Monday, Mar. 31, 2003

Soviet Folly in Afghanistan

Dec. 12, 1979

The Afghan department in the Soviet foreign ministry was one of the quietest spots in the U.S.S.R.'s diplomatic service. But when Afghanistan's nonalignment policy began to slip, the Soviet leadership panicked. Three members of the Kremlin inner circle — Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko, KGB chief Yuri Andropov and Defense Minister Dmitri Ustinov — feared that the Afghans would tilt toward the U.S. unless stern "measures" were taken.

Late on the night of Dec. 12, ailing Communist Party chairman Leonid Brezhnev called the three to a secret meeting to hear their proposal. To keep the U.S. from installing a friendly regime, they said, Moscow must send in troops. The military operation, Brezhnev was told, would be over in three or four weeks.

Two weeks later, the Soviets began an invasion that was to last nearly a decade and chill U.S.-Soviet relations for years. By the law of unintended consequences, the U.S. decision to back an anti-Soviet guerrilla force of mujahedin was to rebound disastrously with the rise of Islamic terrorism, when Osama bin Laden eventually found in the shattered Afghanistan a vital haven.