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Digital National Security Archive (DNSA): Afghanistan: The Making of U.S. Policy, 1973–1990

About this Collection

Containing over 2,000 documents that total more than 14,000 pages, Afghanistan offers a comprehensive record of the bloodiest and costliest superpower proxy war of the 1980s. Documents include State Department cables from Kabul, Washington, D.C., and Islamabad.

Research Value of this Collection

The Afghanistan collection is unique for several reasons. It provides an index and catalog--accompanied by an extensive chronology and set of glossaries--to a paper record of one of the most significant proxy wars of the Cold War. Even more important, these documents are contemporary (many are only two to three years old at the time of publication), broad-ranging and, in many instances, virtually never before seen by either scholars or the news media. Scholars of U.S. national security policy, U.S.-Soviet relations, U.S.-Pakistan relations, Soviet foreign and military policy, South Asian studies and Islam will find here a wealth of material relevant to their research that would normally have remained classified for 20-50 more years.

This collection provides insights into how Afghanistan, a country that received little attention in Washington throughout most of the post-World War II era, came to figure so prominently over the past two decades in the shaping of U.S.-Soviet relations. The Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan in 1979 to prop up the communist government in Kabul precipitated a change in the U.S. perspective not only of Soviet objectives in Southwest Asia, but also of Soviet foreign policy in general. The invasion provided "proof" to U.S. conservatives, including President Ronald Reagan, that Soviet foreign policy was "expansionist" in nature. Likewise, the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1988-1989 signalled, in the view of many U.S. officials, the beginning of the end for Soviet "adventurism" in the Third World.

The Afghanistan collection provides background to the development of these and many other issues and events. The materials show how the United States, which traditionally treated Afghanistan as a buffer between its adversary, the USSR, and its allies, Iran and Pakistan, perceived and responded to growing Soviet influence in Afghanistan during the 1970s; what U.S. officials, once the Soviets invaded, expected to achieve by supporting the fragmented Afghan rebels in their fight against 100,000 Soviet troops; the attitude of U.S. officials toward U.N. efforts to bring about a negotiated settlement; U.S. assessments of Soviet military objectives and capabilities; Congress' role in helping to develop a covert military aid program; and the United States' involvement with Pakistan in managing the largest concentrated refugee population in the world.

The collection also details the public diplomacy efforts of the Reagan Administration to maintain a favorable image for the rebels in the news media; State Department and Pentagon assessments of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's efforts to extricate the Red Army from its Afghan morass; the impact of the war on Pakistan, including an explosion in unrestrained arms and drug trafficking; U.S. contact with and manipulation of Islam and tribal politics; the genesis and results of AID's unorthodox Cross-Border Humanitarian Assistance Program designed to aid citizens and rebels inside "liberated" areas of Afghanistan; the effects of Soviet and Afghan government counterinsurgency tactics, ranging from heavy aerial bombardments to civic action campaigns; and the impact on Afghanistan, its infrastructure and its people, of a war which took over one million lives and uprooted nearly half the country's population.