WHEN GENERAL Boris Gromov walked back across the bridge over the Amu Darya on the morning of February 15, 1989, he completed the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan precisely on schedule. There had been an intervening period when the Soviets tried to use a pause in their withdrawal to pressure the American-Pakistani side into accepting a coalition government. A coalition would have guaranteed the safe survival of their communist clients by leaving them embedded in a successor state. 1 The Soviets certainly wanted to avoid a government dominated by radical mujahideen—which principally meant Hezb Hekmatyar. But the bluff had failed.
No matter how large or deep the Soviet investment in lives, money and emotion (more than 13,000 dead and a cost later put at 45 billion rubles, $70 billion at official rates, which brought gasps in the Soviet Congress of People's Deputies), the mujahideen would not stop fighting and they would not negotiate, and the Soviet Army left empty-handed. 2
Along with everyone else, the Soviets expected the communist government in Kabul to collapse within a few months. An unnamed analyst in Moscow gave the cities six months, but thought that political authority would break down before then. 3 This was a government that had been “left behind” like the Thieu regime in Saigon when the US completed its withdrawal in the spring of 1973.
Yet Najib and the PDPA regime survived, and the collapse didn't take place. Why not? Primarily it was a failure of the mujahideen. Immediately on the heels of the Soviet withdrawal, the rebels went on the offensive. Their target was Jalalabad. On March 8, 1989 they attacked. 4 But coordination was poor; they lacked heavy weapons and air capability. The attack petered out after some nine weeks. The mujahideen also damaged their own case by executing government troops who surrendered, a crime for which the Wahabis were guilty according to some, Hezb Khalis according to others. 5