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Mujahideen (also mujahedeen, mujahedin, mujahidin, mujaheddin etc.) is the
Arabic literal translation of "holy warriors."
The most well-known, and feared, mujahideen were the opposition groups that
fought against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan between 1979 and 1989
and the following civil war.
Afghanistan's resistance movement was born in chaos, spread and triumphed
chaotically, and has not found a way to govern differently. Virtually all of
its war was waged locally. As warfare became more sophisticated, outside
support and regional coordination grew. Even so, the basic units of
mujahideen organization and action continued to reflect the highly segmented
nature of Afghan society.
In the course of the guerilla war, leadership came to be distinctively
associated with the title, "commander." It applied to independent leaders,
eschewing identification with elaborate military bureaucracy associated with
such ranks as general. As the war produced leaders of reputation,
"commander" was conferred on leaders of fighting units of all sizes,
signifying pride in independence, self-sufficiency, and distinct ties to
local community. The title epitomized Afghan pride in their struggle against
an overwhelmingly powerful foe. Segmentation of power and religious
leadership were the two values evoked by nomenclature generated in the war.
Neither had been favored in ideology of the former Afghan state.
Olivier Roy estimates that after four years of war there were at least 4,000
bases from which mujahideen units operated. Most of these were affiliated
with the seven expatriate parties headquartered in Pakistan which served as
sources of supply and varying degrees of supervision. Significant commanders
typically led 300 or more men, controlled several bases and dominated a
district or a sub-division of a province. Hierarchies of organization above
the bases were attempted. Their operations varied greatly in scope, the most
ambitious being achieved by Ahmed Shah Massoud of the Panjshir valley north
of Kabul. He led at least 10,000 trained troops at the end of the Soviet war
and had expanded his political control of Tajik dominated areas to
Afghanistan's northeastern provinces under the Supervisory Council of the North.
Roy also describes regional, ethnic and sectarian variations in mujahideen
organization. In the Pashtun areas of the east, south and southwest, tribal
structure, with its many rival sub-divisions, provided the basis for
military organization and leadership. Mobilization could be readily linked
to traditional fighting allegiances of the tribal lashkar (fighting force).
In favorable circumstances such formations could quickly reach more than
10,000, as happened when large Soviet assaults were launched in the eastern
provinces, or when the mujahideen besieged towns, such as Khost in Paktia
province. But in campaigns of the latter type the traditional explosions of
manpower--customarily common immediately after the completion of
harvest--proved obsolete when confronted by well dug-in defenders with
modern weapons. Lashkar durability was notoriously short; few sieges
Mujahideen mobilization in non-Pashtun regions faced very different
obstacles. Prior to the invasion few non-Pashtuns possessed firearms. Early
in the war they were most readily available from army troops or gendarmerie
who defected or were ambushed. The international arms market and foreign
military support tended to reach the minority areas last.
In the northern regions little military tradition had survived upon which to
build an armed resistance. Mobilization mostly came from political
leadership closely tied to Islam.
Roy convincingly contrasts the social leadership of religious figures in the
Persian and Turkish speaking regions of Afghanistan with that of the
Pashtuns. Lacking a strong political representation in a state dominated by
Pashtuns, minority communities commonly looked to pious learned or
charismatically revered pirs (saints) for leadership. Extensive Sufi and
maraboutic networks were spread through the minority communities, readily
available as foundations for leadership, organization, communication and
indoctrination. These networks also provided for political mobilization,
which led to some of the most effective of the resistance operations during
Many Muslims from other countries volunteered to assist various Mujahideen
groups in Afghanistan, and gained significant experience in guerrilla
warfare. Some groups of these veterans have been significant factors in more
recent conflicts in and around the Muslim world.
The Mujahideen "won" when the Soviet Union pulled troops out of Afganistan
in 1989, followed by the fall of the Mohammad_Najibullah regime in 1992.
However, the Mujahideen did not establish a united government, and they were
in turn ousted from power by the Taliban in 1996.