Month: February 2017

The Soviet-Afghan War

Afghanistan seceded from the Durrani Empire in 1823, and was ruled by the House of Barakzai for the rest of the existence of the monarchy. Although it came under British influence from the 1870s to the 1920s, it remained mostly independent. However, after 150 years, the monarchy came to an end. While the Afghani king was out of the country to receive medical treatment, he was overthrown by his cousin, Mohammed Daoud Khan. Mohammed Daoud Khan changed Afghanistan into a republic, while also becoming the president. Daoud implemented progressive policies and tried to modernize the country.

During his presidency, Daoud improved relations with the United States and other non-Communist nations, to the ire of the Soviet Union and communist sympathizers in Afghanistan. He also suppressed other political ideologies, turning People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (the PDP), a communist party and an ally during his coup, into one his fiercest rival.

Eventually, the PDP had enough. On April 27, 5 years after Daoud’s presidency began, the PDP launched a coup d’état. They stormed the Presidential Palace, killing Daoud and most of his family. His body was later found in a mass grave. The PDP took power and established the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan. However, they did not have the support of the people, especially devout Muslims, as they instituted many socially progressive policies. To keep them in line, the government instituted strict punishments for anyone who disobeyed.

It was not long before the populace revolted. Insurgencies rose up across Afghanistan and declared war on new government. These groups were known as the Mujahideen, meaning one who engages in jihad. Every one of these insurgencies were devoutly Islamic. Meanwhile. there were struggles within the government and the PDP among factions different Communist factions.

In 1979, the Soviet Union, noticing the weakened state of the Communist government in Afghanistan, invaded the nation. Initially sending in 30,000 soldiers, they unseated the president and instated their own puppet leader, Babrak Karmal, to head the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan.

Now that they had the government of Afghanistan under their control, the Soviet Union now had to deal with the growing problem of the Mujahideen. Since the Soviet invasion, Muslims across the Middle East began flooding in to help the Islamic rebels. On top of that, they were receiving aid, both economic and military, from the Soviet Union’s arch-rival, the United States.

While the Soviet Union occupied the large cities in Afghanistan, the Mujahideen controlled rural areas. The war soon became deadlocked between the two opposing forces. After Soviets failed to quell the rebels with their army, they took to the air, bombing the countryside. These attacks caused almost 4.5 million refugees to flood over the borders to Pakistan and Iran. However, it did not take long until the Mujahideen were able to halt the air raids; using antiaircraft missiles, provided by the United States they were able to shoot down approaching aircrafts before they could attack.

By the mid-1980s, the Soviet Union slowly began withdrawing their soldiers, training native Afghanis to take their place. In 1988, after realizing there was no chance of victory, the Soviet Union signed a treaty agreeing to withdraw their soldiers from Afghanistan. By February of 1989, the withdrawal was complete.

Although the Soviets had withdrawn, the war continued between the Mujahideen and the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan. But with the continued growth of the Mujahideen and the Fall of Communism in the early1990s, the Communist government fell, leading to the ultra-conservative Islamic State of Afghanistan.

Asturias and the Battle of Covadonga

In 711, the Islamic Umayyad Caliphate invaded Iberia, quickly overwhelming the Visigothic Kingdom that occupied the region and killing their king. By 718, virtually the whole Iberian Peninsula was under Islamic rule.

However, in the northwest, a region called Asturias revolted against the Umayyads. Elected to lead the new kingdom was Pelayo, a nobleman and the grandson of a Visigothic king. For its first years, the Umayyads neglected to put down the Asturian rebellion, as it wasn’t a danger to them.

By 722, the Umayyads had enough, sending an army commanded by the governors Munuza and Al Qama to quell the revolt. As their forces flooded the Asturian countryside, Pelayo and his much smaller army retreated into the mountains. They eventually came across a valley near the town of Covadonga, that would be easy to hold when attacked.

Once Al Qama army, ~1,400 men strong, confronted Pelayo’s army, with little more than 300 soldiers, he sent a messenger forward demanding the Asturians to surrender. Pelayo refused, starting the battle. Al Qama sent his soldiers charging towards the Asturian army. Unknown to Al Qama, part of Pelayo’s army was hiding in a cave. They jumped out and cut into the Umayyad ranks, massacring their army, including Al Qama. It was a spectacular success for the Asturians. At the end of the battle, over 1100 Umayyad soldiers were dead. More amazing than that is that only a few dozen of Pelayo’s soldiers remained.

When Munuza heard of Al Qama’s defeat, he assembled an even larger army to fight Pelayo, but once again they were defeated with Munuza dying in battle as well.

The Battle of Covadonga was the first victory by Christian forces against the Umayyads since they invaded Iberia, and it is generally recognized as the start of the Reconquista. Asturias continued to expand the Muslims in Iberia, but the Reconquista would not conclude for another 750 years, in 1492.