Why is everyone losing the war against Afghanistan

Learning from the Soviet Union means learning to lose ...

"They only recognized us by the mother's curses that our boys kept shouting to themselves ... That was a kind of defensive reflex with them ... 'Aha', should that mean, 'Here's a man of his own ...' "

This scene took place almost 30 years ago, on December 27, 1979 - shortly after 7 p.m. local time. In the Afghan capital Kabul, the storm has begun on the Darulaman palace complex, in which the country's president has holed up. Major Michail Romanov from the Soviet secret service KGB is in command of the command company of the special unit "Alfa". His mission is clear: Afghan President Hafizullah Amin must be liquidated. The so-called "Muslim battalion" of the Soviet military intelligence service GRU, which was put into Afghan uniforms in order to more easily surprise the security guards loyal to Amin, is also involved in this enterprise. Romanov's men carry out their orders without hesitation - they track down Amin on the second floor of the building and shoot him.

The grief over Amin's violent death is limited - nationally and internationally. He is notorious and hated as a bloody dictator. But shortly afterwards, when Soviet soldiers from the Central Asian Soviet republics of Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan roll into Afghanistan and occupy the country in order to give it - as it was said - "internationalist aid", the shock is great. All over the world, the Christmas rest is suddenly over. US President Jimmy Carter immediately made it clear that with this de facto invasion, the USSR suddenly changed the international situation. After a hastily convened NATO Council meeting, its then Secretary General Joseph Luns specified:

"During the deliberations, I reiterated my conviction that the armed Soviet aggression against Afghanistan is a violation of international law and a threat to world peace. I would like to emphasize that this is the first time the Soviet Union has exercised its military power in a country outside the Eastern bloc used directly and massively. "

Original sound Cold War at a new waypoint in the ongoing conflict between East and West. It will be almost ten years before the last Soviet soldier will have left the country in the Hindu Kush. Around 1.2 million deaths will then be mourned - including over 14,000 Soviet soldiers. Afghanistan is moving out of the focus of international interest and is being left to itself and its problems - with fatal consequences.

In the mid-1990s it became the prey of the Islamist-fundamentalist Taliban regime, a base camp and retreat for Osama bin Laden's terrorist organization Al Qaeda. The traces of the attacks on the towers of the World Trade Center in New York on September 11, 2001 can be traced back there. Three weeks later, on October 7th, the USA hit back, allied themselves with the anti-Taliban resistance, and secured their march on Kabul, Kandahar and Kunduz with massive air support.

The Moscow journalist and military expert Aleksandr Gol'c is certain that the US General Staff analyzed the Soviet warfare in the 1980s in its intervention plans and then incorporated it into its strategic guidelines:

"Of course the Americans did that. In the early stages of the war, the Americans flew massive air strikes and used their special forces on the ground with local allies very effectively. The initial stage was successful. The fact that there were difficulties afterwards is not the fault of the US Military. - We are dealing with a kind of infectious disease. It is almost always the case. When the armed forces achieve some success, many politicians get the impression that any security problem can be solved with military means. "

And at this point, Gol'c deliberately pointed out, the West had the US, and NATO had also learned from the USSR in negative respects. They fell into the same trap, from which they could not easily get out today:

"Both the West and the Soviet Union, unfortunately, are similar in their ideologically based actions. Both the one and the other have moved into Afghanistan in an effort to import certain values ​​into this people that are absolutely alien to them. Here we find common ground between communist ones Ideas and conceptions of liberal democracy. Both are equally alien to traditional Afghan society. "

The Soviet soldiers in Afghanistan are - unlike 25 years later the western ISAF contingents at the beginning of their deployment - by the population overwhelmingly viewed and fought as occupiers from the start. - At that time it was clear to the ex-tank officer Alexandr Pantschenko why he should fight in Afghanistan - the veteran, who now lives in Germany, does not doubt the order to march back then:

"So that America does not appear next to the territory of the Soviet Union. And: When we came to Afghanistan, we found a country that lived like in the 13th century. The farmers there still tilled their land with wooden plows. No television, no electric light, There was nothing there! - They heated the room so that the smoke escaped through a black hole in the ceiling. They walked around naked and barefoot. - First it was the English ... And then we, the Soviet Union, tried them Bring civilization there. - All in vain, all in vain! "

