Operation Cyclone

Operation Cyclone

On 24 December 1979, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan. The Soviets would spend the next 10 years combating Islamic insurgents and propping up the communist government of Afghanistan. Prior to the Soviet invasion, US President Jimmy Carter authorized funding for anti-communist forces combating the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan. Following the election of Ronald Reagan, the US greatly expanded the funding and support for mujahedeen forces. To support this policy, members of the CIA Special Activities Division were deployed to Afghanistan to train and equip the anti-communist forces. The program, dubbed Operation Cyclone, would be one of the most expansive CIA programs in the agency’s history.

Initial funding for Operation Cyclone was around $25 million dollars a year. This included weapons, training, and medical aid. Working with neighboring Pakistan (namely Pakistan’s intelligence service, ISI), Operation Cyclone was able to train over 100,000 mujahedeen fighters. Outside of CIA operations, the US State Department also assisted in aiding Afghan refugees fleeing the conflict. In 1986 the US began providing larger numbers of FIM-92 Stinger missiles. Because the Soviets had complete control of the airspace over Afghanistan, helicopter gunships and fighter-bomber/attack aircraft wreaked havoc on mujahedeen fighters. While the importance of the Stinger has been contested, post-war analysis notes nearly 270 Soviet aircraft were shot down by the missile.

In 1987 the US increased its funding for Operation Cyclone to $630 million a year. On 20 July 1987 the Soviet Union announced it would begin withdrawing its troops from Afghanistan. Further negotiations in 1988 led to the Geneva Accords, providing a timetable for the withdrawal of Soviet forces. Over the next 10 months Soviet forces would leave the country, with the final Soviet convoy crossing the Afghan-Uzbek Bridge on 15 February 1989. The war in Afghanistan would cost the Soviet Union over 14,000 soldiers killed in action and the mujahedeen nearly 90,000 and the displacement of nearly 1.5 million Afghan civilians.

Following the Soviet withdrawal, the US shifted its focus against the Afghan communist government. While funding had dropped dramatically after the Soviets left, by 1991 the US was still providing nearly $100 million dollars to the anti-communist forces. Fighting would continue following the fall of the communist government in 1992. In 1996 the Taliban would seize control, instituting the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan and providing a training ground and base of operations for the terrorist organization al-Qaeda. The US and NATO would launch Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001 following the 11 September attacks.

Look for more information regarding the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the future Modern War issue #26 with the article “The Soviet-Afghan War 1979-1989” and join the conversation on Facebook!

About The Author

Kyle is a Military Historian and Managing Editor at Strategy & Tactics Press. A fourth-generation combat Veteran, Kyle retired from the United States Army in 2010. He specializes in military operations from 1945-Present and has written extensively regarding the future of asymmetrical warfare.

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