One of the lesser known facts of 20th-century world history is Cuba’s military help in Afghanistan during the critical years of the Saur Revolution of 1978.
One of the most striking world historical beacons in the 20th century is revolutionary Cuba’s meaningful, spartan, and heroic internationalism. While Cuba’s internationalist solidarity still exists in many forms, its military component is what stands out.
Cuban military aid in Ghana, Algeria, Guinea-Bissau, Congo and Bolivia under Che Guevara, Grenada, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Angola, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Equatorial Guinea, Libya, Iraq, Syria during the October War of 1973, Western Sahara, Yemen, and South Africa — the latter Cuba helped liberate from apartheid — shaped the history of Africa and Latin America. It is an exceptional and unprecedented record for a small Caribbean island making it almost too surreal to be true.
Is it bewildering then, that Cuba proudly amassed the rage of the “Empire” in the form of the decades-long genocidal blockade?
However, one of the lesser known facts of 20th-century world history is Cuba’s military help in Afghanistan during the critical years of the Saur Revolution of 1978. Cuba was among a small number of countries who voted against a resolution by the Non-Aligned Movement at the United Nations General Assembly which condemned the Soviet union’s intervention in Afghanistan in 1979.
Cuba was engaged in the fight against Western imperialism on the Afghan front from 1980 to 1986. These years were decisive for the Afghan Revolution. It was during this timespan that the Afghan army inflicted decisive blows against imperialism’s foot soldiers — Afghans and some 50,000 non-Afghans.
The successes achieved at this time were largely due to the presence in Afghanistan of over 5,000 Cuban military personnel who shared their expertise in guerrilla warfare with the Afghan and Soviet armies that were built for conventional warfare. The Cubans also served in combat roles. It is incredibly ironic that years later some of the United States’ “freedom fighters” whom the Cubans fought in the 1980s would be imprisoned as terrorists on southeastern Cuban territory — Guantanamo Bay — occupied by the U.S.
The Cuban help turned the tide of war in Afghanistan. For all strategic purposes, the counter-revolution was defeated. The revolutionary government was able to consolidate power. The revolution became sustainable from a strategic point of view. It had gained the momentum and the upper hand. Western propaganda perniciously labeled the situation a “strategic stalemate.” The West, suffering a humiliating defeat on the battlefield, was now desperately looking to other options to sustain its ultimate agenda — regime change in Afghanistan.
The West resorted to complementing its war efforts with pursuing war by other means. Using the United Nations, the so-called Geneva Talks which had been initiated by Afghanistan in 1984 from a position of strength, was now used to serve the imperialist agenda. It culminated in the Geneva Accords of April 14, 1988, and were meant to facilitate an “honorable” exit for the Soviets.
Immediately afterward the U.N. launched its so-called Five-Point Peace Plan which was a plan for the surrendering of Afghanistan to imperialism. The latter, in the meantime, never gave up on the military option to effect regime change in Afghanistan, break up state institutions, and destroy the all powerful Afghan army. It was, of course, the military option that finally materialized.
One significant strategic shift occurred to the West’s advantage. By 1985, Gorbachev came to power and initiated what would become the end of the Soviet Union and its revolutionary legacy, which would also ultimately decide the fate of the ill-fated Saur Revolution. Gorbachev decided to withdraw Soviet troops from Afghanistan to the dismay of his Afghan and Cuban counterparts and against the advice of his generals who believed they needed one more year to completely eliminate the counterrevolution.
Fidel Castro and Afghan President Babrak Karmal, who was forced by the Soviets in 1986 to relinquish power, firmly opposed Gorbachev’s policies. The Soviets chose to leave. Afghanistan which had sacrificed so much in blood to defend itself — and the Soviet Union — against imperialism’s encroaching on Soviet borders was left to fight a hugely asymmetric war on its own.
It was bound to break up into pieces. The U.S. “freedom fighters” did not stop in Afghanistan. The Soviets were made to pay for their historic mistake — and the Russians to this day — in the form of the wars in Tajikistan, the North Caucasus republics of Chechenya, Dagestan, etc.
And Afghanistan? Well, it never ceased bleeding under imperialist experiments.
Western imperialism which was engaged in a dangerous geopolitical competition with the Soviet Union for control of Afghanistan, which it saw as geostrategically, finally succeeded in establishing its outposts in the country — military bases included. It officially took charge of the country in 2001 and has since been preparing to project power over Iran, China, and gradually but firmly pushing its way towards Central Asia with Russia being the main target. That geopolitical competition never ceased to exist.
Recent developments in the strategically-located Kunduz province to the north of Afghanistan bordering Tajikistan is an ironic reminder that Russia might be forced to enter into the Afghan war theater, now more complex, to fight a war it left unfinished. But this time, it probably needs a million soldiers as Karmal had warned Gorbachev in the spring of 1985. And without Cuba and Fidel.