Nevertheless, despite its supposed backwardness: Afghanistan has never in its long history been conquered by strangers on a permanent basis. Even many Marxist-inspired Afghans, who at that time wanted to bring socialism to Afghanistan with the help of the USSR, are now comparatively sober about their failure - like Guljam Mohammed, Afghan exile in Moscow, a former high functionary of the former pro-Soviet "Chalq" Party, the so-called "People's Party":

"Our revolutionaries learned Marxism-Leninism after the Soviet films that were shown in our Kabul cinemas. And then they wanted to do the same thing that we saw there: 'You have to destroy opponents! Otherwise you will have no peace.' But: Afghanistan is not Europe! Every dead enemy has hundreds of relatives who will never forgive the state for this death in their life. - Killing a person automatically means: Hundreds of other people become enemies, irreconcilable enemies of the state. "

Aleksandr Gol'c, Afghanistan veteran and former reporter for the Soviet military newspaper "Krasnaya Zvezda" ("Red Star"), agrees. Against the background of his own experience, he urges the USA and NATO not to ignore one fundamental tenet:

"Every war that is waged against partisans will turn into a war against the peaceful population. No matter how accurate you want to proceed, in the end it says: 'A la guerre comme à la guerre!' - 'War is war!' What the Americans so neatly call 'collateral damage' is inevitable! But every time bystanders are killed in the process, instead of one killed terrorist, you get ten new opponents who hate you. "

Gol'c warns of another illusion. If the West apparently believes that military and police training for Afghans loyal to the regime is the ideal way to reduce one's own commitment in the medium to long term, then a Soviet mistake from the 80s will be repeated with this approach, because:

"We trained thousands of Afghans too, in our local military schools and in the Soviet Union. In Afghanistan itself, we trained the people's militia, that is, the police. It didn't work out! At this point too, the reflex emerges: We want them convey our values, which are alien to this traditional society. It doesn't help. We have to admit that! "

"Guard department - judge you! - The survivors of the shift on duty report back - It reports: The deputy of the department commander, Lieutenant Mersichin. - I wish you health, comrade commander!"

The warfare in the Hindu Kush in the 1980s is cruel - on both sides. And the civilian population suffers most. In the end, you count several million refugees.

Karen Karagesjan, once a foreign policy assistant in the Central Committee of the CPSU, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, in the 1980s also a close advisor to the last Soviet head of state, Mikhail Gorbachev, gives a thought-provoking conclusion:

"This war had two sides - a political and a military, or: military-economic. - As far as I know, this war cost our country 6 billion rubles a year. But the worst was of course: the victims! The people! Practically 14,000 But tens of thousands - hundreds of thousands became cripples. I no longer speak of the psychological factor. It was only discovered back then. In the past, no one thought of it at all. A soldier is a soldier! Goes to war, either has to defend or attack, is killed , has to kill, sees death, sees murder. You could feel that when the soldiers came from Afghanistan, just as they suffered psychologically. "

Hannes Adomeit, until recently a foreign and security policy expert at the Berlin Foundation for Science and Politics, gives poor marks in historical retrospect not only to the Soviet leadership at the time but also to their main opponent in the Cold War, the United States of America, the von At the beginning I would have relied on the anti-Soviet resistance in Afghanistan. But this - according to Adomeit - ultimately led to ...

"... that the radical Islamist currents got a boost in the course of the fight against the invaders and of course - that is the second point of view - that the USA contributed to the emergence of the Taliban East-West conflict supported these religious, also fundamentalist currents with weapons. So, together with the Soviet Union, you practically contributed to this problem with which we are all confronted today. "

Gol'c sees the West in a classic trap in Afghanistan today. Because according to all available knowledge and experience, he also considers the increasingly louder formulated requests from the American military to significantly increase the number of troops - not only in the US armed forces but also in the Bundeswehr contingent. Because one thing has always been confirmed:

"In wars like this there is always a lack of soldiers! But: Modern armies like those of the West are unsuitable as occupation troops. For occupation purposes, you need armed forces that would have to be mobilized on a massive scale beforehand, in order to mobilize thousands and thousands of men, so that there is a guard at practically every street crossing can stand. "

Although - now Gol'c can't help but laugh a little:

"Po skol'ku vojska NATO ... pasylatj."

