A History of Invasion and Quagmire

U.S. soldiers in AfghanistanThe occasion of President Obama’s announced escalation of U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan brings renewed attention to that country’s turbulent history. Many Americans worry that bringing political instability to this Central Asian country may prove an impossible mission. Few territories on Earth have endured so much conflict and been subject to so many different imperial rulers. To review: In the centuries following Alexander the Great’s invasion in ca. 330 B.C. of what is now Afghanistan, then part of the Persian Empire, came invasions by Scythians, White Huns, and Turks.

Arabs invaded in A.D. 642, introducing Islam. After Arab rule, the Persians again controlled Afghanistan, giving way to the Ghaznavid dynasty and Mongol invasions led by Genghis Khan. After years of imperial domination first by Timur (Tamerlane) and then by the Mughal emperors of India, it achieved a form of independence. In 1747, Ahmad Shah Durrani founded modern Afghanistan.

Next came the British, who invaded the country from colonial outposts in northwest India, largely to prevent Russian intervention. Two Anglo-Afghan Wars resulted, in 1839 and 1878. By this time, Islamic fundamentalism was becoming entrenched in Afghanistan. A century later, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan and occupied the country for a ten-year period. It was the resistance of the “mujahideen,” as militant Islamic fighters were called, that brought about the Soviet decision to withdraw in 1989. It is now 30 years since the Soviet invasion, and the current conflict shows little sign of ending soon.

Related Links

  • The Afghan Quagmire
    This article by David Loyn, a reporter who witnessed firsthand the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan in 1996, looks back at an earlier analysis of the Soviet invasion of 1979 and invasion by Great Britain in the mid-1800s.
    (Source: History Today; accessed December 2, 2009)
  • Two Invasions of Afghanistan
    This 1980 article by a military historian compares the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 to the British invasion a century before.
    (Source: History Today; accessed December 2, 2009)
  • Background Note: Afghanistan
    This U.S. State Department Web site includes a broad overview of Afghanistan, including a history section that recounts the many invasions and political turmoil this land has endured from ancient times to the present.
    (Source: History Today; accessed December 2, 2009)
  • Map of Afghanistan
    Map of Afghanistan from the University of Texas. The country’s capital is Kabul.
    (Source: The University of Texas)

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