Initially, in the early 1980s, the Afghan war provided jihadis with a “secure base” to train and prepare for the coming jihad (armed struggle) against the “near enemy” (Muslim rulers). But it ultimately bred a new generation of transnationalist jihadis, who felt empowered by the Russian defeat and who decided to go fully global with their Islamist revolution. The 1979 Russian military intervention in Afghanistan, which coincided with the Islamic revolution in Iran and the rise of militant political Islam in general, radicalized Muslim politics and societies further and played directly into jihadis' hands; one of the very first acts by a proto-jihadist group was the 1981 assassination of President Sadat by the Jihad group in Egypt. The Afghan war became a rallying cry and recruiting ground for many religiously inclined Muslims, and it fueled jihadis’ ambitions.
The Afghan Jihad as Defensive War
Leaving their families and homes, young and old pious Muslims migrated into Afghanistan to defend their coreligionists and the faith and to resist aggression against the dar al-Islam (House of Islam). Over the years I met scores of the so-called Afghan Arabs, those who spent months or years either fighting or providing other forms of support to the Afghan mujahedeen (Islamic fighters). They came from all walks of life and were driven by the plight and predicament of their Afghan counterparts who were seen as struggling against an atheistic enemy.