Afghanistan: deja vu 20 years later

As Russia marks the 20th anniversary of its withdrawal from Afghanistan, the BBC Feb. 14 spoke with veterans of the Soviet military campaign there, who had grim words of warning for Washington. “Doubling their forces won’t lead to a solution on the ground,” said Col Oleg Kulakov, who served twice in Afghanistan and is now a lecturer and historian in Moscow. “The conflict cannot be solved by military means, it’s an illusion. No-one can reach any political goal in Afghanistan relying on military force. Frankly speaking, they are doomed to repeat our mistakes.”

As of Feb. 13, 2009, at least 576 members of the US military had died in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan since the US invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001, according to the Defense Department. Of those, the military reports 421 were killed by hostile action. The Defense Department also reports that 67 members of the US military died in support of Operation Enduring Freedom in Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Jordan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, the Philippines, Seychelles, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Yemen and Guantánamo Bay Naval Base, Cuba. There were also four CIA officer deaths and one US civilian death in operations related to Enduring Freedom. (AP, Feb. 13)

The Soviets lost 15,000 troops in Afghanistan between 1979 and 1989. (NYT, Feb. 16, 1989)

We have noted before the parallels to the Soviet campaign in Afghanistan—as well as to the Anglo-Afghan Wars.

See our last post on Afghanistan.

  1. Afghan “surge” begins
    From AP, Feb. 16:

    LOGAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Close to 3,000 American soldiers who recently arrived in Afghanistan to secure two violent provinces near Kabul have begun operations in the field and already are seeing combat, the unit’s spokesman said Monday.

    The new troops are the first wave of an expected surge of reinforcements this year. The process began to take shape under President George Bush but has been given impetus by President Barack Obama’s call for an increased focus on Afghanistan.

    U.S. commanders have been contemplating sending up to 30,000 more soldiers to bolster the 33,000 already here, but the new administration is expected to initially approve only a portion of that amount. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said Monday the president would decide soon.

    The new unit — the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 10th Mountain Division — moved into Logar and Wardak provinces last month, and the soldiers from Fort Drum, N.Y., are now stationed in combat outposts throughout the provinces.

    Militants have attacked several patrols with rifles and rocket-propelled grenades, including one ambush by 30 insurgents, Lt. Col. Steve Osterhozer, the brigade spokesman, said.

  2. Air-strike kills Taliban commander?
    From AP, Feb. 16:

    KABUL — A coalition airstrike has killed a powerful Taliban commander who broke a promise to renounce violence after village elders persuaded President Hamid Karzai to free him from prison, officials said Monday.

    The Sunday night attack destroyed a building housing Ghulam Dastagir and eight other militants in the village of Darya-ye-Morghab, near the Turkmenistan border, the U.S. military said in a statement.

    Dastagir was responsible for a surge in violence in the province in recent months, including a November attack on an Afghan army convoy that killed 13 soldiers, the statement said.

    “He was like the shadow governor of Badghis,” said Gen. Mohammad Ayub Nizyar, the former police chief of the province.

    Dastagir had previously been captured and imprisoned in Herat province, but he was released about four months ago after elders of his home district pleaded with Karzai and high-level officials to let him go, saying he would not return to violence, according to provincial police spokesman Noorhan Nekzad. Karzai issued a decree ordering his release.

    “The government trusted the guarantee of the villagers” and released Dastagir, said Badghis Gov. Ashraf Nasery. “Unfortunately, as soon as he was released he rejoined the Taliban.”

    Sunday’s “precision strike” did not destroy any other buildings and nearby structures only had minor external damage, the military statement said.

    Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi confirmed the incident, but said more people may have been killed. He said he had reports of up to 12 deaths.