Thursday, October 29, 2009

A general speaks out on the Afghanistan war

Here's what the highly decorated general told his commander in chief.
“There is no piece of land in Afghanistan that has not been occupied by one of our soldiers at some time or another,” he said. “Nevertheless much of the territory stays in the hands of the terrorists. We control the provincial centers, but we cannot maintain political control over the territory we seize.

“Our soldiers are not to blame. They’ve fought incredibly bravely in adverse conditions. But to occupy towns and villages temporarily has little value in such a vast land where the insurgents can just disappear into the hills.”
No, this wasn't Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, although like McChrystal, he requested more troops. This report was given nearly 23 years ago.

It was the seventh year of the Soviet Union's disastrous adventure in Afghanistan, the general's name was Sergei Akhromeyev, the commander of the Soviet armed forces, and he was reporting to the Soviet Union’s Politburo on Nov. 13, 1986.

This is from today's NYT Op-Ed by Victor Sebestyen, author of “Revolution 1989: The Fall of the Soviet Empire.” He explains that the minutes of the meeting with the Politburo were recently found by American and Russian scholars of the cold war, and that these and other materials substantially expand our knowledge of the Soviet Union’s disastrous campaign.

The new information documents in greater detail the reluctance of politicians to face facts and their desire to keep looking for face-saving ways to avoid defeat while more people die. The Brezhnev Politburo stumbled into the war and just dug themselves in more deeply. Michael Gorbachev took office in 1985, saying that ending the conflict was his highest priority. But it was nearly four years before the last Russians left Afghanistan, after nine years of fighting. By then it was way too late, and their leaving was perceived as a humiliating defeat that helped contribute to the loss of the rest of the Soviet empire, and eventually, the fall of the Soviet Union itself.

Unless the U.S. changes direction, we'll soon have been in Afghanistan longer than the Russians, with no certainty of success. Unless something changes soon, we'll just be tragically reinventing a wheel that was broken to begin with.

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