Arms and Afghanistan

The announcement that the Soviet Union and the United States have agreed to halt all military aid to the warring factions in Afghanistan may signal the winding up of the bloodiest conflict of the 1980s.

The History

An April, 1978, revolution brought the Communists to power, and by late the next year the Soviet Union had begin a massive airlift of men and armor to save the tottering Kabul regime.

By the middle of 1980, 40,000 Soviet troops were in control of Afghanistan and, at its peak, the Soviet presence would reach 115,000 men.

In the face of Moscow's open support of the Communist government, Washington covertly backed the moujahedeen rebels.

With the guerrillas controlling the countryside and President Najibullah's forces holding the cities, the superpowers began searching for diplomatic formulas to extricate themselves from a war that has stretched over 13 years.

Over 1988 and 1989, Moscow withdrew its forces.

The Cost

Even with its troops out of Afghanistan, Moscow continued to pour an estimated $2 billion to $3 billion annually in weapons and supplies into Afghanistan to support troops loyal to Najibullah.

The CIA had covertly supported the rebels with at least $200 million a year since their revolt began in 1979.

More importantly, the conflict has cost more than a million lives and created nearly four times as many refugees.

What Now?

It is unlikely that the U.S.-Soviet arms cutoff will end the fighting. Diplomatic sources say both sides have enough weapons stockpiled to continue the war for another two years.

Fresh reports indicate that the rebels now are talking about an all-out "final offensive" on Kabul and other government-held cities.

Coupled with that is the fact that the moujahedeen are represented by seven factions that may well end up battling among themselves.

With thousands of villages, fields and animal herds destroyed in the civil war, U.N. officials estimate that it will take at least $3 billion to start a rebuilding effort.

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