Ex-Soviet soldier who stayed after invasion dies in Afghanistan

Bakhretdin Khakimov, later known as Sheikh Abdullah, arrived in Afghanistan as a Soviet intelligence officer

Former Soviet soldier Bakhretdin Khakimov prays in his home in Herat in 2015. AFP
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A former Soviet soldier who chose to stay in Afghanistan following the Red Army withdrawal in 1989 has died, Afghan officials said on Wednesday.

Bakhretdin Khakimov, believed to be in his 60s and known as Sheikh Abdullah after converting to Islam, died of carbon monoxide poisoning from a leaking heater in the western city of Herat, local officials confirmed to AFP.

A representative from Herat's forensics office said there were no suspicious circumstances surrounding his death.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid also confirmed his passing and said he had been taken prisoner after coming to Afghanistan with Soviet forces, before converting to Islam and getting married.

About two million Afghans are thought to have died during the Soviet Union's decade-long involvement in Afghanistan, during which they tried to support an allied communist government.

The Soviet War in Afghanistan was a nine-year conflict involving the Soviet Union, supporting the Marxist government of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan against the indigenous Afghan Mujahideen and foreign 'Arab-Afghan' volunteers. The mujahideen found other support from a variety of sources including the United States, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom, Pakistan, Egypt, China and other nations. The Afghan war became a proxy war in the broader context of the late Cold War. The initial Soviet deployment of the 40th Army in Afghanistan began on December 24, 1979 under Soviet premier Leonid Brezhnev. The final troop withdrawal started on May 15, 1988, and ended on February 15, 1989 under the last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. (Photo by: Mikhail Evstafiev/Pictures From History/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

An international coalition of countries sent arms to anti-Soviet insurgents known as the mujahideen, wearing down Soviet forces who suffered at least 15,000 losses.

Historians say Russia's eventual withdrawal and the subsequent political fallout hastened the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Abdullah was a military intelligence officer and was injured in a 1985 battle, he told AFP in 2015.

He said he owed his life to his Afghan enemies, who found him and treated him.

“I feel very ashamed because I damaged this country, caused losses to people,” he said at the time.

“I stayed in Afghanistan because Afghans are very kind and hospitable people.”

He later worked as a healer and at a museum in Herat, which contains exhibitions about the Soviet invasion of 1979 and the Afghan resistance.

The Soviet withdrawal also precipitated the civil war that gave way to the rise to the Taliban, which ruled the country from 1996 to 2001.

The US withdrawal from Afghanistan last year paved the way for a Taliban comeback, with the hardline group staging a brutal takeover in August 2021, after the precipitous exit of western forces.

Updated: December 28, 2022, 6:46 PM