Afghan National Army soldiers march during their graduation ceremony, Sept 2010.
ISAF Media

In February 1989, the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan after ten years of brutal counterinsurgency warfare. International observers and Afghan rebels expected the swift collapse of the newly orphaned Afghan communist regime in Kabul, as did the regime itself. Looking to take advantage of the government’s weakness, the Afghan mujahideen temporarily put aside their differences and planned an ambitious assault on Jalalabad, the country's second most important Pashtun stronghold. In March, the rebels rallied a force of some 10,000 soldiers and marched on the city.

They failed spectacularly. Bolstered by Soviet arms, training, and advisers, the Afghan army and its allies easily outgunned, outmaneuvered, and outgeneraled the oncoming force. Although the mujahideen had mastered guerilla tactics and defensive maneuvers on their home turf, they proved incompetent at carrying out a conventional offensive; poor leadership and factional disputes undermined their fighting power. Three years later, the communist regime finally did collapse --

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  • PAUL D. MILLER is a political scientist at the RAND Corporation. From 2007 to 2009, he was Director for Afghanistan and Pakistan on the U.S. National Security Council.
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