Saturday, July 12, 2008

Russia's lesson: no military solution is possible

Today's Globe and Mail has a few contributions built around the theme of the Russian war in Afghanistan. One reviews recent efforts by the Canadian Forces to learn lessons from the Soviet experience - a story that was reported some time ago. However, Paul Koring's article is worth lifting a few choice paragraphs:

'It's impossible to conquer the Afghans'

MOSCOW, July 12 — [...] “Canadians and Americans are learning the hard way. You have been there seven years and you have no prospect of early victory,” said Ruslan Aushev, a highly decorated combat veteran who served two tours, totalling nearly five years with the Soviet army in Afghanistan.

“We knew by 1985 that we could not win,” he recalls. It then took Moscow four more years to extricate hundreds of thousands of troops from Afghanistan, while claiming victory on the way out. Afghanistan was plunged into civil war...

“Most Afghans still live in a feudal society, in villages far from the cities,” he said. “For them, there is no difference between being bombed by the Soviets and now being bombed by the Americans … and it won't succeed.” ...

“We could take any village, any town and drive the mujahedeen out,” Mr. Aushev said, recalling his two combat tours, first as an infantry battalion commander and later in charge of a full Soviet regiment – roughly the size of the Canadian contingent in Afghanistan. “But when we handed ground over to the Afghan army or police they would lose it in a week.” ...

“The Taliban may not be able to win militarily but they can't be defeated and sooner or later the Western alliance will be forced with pullout,” he warned. Support for the insurgents will grow the longer the foreign armies remain in Afghanistan, he said. Although the Soviets deployed more than 100,000 soldiers across Afghanistan – roughly double the number of U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops currently deployed – and trained an Afghan army three times the size of Kabul's current security forces, it was never enough, Mr. Aushev said.

“If we wanted stability we would have needed 800,000 soldiers,” he said, echoing the estimates of some unheeded American generals who called for much larger occupation forces in Iraq.

But no matter how many soldiers are sent (and Washington is expected to significantly increase its deployments to Afghanistan next year as the long-awaited drawdown in Iraq frees up some units), Mr. Aushev said, there can be no military solution.

“There will have to be an accord with the Taliban, because at least 50 per cent of the Afghan population supports them,” he said... (link)

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