appreciate the care with which you walk the reader through the early chapters of this drama! Your post highlights many of the intractable issues about the Soviet war in Afghanistan (assertion of fraternal aid!?!?) and your analysis of how (losing) the war informed political and social developments domestically is spot on. Check out Jake’s post that compares the Soviet in Afghanistan to the US in Vietnam:


    1. Thank you so much Professor Nelson! I thought that the early chapters were such a roller coaster in terms of all the assassinations and coups that it couldn’t be overlooked. That phrase cracked me up as well, and I’m glad that I hit the nail on the head with my analysis. I have seen a lot of other posts about the conflict, and I will definitely check out Jake’s. If you haven’t read Andrew P.’s post yet, he did an outstanding job(put my post to shame) on highlighting key details that I glossed over for the sake of conciseness!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Rory, this is great post on the discussion of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. I’ve always found this part of Soviet history interesting, mostly cause the only time I ever heard of it was in COD Black Ops 2. Anyways, I found that the need for Soviet’s to intervene in this conflict was due to Soviet’s wanting to find a way to build their relations with China. Even though it did not work out, I was wondering if you thought this was another way for Russia to persuade the Chinese to come to together with them on an IR level?


    1. Hey thanks Brett! That was also my first time learning about that part of Soviet history(also one of the greatest CODs of all time)!!! Honestly I never thought about it as an IR stunt by the Russians, and from what I read this actually worsened Chinese-Russian relations. The Chinese were not at all happy about the Russians expanding their territory further into the Middle-East, and I believe that the Chinese may have also supported Russia’s enemies during the war in response to the invasion.


  6. Rory, I enjoyed your post on the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and defining SNAFU. I found it very interesting (I don’t know much about it and I had no idea what SNAFU meant) and thought it was similar to the Vietnam War as well, so great comparison there!


    1. Hey Natalie I’m glad you enjoyed my post! I didn’t know much about it going into this post, and it’s amazing how little attention this war has been given in this modern era, especially given how much the US invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq has been looked at.


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