In December 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, leading to a brutal war over the next decade. America, Pakistan and others provided the resistance with logistical and financial support, forcing the Soviet Union to withdraw by early 1989.
This defeat helped convince the Soviets not to intervene forcibly in various Eastern European revolutions, aiding the demise of the USSR. But the conflict took a huge toll on Afghanistan – up to 1.5 million Afghans died.
After the Soviet withdrawal, the puppet regime was expected to collapse. But Russian financial support saw it cling on until 1992. The opposition, never united, fractured further. By the early 1990s, swathes of the country were run by warlords and bandits.
In 1991 a group of students in religious schools joined refugees from camps on the Pakistan border to form the Taliban under Mullah Mohammed Omar. By 1994 they had taken Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second city. By 25 September 1996 they reached the suburbs of Kabul, the capital.The main anti-Taliban opposition retreated, and they took power.
Over the next five years, the Taliban imposed Islamic rule, banning education for women and imposing draconian punishments for minor crimes. They allowed the terrorist group al-Qaeda to establish bases that were used to organise the September 11th attacks.
A Nato bombing campaign removed them from power in late 2001, but they’ve regained de-facto control of many provinces as US troops have withdrawn. Afghanistan remains one of the world’s poorest nations.
Also on this day
Fluid for many years, the border between England and Scotland was legally defined on this day in 1237 – barring the odd skirmish over Berwick. Read more here.