What was the most important factor in the Soviet loss of the Afghan war?

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There were a number of factors that contributed to the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan.  Let us investigate them and then designate one as the most important.  These factors included:

  • Support for the Afghan insurgents from the United States.  Because the US and the Soviets were enemies in the Cold War, the US supplied the Soviets’ Afghan enemies with weapons.  These included such things as Stinger missiles that could be used to shoot down Soviet helicopters.
  • Lack of motivation on the part of Soviet soldiers.  The Soviets often lacked morale.  Many of them were conscripts.  They did not particularly want to be in Afghanistan.  They were poorly treated and were having a very hard time making any headway.
  • The elusive nature of the enemy.  It was difficult to pin the enemy down and make them fight.  The enemy could engage in guerrilla tactics and then fade away into the hills.  This prevented the Soviets from inflicting heavy military defeats on them.
  • Lack of motivation on the part of the Soviet leadership.  Ultimately, the Soviets did not want to be in Afghanistan badly enough to continue to fight.
  • Lack of a viable Afghan ally.  The Soviets were supposed to be there helping to support the Afghan government.  But the government was simply not popular enough or strong enough to gain support from enough Afghans.

All of these were very important factors.  If we have to pick just one, the last is the most important.  Since the Soviets’ client government had little hope of gaining legitimacy among the people, the Soviets’ mission in Afghanistan was doomed to fail.

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