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The mujahideen were a loose alliance of Afghan traditionalists who in the late 1970s rebelled against the Soviet-backed government of Afghanistan. The term mujahideen (“holy warriors”) is the plural of mujahid, which means fighter who defends his country, honor, or religion. The mujahideen overthrew the government in 1992 before being largely conquered themselves by the Taliban a few years later.

The mujahideen emerged in 1978, after the leftist People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) seized power in a military coup. The PDPA allied itself with the Soviet Union and quickly began reshaping Afghan society along Marxist lines. The effort quickly provoked a backlash: tribal leaders saw their authority threatened, and many Muslims saw an effort to destroy Islam. By the end of 1978, rebellion broke out, and by the summer of 1979, the mujahideen controlled much of the countryside.

In late December 1979, Soviet forces ...

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