THE WAR IS FINISHED!
1983 poster from Soviet occupied Afghanistan.

In the 1980's the U.S. government trained, financed, and armed the Mujahideen Islamic guerrillas of Afghanistan to resist the Soviet invasion of their homeland. Today that training and those sophisticated weapons have come back to haunt the United States in what is being called "blow-back." While the CIA was busy training the forerunners of today's hated Taliban, others were waging a different type of warfare. Vincanzo Sparagna and Savik Shuster were two journalists working for the monthly Italian magazine, Frigidaire.

In 1983 the mischievous pair decided to have a bit of fun at the expense of the Soviet occupiers of Afghanistan. Sparagna and Shuster printed a mock version of the official Red Army newspaper, Red Star, and distributed it in Afghanistan right under the noses of the Soviet occupation troops.

Working clandestinely for three months, the journalists pulled together a team that would create the Russian language parody edition of Red Star. Russian writer Natalia Gorbanievskaia wrote the text, and an artist was commissioned to provide the central Illustration that appeared on the paper's cover (shown at right).

That drawing portrayed a rugged Soviet soldier kneeling in the snow of Afghanistan, breaking his Kalashnikov rifle over his knee, while yelling:"The war is finished! Let's go home!" The real Red Star journal was flown into the Afghan capitol of Kabul each morning from the Soviet Union, and then distributed by plane to Soviet garrisons all over the occupied country. Read daily by Soviet troops, the publication kept soldiers in touch with news of the war as well as from the homefront.

The War Is Finished! Let's Go Home!
"The war is finished! Let's go home!" - Poster printed in Russian and distributed in Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation.
Mujahideen post the mock Red Star on Afghan streets
Mujahideen post the mock Red Star on Afghan streets
Islamic guerrillas mounting the poster on village walls in Afghanistan.

After printing over 7,000 copies of their parody broadsheet, Sparagna and Shuster then spent some time along the Afghan border in nearby Peshawar, Pakistan. They wanted to make arrangements for the distribution of their newspaper in all of the Soviet occupied zones of Afghanistan.

They made contact with the soldiers of the Islamic National Front, The Islamic Party, and Hezbi Islami, whose commander, Abdul Khak, assured them safe passage into zones he controlled. It was agreed that Hezbi Islami soldiers would post and distribute the broadsheets, while Sparagna and Shuster would photograph the efforts. Mujahideen soldiers would go into battle with their rocket propelled grenades and Kalashnikov rifles, but they would also be armed with a strange new weapon, bundles of fake Red Army newspapers. Assistance was also offered by the many young people in Kabul who operated in the clandestine Islamic resistance.

Excerpts from the fake paper read:

"The extraordinary special edition of Red Star that you have in your hands is absolutely without precedent. Until today this newspaper was completely written and directed by the Communist Party. Today, it is a group of many soldiers, coming from all the principal garrisons of the Soviet Union which has written these pages.

Brothers! Soldiers! The news which comes to us from Afghanistan and all the areas of the Soviet Union fills us with joy. The war of invasion is finished! There's unexpected peace in Afghanistan! The government of Babrak Karmal is in exile. Soviet and Mujahideen troops are fraternizing! Comrades, our true enemy finally sleeps! Destroy your weapons and let us return home. The war is finished!"

A Soviet defector examines the poster
A Soviet defector examines the poster
A Soviet soldier who defected to the mujahideen examines the poster.
The Soviet occupiers fought hard during the day, but were obliged to live in their garrisons, tanks, and fortified compounds at night when the mujahideen fighters would come out of hiding. While Soviet troops were holed-up in their bunkers during the evenings, Hezbi Islami had free reign to post the broadsheets. Since the movement of Soviet troops was fairly restricted because of guerrilla activity, the papers were posted where Red Army soldiers were sure to see them, that is, around government buildings, close to well traveled roads, even near guard posts and machine gun nests. Time and again, Soviet perimeters were penetrated by those willing to post the parody newspapers, a risky operation to say the least.
A defector with poster in hand
A defector with poster in hand
An Afghan soldier with a copy of the poster, surrenders to Islamic guerrillas.
While only a parody, the broadside expressed the desires of many Soviet soldiers, enough of massacres, bombings, and endless killings, "let's go home." Not only that, but some Afghan troops who had fought for the Soviet puppet government of Babrak Karmal began to defect, and they carried copies of the parody poster as they surrendered to Islamic guerrillas (pictured at left).
Sparagna and Shuster claimed their "prank" was their project and theirs alone. We may never know if the pair were truly independent or on the payroll of the Central Intelligence Agency out to undermine the Soviets, but one thing is certain, their parody the Red Star newspaper had a tremendous effect upon history. The paper was printed in Russian for distribution in Afghanistan, but it was also distributed in the former Soviet Union itself. Magazine articles on the parody paper appeared in France (Actuel) Austria (Wiener) Italy (Current, Frigidare) and Spain (Interviu).

Back in 1983 I acquired a copy of the French magazine Actuel (the source material for the photos and facts used in this article), never dreaming that the Soviet Union would be broken on the craggy mountains of Afghanistan, or that one day U.S. troops would attempt to do what Soviet troops couldn't. My faded old copy of Actuel has been sitting in a storage box since 1983. In October 2001, as U.S. bombs began falling on Afghanistan and American troops invaded and occupied the country, my memory was jarred and I searched for that long forgotten storage box. Pulling out that ragged magazine and staring at the art of the Soviet soldier breaking his automatic rifle, I thought out loud... "Somebody tell me this war will be different."

Addendum - 2010:

Now that the U.S. war in Afghanistan has entered its 10th year, a conflagration being facilitated by President Obama, the above article takes on new meaning. Mr. Obama continues to escalate the Afghan war, and on Dec. 16, 2010, he stated that "notable operational gains" were being made in the bloody conflict. Obama's claims of success are starkly contradicted by the grim findings of the National Intelligence Estimate conducted for the president by 16 U.S. intelligence agencies.

It would be naive to think that Sparagna and Shuster's poster campaign was not part of an operation carried out by the CIA and other intelligence agencies with the objective of undermining the Soviets in Afghanistan; the only question is whether Sparagna and Shuster were willing accomplices in that undertaking. Their base of operations was in Peshawar, Pakistan, where the headquarters of the Pakistani Inter-Service Intelligence (ISA) agency is located. The ISA and the CIA provided intelligence information to the Afghan Islamic guerilla groups operating in Pakistan, moreover, the ISA and CIA coordinated the training, financing, and arming of the Islamic guerillas. It is unthinkable that the ISA and the CIA were unaware of what Sparagna and Shuster were up to, or that the pranksters could have carried out their shenanigans without the acquiescence of the ISA and the CIA.

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