We're Not the Soviets in Afghanistan

We're Not the Soviets in Afghanistan - Frederick W. Kagan, Weekly Standard opinion.

Comparisons between our current efforts in Afghanistan and the Soviet intervention that led to the collapse of the USSR are natural and can be helpful, but only with great care. Below are a number of key points to keep in mind when thinking about the Soviet operations, especially when considering the size of the US or international military footprint.

War did not begin in 1979 when the Soviets invaded. It started in 1978 following the Saur Revolution in which Nur M. Taraki seized power from Mohammad Daoud. Taraki declared the establishment of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan and set about bringing real socialism to the country.

Soviet advisors recommended that Taraki proceed slowly with social and economic reforms. They recognized that the socialist party (People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan or PDPA) had the support of a tiny minority. They feared that Taraki's plans for aggressive "modernization" would generate an awful backlash. They were right...

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Kagan provides a very brief chronology of Soviet operations in Afghanistan, then points to a couple of organizational and technical deficiencies in the Soviet military. This is he tells us is the reason not to compare the current situation with that of the Soviet experience.

Not very helpful, in my opinion.

I was in Afghanistan from 2003-2006, running development programs in the southeast (Khost and Logar) for an international NGO. A month ago, I was in Kabul briefly, visiting friends and former colleagues. What I heard was not encouraging, in terms of "absolutely no basis" in Fred Kagan's piece:

For all of these reasons, there is absolutely no basis for assessing that an increased ISAF/US military presence along the lines being considered will result in some kind of "tipping point" at which local Afghans turn against us because they see us as a Soviet-style occupation force.

It's an emotional place, and perceptions rule. I didn't talk with a large number of people, but those I did were increasingly viewing the US as "like the Soviets." I am sure additional troops will exacerbate this, though I understand the rationale for ramping up.