Martin C. Evans

Former Soviet troops comment on U.S. gamble in Afghanistan

In Uncategorized on December 24, 2009 at 12:45 pm

Afghan rebels atop a downed Soviet helicopter in 1979. The Soviets won most of the battles but lost the war, and some Russian veterans wonder if the U.S. is pursuing a similar fate.

Russia is not the first place Americans think to turn for advice, particularly on military diplomacy.

But the former empire is experiencing some of the things America will be confronting following its invasion of Afghanistan, including millions of soldiers who have returned from multiple deployments, and a treasury depleted by a war that dragged on for ten years.

A recent news article, and a book published this year provide an insight into the views of Soviet troops who fought there during the Soviet Union’s ill-fated occupation of Afghanistan between 1979 and 1989. Many of the former troops said America’s attempt to pacify Afghanistan reminds them of their own frustrating experience there.

Tom Lasseter, of the McClatchy news service, wrote an article published yesterday in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review.

The Soviet experience in Afghanistan is also the subject of “The Great Gamble: The Soviet War in Afghanistan” , a book written by National Public Radio’s former Moscow correspondent Zac Marconi.

Many former Soviet troops told Lasseter they remember winning the majority of the battles to an enemy that would melt into the population and reform to fight again and again.

“Nothing was achieved while I was there…. they fired at us, we fired at them,” said Alexander Tsalko, who commanded a helicopter unit in Kandahar in 1982 and 1983.

Tsalko now works with an organization that helps Russian veterans of its Afghanistan campaign.

The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979 after a puppet government it installed there was threatened with collapse.

But despite its overwhelming military advantage in terms of money, weaponry, and training, the Soviets left Afghanistan 10 years later, never able to impose its will. Its treasury depleted and its army worn down, the Soviet empire collapsed two years later, in 1991.

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