A systematic analysis of formerly classified Soviet Politburo documents challenges popular misconceptions about the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan. The archival evidence indicates that, far from being a near-complete and chaotic failure, the withdrawal was based on a coherent exit strategy that initially achieved its limited objectives. Moscow's strategy enabled Soviet-trained Afghan forces to withstand the insurgent offensive and allowed the Afghan government to remain in power nearly three years after the Soviet combat forces departed. The Soviet-installed Afghan government ultimately collapsed not from military defeat or bankruptcy but from internal political strife and betrayals. Even though Soviet leaders failed to secure long-term gains as their strategy ran out of time, their experience provides relevant lessons for U.S. strategy formulation in Afghanistan following the withdrawal of U.S. combat forces and is an instructive case that can inform theories of great-power retraction from foreign intervention in general.

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