In A Nutshell
In 1978, Afghanistan’s moderate government was overthrown by a coalition of leftist military officers led by Nur Muhammad Taraki. Conservative Muslims did not approve. In 1979, the Soviet Union sent troops into Afghanistan to help Taraki’s government, but they were opposed by an unlikely coalition of Afghans, Al-Qaeda, Pakistanis, Saudi Arabians, and United States fighters.
The Whole Bushel
The Afghan War of 1978–1992 was a war of ideologies, primarily between communism and religious fundamentalism, with a splash of US-based capitalistic interests thrown in for good measure.
In 1978, Nur Muhammad Taraki and other Afghan military officers overthrew the government of President Muhammad Daud Khan, installing a communist regime. Power was mainly held by Marxist-Leninist political groups, not the people. In fact, ironically, the communist overhaul had little popular support.
As a result, the communist Afghan government began to forge a close relationship with the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union deployed troops to Afghanistan when the Afghans began a rebellion to overthrow the communist government in 1979.
In addition to the native Afghan rebels (the Mujahideen), another group rose to fight the Soviet Union: Al-Qaeda. Led by a man named Osama Bin Laden, Al-Qaeda was a multinational group of jihadists determined to force the Soviet Union from the country and establish an Islamist government (later realized via the Taliban). Al-Qaeda was heavily responsible for training, recruiting, transporting, and arming the resistance to the Soviets.
The efforts of the Afghan rebels and Al-Qaeda were supported financially by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United States. Such was the animosity between the United States and the Soviet Union, the US was willing to overlook the more threatening ideologies of the Afghan cause.
But did the US fund Osama Bin Laden? Not exactly. Much of Bin Laden’s funding came from his own wealth. His family owned an extremely successful Saudi construction company. US funding went to the Mujahideen. Despite being on the same side, the US and Al-Qaeda apparently had little contact.
The Soviet Union did not fare well in the war. After several years of fighting, the USSR was left with 15,000 causalities and little progress. In 1988, the United States (along with Pakistan and Afghanistan) signed an agreement with the Soviet Union forcing them to withdraw and for Afghanistan to become neutral, ending its alliance with the Soviets. The Soviet troops were gone by 1989.
In 1994, the radical Islamist political party, the Taliban, took control of Afghanistan. Meanwhile, Al-Qaeda directed its efforts against its former ally of convenience, the United States.