Saturday, May 16, 2009

Why the Soviet Union Gave Up in Afghanistan

Why the Soviet Union Gave Up in Afghanistan
This document is reprinted from Harper’s Magazine, June 2009

From a May 10, 1988, letter from the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union to all Party members. The withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan began on May 15 and was completed February 15, 1989. The letter is among documents related to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan published in February by the National Security Archive. Translated from the Russian by Svetlana Savranskaya.

The decision to invade was made when there was a lot of uncertainty in the balance of forces within Afghan society. Our picture of the real social and economic situation in the country was also insufficiently clear. We do not want to say it, but we should: at that time, we did not even have a correct assessment of the unique geographical features of that hard-to-enter country. This was reflected in the operations of our troops against small, highly mobile units, where very little could be accomplished with the help of modern military technology.
In addition, we completely disregarded the most important national and historical factors, above all the fact that the appearance of armed foreigners in Afghanistan has always been met with arms in the hands of the population. This is how it was in the past, and this is how it happened when our troops entered Afghanistan, even though they came there with honest and noble goals.
Babrak Karmal became head of the Afghan government at the time. His first steps in that capacity gave us grounds to hope that he would be able to solve the problems facing his country. Nothing new emerged, however, in his policies that could have changed for the better the attitude of a significant portion of the Afghan population toward the new regime. Moreover, the intensity of the internal Afghan conflict continued to grow, and our military presence was associated with forceful imposition of customs alien to the national characteristics and feelings of the Afghan people. Our approach did not take into account the country’s multiple forms of economic life and other characteristics, such as tribal and religious customs.
One has to admit that we essentially put our bets on the military solution, on suppressing the counterrevolution with force. We did not even make full use of the existing opportunities to neutralize the hostile attitudes of the local population toward us. Often our people, acting out of their best intentions, tried to transplant the approach to which we are accustomed onto Afghan soil, and encouraged the Afghans to copy our ways. All this did not help our cause; it bred feelings of dependency on the part of the Afghan leaders in regard to the Soviet Union, both in the sphere of military operations and in the economic sphere.
Meanwhile, the war in Afghanistan continued, and our troops were getting engaged in extensive combat actions. Finding any way out became more and more difficult as time passed. Combat action is combat action. Our losses in dead and wounded—and the Central Committee believes it has no right to hide this—were growing heavier and heavier. Altogether, by the beginning of this month, we had lost 13,310 dead in Afghanistan; 35,478 Soviet officers and soldiers were wounded, many of whom became disabled; 301 people are missing in action. There is a reason people say that each person is a unique world, and when a person dies that world disappears forever. The loss of every individual is very hard and irreparable. It is hard and sacred if one died carrying out one’s duty.
The Afghan losses, naturally, were much heavier than ours, including the losses among the civilian population.
One should not disregard the economic factor either. If the enemy in Afghanistan received weapons and ammunition worth hundreds of millions and later even billions of dollars, the Soviet-Afghan side also had to shoulder adequate expenditures. The war in Afghanistan has cost us 5 billion rubles a year.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Netanyahu's New Strategy for Israel

Netanyahu's New Strategy for Israel
By Jerome Grossman

As I write this blog, the new Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, has just left his meeting with Hosni Mubarak, President of Egypt, on his way to confer with King Abdullah of Jordan. On Netanyahu's schedule are additional meetings with leaders of the other authoritarian Arab leaders, all clients of the United States: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and United Arab Emirates.

Netanyahu has an important message for them, as original as President Richard Nixon's recognition of Communist China or Ariel Sharon's withdrawal of Israeli troops from Gaza. The message goes something like this. The critical struggle is not between Israel and the Palestinian Authority on the West Bank. The critical struggle is between the current regimes aligned with the United States on one side and Iran, Syria, Hamas and Hezbollah on the other. The Iran group seeks regime change in the American clients, the overthrow of their governments and the installation of religious insurgent governments or Shi'ite leaders.

Netanyahu would continue: Israel, on the other hand, has no such ambitions. Israel, also an ally of the United States, has no interest in the thousand year battle between the Sunnis and the Shi'ites. Israel has no desire to change the leadership in the Sunni countries. Furthermore, in response to Arab suggestions, Israel is prepared to ease the condition of the Palestinians on a triple track:

1. Political: To renew peace negotiations with the Fatah Palestinians

2. Security: To strengthen Palestinian police with training and authority

3. Economic: To increase the number of jobs in Israel for qualified Palestinians

Please note that there is no mention of the establishment of an independent Palestinian state which the Arab dictatorships and the Obama Administration support and which Netanyahu strongly opposes.

Netanyahu's strategy is to exploit the Arab fear of Iran’s military power and its subsidization of the insurgency movement against the Arab dictatorships. Complicating the future of the region is the agreement that the U. S. move its military from Iraq by the end of 2011. If and when that happens, the two biggest military forces in the area will be Iran and Iraq, both ruled by Shi'ites. The Sunni regimes will be vulnerable and may be forced to seek a better relationship with Israel, a dominant military power and the one backed by the U.S. as far as the eye can see.

The Saudi 2002 peace plan promulgated by Saudi King Abdullah remains an intriguing possible basis for U. S. - Saudi cooperation on the Israeli - Palestinian issue. Abdullah's proposal was endorsed by the entire Arab League at its 2002 summit. Israeli President Shimon Peres and then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert have referred to it favorably, and Barack Obama praised Abdullah for making the peace proposal.

Netanyahu has strongly opposed the Saudi plan. His diplomatic offensive may be designed to prevent the U.S. and the Arab states from implementing the Saudi initiative in whole or in part


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