A remote, mountainous country that, because of its strategic geographic location and proximity to Russia and India, has been of disproportionate interest to the world’s intelligence communities since Rudyard Kipling described the “Great Game” and British efforts to subjugate its tribes led to military disaster in January 1842. The British had occupied Kabul in 1839, but three years later more than 16,000 troops and their camp followers were slaughtered as they tried to march to the fort at Jalalabad. Further conflict followed, but in 1881 all British troops were withdrawn to the Khyber Pass under a treaty that left Afghan foreign policy in British hands thereafter.
Afghanistan’s neutrality during World War II made Kabul a center of German and Soviet espionage and the base of Axis operations against India. The best-known double agent case in the region, run by the British and Soviets against the Nazis, was that of DOUBTFUL, who supplied misleading information about military strengths in India and went undetected by the Germans and Japanese.
Afghanistan’s significance in recent years developed as a result of the proxy war fought in the remoter regions following the Soviet occupation of the country in December 1979. The internal conflict that followed, funded and supported by Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), finally led to a Soviet withdrawal in February 1989 and a general collapse of the infrastructure, leaving the country in the hands of tribal warlords and the capital controlled by Taliban fundamentalists until the United States invaded in February 2002 and introduced democracy.