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Context of 'February 15, 1989: Soviet Forces Withdraw from Afghanistan'

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Edvard Shevardnadze.Edvard Shevardnadze. [Source: US Defense Department]The Politburo of the Soviet Communist Party decides that the Soviet-Afghan War should end “within one year or two.” This follows on from a tentative and secret agreement within the Politburo the previous year to eventually withdraw from Afghanistan. The withdrawal will be formalized in an agreement signed in Geneva in April 1988 (see April 1988) and the last troops with leave Afghanistan in February 1989 (see February 15, 1989). Soviet Foreign Minister Edvard Shevardnadze will inform US Secretary of State George Shultz of the decision the year after it is taken and the CIA will learn of it by November 1987. (Levy and Scott-Clark 2007, pp. 132-3, 486)

In an agreement signed in Geneva, Switzerland, the Soviet Union pledges to withdraw all of its troops from Afghanistan by February 15, 1989. They will end up withdrawing the last of their soldiers on that exact date (see February 15, 1989). At the time, the Soviets have slightly over 100,000 soldiers in Afghanistan. (Keller 2/16/1989)

A convoy of Soviet tanks leaving Afghanistan.A convoy of Soviet tanks leaving Afghanistan. [Source: National Geographic]Soviet forces withdraw from Afghanistan, in accordance with an agreement signed the previous year (see April 1988). However, Afghan communists retain control of Kabul, the capital, until April 1992. (Coll 7/19/1992) It is estimated that more than a million Afghans (eight per cent of the country’s population) were killed in the Soviet-Afghan War, and hundreds of thousands had been maimed by an unprecedented number of land mines. Almost half of the survivors of the war are refugees. (Wright 9/9/2002) Richard Clarke, a counterterrorism official during the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations and the counterterrorism “tsar” by 9/11, will later say that the huge amount of US aid provided to Afghanistan drops off drastically as soon as the Soviets withdraw, abandoning the country to civil war and chaos. The new powers in Afghanistan are tribal chiefs, the Pakistani ISI, and the Arab war veterans coalescing into al-Qaeda. (Clarke 2004, pp. 52-53)

Although the Soviets withdraw from Afghanistan in February 1989 (see February 15, 1989), the CIA continues to support the mujaheddin because the Soviet-allied Communist government stays in power in Kabul. Apparently, the CIA and the Saudi government continue to fund the mujaheddin at least until December 1990, although it could be longer because the Communist government remains in power in Kabul until 1992. The “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, reportedly has been working with the CIA in the 1980s to help unite the mujaheddin factions fighting each other (see Late 1980s). The Village Voice will later report that according to a “very high-ranking Egyptian official,” Abdul-Rahman continues to work with the CIA after moving to Brooklyn in July 1990 (see July 1990). He “work[s] closely with the CIA, helping to channel a steady flow of money, men, and guns to mujaheddin bases in Afghanistan and Pakistan.” But despite working with the CIA, Abdul-Rahman still considers the US the “Great Satan” and does not try to hide this. In one radio broadcast, he says that “Americans are descendants of apes and pigs who have been feeding from the dining tables of the Zionists, Communism, and colonialism.” Matti Steinberg, an expert on Islamic fundamentalism, says that Abdul-Rahman’s “long-term goal is to weaken US society and to show Arab rulers that the US is not an invulnerable superpower.” The Egyptian official will later complain, “We begged America not to coddle the sheikh.” (Friedman 3/30/1993)

President George Bush and Secretary of State James Baker decide that the US will cut off foreign aid to Pakistan because of its nuclear weapons program. Pakistan was a major recipient of foreign aid during the Soviet Afghan war, when the US channeled support to the mujaheddin through it, but Soviet forces began withdrawing from Afghanistan in February (see February 15, 1989). It is decided that aid will be provided for 1989, but not for 1990 (see October 1990). (Hersh 3/29/1993)

Sheikh Abdullah Azzam.Sheikh Abdullah Azzam. [Source: CNN]Bin Laden’s mentor Sheikh Abdullah Azzam is killed by a car bomb in Afghanistan. The killing is never solved. Azzam has no shortage of enemies. Suspects include the Mossad, CIA, Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, the ISI, and bin Laden. The reason bin Laden is suspected is because he and Azzam were increasingly at odds over what approach to take since the Soviet Union had been driven from Afghanistan earlier in the year (see February 15, 1989). (Suellentrop 4/16/2002; Coll 2004, pp. 204) In 1998, Mohammed Saddiq Odeh will be arrested and later convicted for a role in the 1998 African embassy bombings. He reportedly will tell US interrogators that bin Laden “personally ordered the killing of Azzam because he suspected his former mentor had ties with the CIA.” However, it is not known if Odeh was just passing on a rumor. (Gunaratna 2003, pp. 32) Regardless, in the wake of Azzam’s death, bin Laden takes control of Azzam’s recruiting and support network, Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK)/Al-Kifah, and merges it with al-Qaeda, which was formed the year before (see August 11-20, 1988). (Suellentrop 4/16/2002; Coll 2004, pp. 204)

“A Call for Jihad in Bosnia” flyer published by the Al-Kifah Refugee Center’s Boston branch.“A Call for Jihad in Bosnia” flyer published by the Al-Kifah Refugee Center’s Boston branch. [Source: Public domain]The Al-Kifah Refugee Center in Brooklyn, New York, is al-Qaeda’s main foothold in the US and most of the 1993 WTC bombers are closely tied to it. It had been formed in the 1980s to send militants to fight in Afghanistan and also help veteran fighters settle in the US (see 1986-1993). But the Afghanistan war against the Soviets ended in early 1989 and the winning factions soon began fighting amongst themselves (see February 15, 1989). But a new cause is on the horizon as Yugoslavia starts falling apart. By 1991, the center’s parent organization in Pakistan, Maktab al-Khidamat(MAK)/Al-Kifah begins setting up al-Qaeda charity fronts in the Bosnia region (see 1991). The main regional MAK/Al-Kifah branch in Zagreb, Croatia, is also called the Al-Kifah Refugee Center like the Brooklyn branch and has very close ties with that branch (see Early 1990s). In 1992, war breaks out in Bosnia (see April 6, 1992) and the Al-Kifah Refugee Center in Brooklyn shifts its focus fully to the Bosnia cause. For instance, the Boston branch publishes “A Call for Jihad in Bosnia.” It claims that more than 100,000 Bosnians had been killed and that thousands of Muslim girls had been kidnapped and kept in Yugoslav army camps for sex. It urges readers who wish “to provide the emerging jihad movement in Bosnia with more than food and shelter” to send their donations to Al-Kifah. And just as Al-Kifah led the effort to send US-based militants to fight in Afghanistan, it appears to do the same for Bosnia. Vanity Fair will later claim, “Dozens and perhaps hundreds of US residents are reported to have joined appeals to fight the Serbs in Bosnia.” (Scroggins 3/2005) The head of the Al-Kifah Refugee Center’s Zagreb branch, Kamer Eddine Kherbane, apparently is also one of the leaders of the mujaheddin fighters in Bosnia around this time (see 1990 and 1991). The CIA had ties to Al-Kifah during the Afghan war (see Late 1980s and After) and there is some circumstantial evidence of US government ties to it during the Bosnia war. In 1992, Ali Mohamed, a double agent and ex-US Special Forces officer with close ties to Al-Kifah, leads a group of US militants who are all ex-US soldiers to train and fight in Bosnia (see December 1992). Abu Ubaidah Yahya, an ex-US marine and security chief at the Brooklyn branch, will lead a second group of US militants to fight in Bosnia (see Spring 1993).


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