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Thread: Afghan Exit:why, how and more in country and beyond

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  1. #16
    Council Member
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    Oct 2005


    Posted by Entrophy

    When I think of "abandoning" Afghanistan, I think of what we did in the early 1990's which was to essentially dump all resources and interest in Afghanistan down the drain.
    I keep hearing this and have yet seen any evidence that there anything we should have done in the early 90s. When the Soviets pulled out they left a proxy government gov in place that held for a couple of years. Are you and others suggesting we should have provided (or perhaps continued to provide) support to the Taliban that finally ousted the proxy government after the USSR collapsed?

    I think this myth started when the book and then the movie "Charlie's Wilson's War" became popular. A retired SF officer allegedly advised President Bush that we couldn't repeat the same mistake of pulling the rug out from under the Afghan people's feet, which is partly what got us into this nation building mess.

    Highly recommend reading the article at the link below and other historical accounts of what actually happened when the Soviets pulled out, it doesn't nest with our emotional narrative.

    Unable to obtain a military solution, Gorbachev described the war in Afghanistan as a “bleeding wound.”14 He called for Soviet forces to return home quickly and switched to a strategy that utilized military and diplomatic instruments.15 His decision was a de facto acknowledgement of Afghanistan’s unsuitability for communism, the Soviet Union’s unwillingness to make a long-term commitment, and his aversion to widening the war to stop the flow of arms, money, and fighters from Pakistan. To point things in the right direction, the Soviet Union removed Karmal in May. They saw his replacement, Mohammad Najibullah, the former head of KhAD, as better organized, hardnosed, and a “serious, pragmatic politician who understood the Soviet desire . . . to disengage from Afghanistan.”16 Similar to his 1985 ultimatum, Gorbachev charged Najibullah with unifying Afghanistan over the next two years as the Soviets departed.
    The Soviet Union began to “Afghanize” the war by turning most of the responsibility for combat operations over to the DRA

    Afghanistan was and remains equally unsuitable for modern, liberal democracy.

    By early 1987, the Soviet Union concluded the situation was dire. Eduard Shevardnadze, the Soviet foreign minister, declared “in essence, we fought against the peasantry. The state apparatus is functioning poorly. Our advice and help is ineffective.”24 Searching for a way out, Gorbachev focused on modifying Afghanistan’s political policies, pursuing an international diplomatic resolution, while continuing military and economic support. The improved orchestration of the instruments of power helped set the conditions for the Soviet Union’s withdrawal in 1988 and 1989.
    Not sure on this one, but it seems we have an adequate level control of the major urban areas and most of our combat operations are directed against the peasantry also. Probably true for most forces that invaded Afghanistan.

    While talks continued in Geneva, the Soviet Union engaged the Americans directly at a September summit in Washington, D.C. Gorbachev proposed to withdraw the 40th Army in seven to twelve months after an agreement was signed.28 He still hoped he could end American support for the mujahidin as a precondition.
    Militarily, the 40th Army fought only when attacked and focused on training DRA forces. The Afghan forces continued to grow to over 323,000 soldiers and the militias grew to 130,000 fighters

    Supposedly Gorbachev, according to another historical account, made a case to President Reagan that we should cooperate with USSR in stabilizing the region after they withdrew because radical Islam was a common threat to both our nations. Would like to find a credible source for this if it exists.

    The Afghan government’s expenditures grew due to the ceasefire payments and the expanding military. Its revenue declined because of the cancellation of the back taxes of all refugees and the decline in natural gas exports. To cover the shortfalls, the Soviet Union increased its aid 83 percent more than in 1986 to 64 billion afghanis ($1.2 billion.)34
    Gorbachev said better money than the lives of our people.

    From 1 January 1988 until 15 February 1989, Gorbachev combined unilateral declarations, negotiations, a dramatic increase in military and economic aid, and a two-phased withdrawal to navigate the Soviet Union out of the “graveyard of empires.”35 Within Afghanistan, Najibullah continued to use the National Reconciliation Policy but reoriented it towards regime survival and an Islamic foundation.36 The skillful orchestration of the diplomatic, military, and economic instruments allowed the USSR to depart on its terms.
    As part of its long-term commitment, the USSR discretely left 200 military and KGB advisors in Kabul.44 Although the Afghan forces’ 329,000 men had led the last two years of fighting, the departure of 25 percent of the combat power in nine months, as well as the removal of the 40th Army’s aviation and firepower support, resulted in a considerable increase in insurgent violence.
    When then the advisors finally depart?

    As the last soldier crossed the Freedom Bridge on 15 February 1989, Soviet leaders were uncertain how long Najibullah would remain in power. While the Afghan government controlled the cities and roads with a combination of conventional forces, the KhAD, and militias, the budget shortfalls and insurgent threat presented serious challenges to the government. Yet the Russians’ exit energized Najibullah; he “took much more courageous steps [with the National Reconciliation Policy] in terms of opening up the government and society, establishing links with tribal leaders, and shedding its communist image—all of which helped the DRA government to survive into 1992.
    Unfortunately for the government to gain credibility with its people they'll probably have to shed their association with the US and its ideas also. They won't be able to do that if we stay in large numbers.

    The regime was immediately challenged—the mujahidin tried and failed to capture Jalalabad in April 1989, and the Minister of Defense tried and failed to conduct a coup in March 1990. Despite these emergencies, Moscow toed the line of no direct military support; however, Gorbachev pledged that “even in the harshest most difficult circumstance—we will provide you arms.”48 Surprisingly, the Afghan forces fought extremely well at Jalalabad and later seized the Pagham stronghold near Kabul. The insurgency, however, conquered Khost in 1991, significantly weakening Najibullah’s grip on power. Then General Dostum and his Uzbek legion defected in early 1992. This, along with the end of Soviet aid, made Najibullah’s collapse a foregone conclusion.
    The Black Swan was General Dostum, who knows what the Black Swan will be in 2014 and beyond, and whose side it will benefit.

    Even as the USSR slid toward its own demise, it continued to provide billions of afghanis in support of the DRA.49 Eventually, the USSR and the United States signed an agreement to end their support for their proxies. When the Soviet aid stopped in January 1992, the Afghan government could no longer pay the militias or the military. Najibullah fell from power four months later as Massoud and Gulbudin Hekmatyar’s troops occupied Kabul and its environs.50
    Much more in the paper and other historical documents, but the bottom line is our assistance to the Afghan resistance had little to do with humanitarian objectives, and very much to do with strategic objectives related to the USSR. The USSR withdrew and left a functional government in place that held for two years (almost totally dependent on foreign aid from the USSR). Were we supposed to continue to support the resistance who by that time we knew were radical? The Saudis and Pakistanis continued support (the same support we were providing), so how would have continued assistance contributed to a different outcome?

    I think years from now when we can look at this situation without emotion, we may find serious fault with Charlie's approach to "winning" instead of providing just enough assistance to ensure Afghanistan remained a quagmire for the USSR. Suspect the outcome would have been the same. We made a deal with the devil (Saudi and Pakistani extremists) to fight the USSR, now we're reaping what we sowed. Our current approach won't change any of that, and now like the Soviets we're unwilling to carry the fight into Pakistan, so we can probably guess what the outcome will be in 3-5 years after we downsize. We can only learn from history if we can study it without bias.
    Last edited by Bill Moore; 11-12-2012 at 09:08 AM.

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