The Soviets' Mistakes in Afghanistan (and Ours?)


A few months old in magazine terms, and 21 years old in historical terms, but veritably ripped screaming from today's headlines: I found this today in the June issue of Harper's, and then found it reproduced online via the "Relentless Liberal."

It's a "May 10, 1988, letter from the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union to all Party members" that seems so perfectly designed to make a polemical point about the U.S.'s current situation in Afghanistan that one might guess it's a hoax.

But not, as far as I know. I quote from it:

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….

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….

The Afghan losses, naturally, were much heavier than ours, including the losses among the civilian population.
One should not disregard the economic factor either….The war in Afghanistan has cost us 5 billion rubles a year.

To be sure: Past guarantees are no performance of future results, those who condemn history are ignorant enough to repeat it, you can only trust a Communist to be a Communist, and this time bringing Afghan rebel guerrillas to heel just might work if only Obama doesn't go wobbly. But…well, I guess we'll see.