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Afghanistan - The Russian Experience

The USSR's Vietnam - Will We be Sucked Into The Same Quagmire? (Or Are We Already There In Iraq & Afghanistan?)

Afghan MountainsFor 10 years from 1979 to 1989 Communist Russia sent over 600,000 troops to serve and fight in Afghanistan. Almost 15,000 were killed. Half a million were wounded or became sick. The USSR had the best soldiers and equipment of a super-power, yet they still had to admit defeat and withdraw.

Afghanistan is a mountainous country, with a people divided along ethnic and tribal grounds, used to war and conflict. The European powers struggled to control Afghanistan in the 1800's and 1900's, which eventually led to a relative period of stability under King Zahir Shah, from 1932 to 1973. His brother took over for 5 years, but he was overthrown in a communist takeover. The communist government faced a well funded rebellion which threatened to bring the country under islamic control, so Soviet Russia, mindful of it's own millions of Muslim citizens, decided to invade and stabilize the country.

With on average 100,000 troops in the field at any time, the Russian army failed to effectively counter the rebellion, which used guerilla tactics and avoided pitched, traditional battles at all costs. It was a war of attrition, of ambushes and bombs, snipers and mines, where each Russian killed, for no ground gained, would lead to more pressure at home to end the war. Sounds familiar?

The Afghan rebellion forces were well armed by the West, hoping to suck Russia into it's version of Vietnam. Arms and personnel flowed freely through Pakistan, and it was the open aim of the CIA to engage the Russian's so that they wouldn't be tempted to expand further south into the oil rich areas of Iraq and Iran.

This was all less than 30 years ago, yet we (or at least the Americans) seemed to have missed any lessons learnt.

You cannot subdue and stabilize any country with only 100,000 troops. We had millions of soldiers in Germany after the Second World War, and that was after the fighting had stopped. You need the army of the country to be effective, well equipped, motivated, and big.

Conventional tactics and units do not defeat guerillas. Areas of population have to be isolated from the insurgents. Hearts and minds help.

Any rebellion or insurgency funded and equipped by outside forces can only be defeated if it is cut off from those forces, through blockade and physical barriers, or you will be defeated.

Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, etc are not countries like the US, UK, France, Germany etc. They are artificial constructs created by the European Imperial powers of the 18th and 19th Centuries. When the centralized security and often repressive government fails, the country splinters into many different tribal factions, who may unite to fight foreign invaders, but will often start fighting amongst themselves, as they have done for thousands of years.

So the prognosis for the US and UK progress in Iraq and Afghanistan looks bleak, if we take the Russian experience as an example, and we don't learn from their mistakes.

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