Ultimately, NATO troops in Afghanistan also ensured Russia's security. For that reason alone, so Gol'c, he would welcome it if the Alliance wanted to send even more troops to this Central Asian country. However, this does not change anything about his skeptical analysis of the prospects for success of the USA and its NATO allies.

Central Asian countries such as the once Soviet but now independent states of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan share borders with Afghanistan. Through various supranational structures such as the CIS, the Commonwealth of Independent States, but above all the Shanghai Organization, in which China also participates, Russia is trying to involve these republics, which are by no means stable both politically and economically. Moscow continues to perceive this world region as its very own zone of influence, but also - from a security policy point of view - as its "soft underbelly". Incidentally, that was the case 30 years ago, and it led to the invasion of the Soviet Army in Afghanistan. Then as now - the "Islam" factor plays a permanently important role in the deliberations of the Kremlin. The Russian political scientist Yevgeny Khrushchov recently on the foreign broadcaster "Russia Today":

"The real reason, which most - whether civilian or military - do not understand or pretend that it does not exist, is of paramount importance: Afghanistan with its common border with the former Soviet Union and its Muslim republics. And: at least 20 percent of the former Soviet population Muslims. "

A failure of the West in Afghanistan is by no means in Russia's interest. Because if the West is withdrawing from there, Moscow's security experts fear a new version of the so-called "domino theory". Just as decades ago the US worried that if Vietnam were to be lost to Ho Chi Minh's communists, the rest of the Southeast Asian countries would then tip over one after the other like dominoes and fall into the communist camp, the Kremlin today is worried by a similar fear - albeit under different ideological circumstances : The whole of Central Asia up to the long troubled Islamic North Caucasus could become a target for fundamentalists à la Taliban and mutate into a broad base for terrorist networks that would then target the Russian-European heartland.

So it is not surprising that despite all the harsh tones of the past few months between the US-led NATO and Russia, unity and, recently, even open cooperation has been demonstrated on this point. - John Beyrle, US ambassador in Moscow, now on the "Echo Moskvy" station, praising and promoting at the same time:

"Much is said about NATO posing some threat to Russia. In reality, the Russian Federation is helping and supporting the efforts of NATO forces in Afghanistan in this joint fight against terrorism. This is a very important fact."

But Aleksandr Gol'c, who has always been a critical observer of Russian security and defense policy, sees no fundamental change in strategy in Moscow despite such emphatically shared interests. Despite its current protective shield function for Russia, the USA remains a competitor for influence and power in this geostrategically and energy-politically important Central Asian region:

"Today Russia's position is limited to monopolizing the transit of Western military equipment to Afghanistan. If troop strengths are to be increased there, it is of fundamental importance for the US and its allies in the Alliance to maintain uninterrupted supply routes. And now, after Russia has concluded such a transit agreement with the USA, Moscow also got a trump card with which it can conduct realpolitik towards the United States. "

Are the USA and NATO now literally caught between all stools in Afghanistan? Logistically dependent on the goodwill of Russia, which could demand good behavior from the Alliance at any time when it comes to NATO dreams of Georgia or Ukraine? Entangled in a partisan war that from today's perspective can hardly be won? Options for withdrawal that no one is seriously considering at the moment, because wouldn't the power vacuum then be filled immediately by the Taliban? - Can the West actually win this war in Afghanistan? - "Yes", says Aleksandr Gol'c, the Russian veteran and military expert, despite all his concerns:

"From a historical perspective, probably. This is not about three or four years. It will take decades to build a more or less modern education and health system, to come up with something more meaningful than drug cultivation for the Afghan farmers. And then it has to one can set about slowly and laboriously - with the loss of one's own soldiers - to make such a policy a concrete reality. "