This day in history, March 8, 1982, the United States issued a statement accusing the Soviet Union of using poison gas and chemical weapons in its war against rebel forces in Afghanistan. The accusation was part of the continuing U.S. criticism of the Soviet intervention in the Middle Eastern nation.
Since sending troops into Afghanistan in 1979 in an attempt to support a pro-Soviet communist government, the Soviet Union had been criticized by the United States for doing so. Both the Carter and Reagan administration condemned the Soviets for their intervention in a sovereign nation. As a result, arms control talks had been tabled, the United States had boycotted the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, and diplomatic tensions rose between the two countries.
Reports that the Soviets were using poison gas and chemical weapons in Afghanistan intensified the situation. The U.S. government’s official statement charged that over 3,000 Afghans had been killed by weapons such as “irritants, incapacitants, nerve agents, phosgene oxime and perhaps mycotoxins, mustard, lewisite and toxic smoke.”
Evidence to support these charges was anecdotal and a number of U.S. scientists were skeptical of the data put forward by the Reagan administration.
The Soviets in turn ridiculed the United States for the use of defoliants and other chemical weapons during its war in Vietnam. By 1982, many Americans were referring to Afghanistan as “Russia’s Vietnam.”