Earlier this week, Dave posted an essay on U.S. strategy in Afghanistan from the Foreign Policy Research Institute. Written by Larry Goodson and Thomas Johnson (professors at the Army War College and Naval Postgraduate School, respectively), the essay asserts that the United States is mimicking Soviet practices in Afghanistan and will thus suffer the same disastrous fate.
Goodson and Johnson believe that a population-centric security strategy is inappropriate for largely rural Afghanistan, that the Afghan government is too unpopular to achieve legitimacy, and that it is unrealistic to build useful Afghan security forces within a relevant period of time. According to Goodson and Johnson, the U.S. will do no better than the USSR at implementing these practices. Small Wars Journal readers have already engaged in a vigorous discussion of this essay, which I recommend.
But was the Soviet strategy, which Goodson and Johnson blame the U.S. for following, really a failure? In "Follow the Bear," an essay published in February 2010 by Proceedings, four field-grade U.S. officers (three of whom served in Afghanistan) claim that the Soviets improved their tactics around 1986 and by the end were implementing many practices now found in FM 3-24. The authors assert that the Soviet end-game exceeded expectations, that the Soviets departed Afghanistan on their own terms, and that they left behind a friendly government that had the potential to last -- and did in fact outlast the Soviet Union itself (I have cited "Follow the Bear" elsewhere). They conclude that "following the Bear" is a good idea.
Here they are, one set of facts of the Soviet end-game in Afghanistan, two sets of analysts, and two different conclusions. I encourage readers to compare and contrast the two and to discuss their findings in the comments. Policymakers formulating the American end-game in Afghanistan might benefit from the discussion.