Why Both Russia And America Failed In Afghanistan

Lyle J. Goldstein

Key Point: Learn from history, or repeat it. 

During the early days after the 9/11 attacks and the initiation of the U.S. intervention in Afghanistan, it was relatively common to reference the woeful Soviet experience in that country. Here was a clear paradigm of what not to do in order to avoid getting stuck in a quagmire. Surely, American leaders would be more adroit. By employing advanced U.S. technology along with a more sensitive effort to win “hearts and minds,” the Taliban—what was left of it—would be quickly vanquished.

So much for that theory.

But it might be worth exploring yet again some historical aspects of the Soviet war in Afghanistan, 1979–1989, in order to shed some light, not only on the present predicament of the American war in Afghanistan, now lamentably in its sixteenth year, but perhaps also to gain some insights into contemporary Russian foreign policy and society too. A detailed appraisal covering the military aspects of the Soviet war appeared in the mid-April 2018 issue of the Russian newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta to commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of the agreement on 14 April 1988 to withdraw all Soviet forces from Afghanistan. The writer of this interesting piece is the rather conservative but quite independent-minded Russian defense analyst Alexander Chramshikin. The piece appears under the headline “The Afghan Lesson for Russia: A Collision with Islamic Extremists Was Inevitable [Афганский урок для России: Столкновение с исламским экстремизмом было неизбежно].”

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