Where Al-Qaeda Began: 48 Photos From The Soviet-Afghan War

Published April 25, 2017
Updated January 16, 2019

The Soviet-Afghan War sparked the collapse of the Soviet Union, the rise of The Taliban and Al Qaeda, and a new era of war and terror.

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Where Al-Qaeda Began: 48 Photos From The Soviet-Afghan War
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The Soviet-Afghan War changed the world.

This nine-year power struggle in a small, landlocked country ultimately led to some of the most profound moments in modern history. This one conflict sparked the collapse of the Soviet Union, the rise of Osama bin Laden, the age of jihadist terrorism, and the birth of the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

In time, the ripples of the Soviet-Afghan War brought the Twin Towers to the ground, brought American troops to the Middle East, and created a new era of wars and terrorism that plague the world today.

It all began in Afghanistan, one of the poorest countries in the world. In 1979, a successful coup by the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (DRA) caused the formation of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan, which set off a wave of rebellions from the mujahideen: largely rural, conservative, Islamist Afghanis resistant to the DRA's forced change.

In response, the neighboring Soviet Army, aligned with the DRA, moved into Afghanistan and took power over the country. Mujahideen rebel fighters rose up against them, waging what at first seemed like an unwinnable war.

All that changed, however, when the United States got involved. The American government helped set up training schools in Pakistan. They encouraged fighters from around the Middle East to join the war. And, in a campaign spearheaded by Congressman Charlie Wilson, they equipped the mujahideen fighters with advanced weaponry like the Stinger missile launcher.

The tide of battle then shifted. With American weapons in their hands, the mujahideen had a fighting chance that the Soviet Union hadn’t prepared for. By 1989, the Soviet Army gave up. They abandoned Afghanistan, leaving tanks and armored vehicles behind, and went home. The Soviet-Afghan War had come to an end.

For the people of Afghanistan, though, the fighting was far from over. International attention may have wandered elsewhere, but their fight raged on. Now, though, it had irrevocably changed.

The Pakistani training schools that the US had helped established had trained some of the most dangerous terrorists the world would come to know, including Osama bin Laden, and they had placed incredibly powerful weapons in their hands.

Eventually, the Afghanistan Civil War would end with the Taliban on top. Extremists would take power over the country and would help spark a new wave of international terrorism. And what transpired in that small, poor country would have effects that the world continues to deal with today -- and likely well into the future.

Next, discover 39 of the most fascinating Osama bin Laden facts.

Mark Oliver
Mark Oliver is a writer, teacher, and father whose work has appeared on The Onion's StarWipe, Yahoo, and Cracked, and can be found on his website.