Johnson's Russia List
25 November 2003
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A CDI Project
November 24, 2003
THE LESSONS OF THE PAST
Iraq is not Afghanistan but the situations are similar
Col. Viktor LITOVKIN (Rtd.), RIA Novosti military analyst
The losses of the US army and its allies in the occupied Iraq have long
exceeded the casualties sustained during Operation Shock and Awe. The worst
thing is that nobody can say these losses served a purpose, that hundreds
of men and officers gave their lives in the name of a noble goal of
bringing democracy to one of the world's potentially richest Muslim
countries. It is surprising but the current situation in Iraq reminds one
of the Soviet war in Afghanistan in the 1980s.
In December 1979, the divisions and regiments of the 40th Soviet Army
almost painlessly occupied Afghanistan in a matter of days, the sole
exception being the night storming of President Amin's residence in Kabul.
The Americans rolled as quickly into Baghdad in early April 2003, barely 40
days after the operation began. Though their losses were greater than those
sustained by Soviet troops in Afghanistan, the goals of toppling the
dictatorship of Saddam Hussein and occupation of Iraq were attained.
But practice shows that the main difficulties arise after the capital of
the conquered state is taken. The growing guerrilla war turns the joys of
military victory into a daily sanguinary horror. This was the case with
Soviet troops in Afghanistan and the same happened to the US troops in
In both cases, foreign troops were deployed in a sovereign country under
slogans that had nothing in common with the genuine aspirations of the
local population. The Soviet army moved into Afghanistan "to protect the
country from foreign interference in its international affairs." But in
fact it was done for ideological considerations - to support the April
Revolution launched to build socialism in Afghanistan.
Washington carried out its military operation against Iraq allegedly to
protect the international community from the threat of proliferation of
weapons of mass destruction (which have not been found there), overthrow
the dictatorial regime of Saddam Hussein and establish democracy in Iraq.
But the armed export of democracy - or socialism - in whatever form has no
future, as the world community has seen more than once, if the
socio-economic and economic prerequisites are not ripe in the given country.
Using troops to force Western and European values on the Muslim Arab world
is impossible. The Kremlin elders failed to see this truth and the leaders
of the anti-Iraqi coalition cannot or do not want to see it either, though
the USA has had its painful experiences in Vietnam, Somalia and
Afghanistan, where it provided military assistance to the current Afghan
The Soviet leaders of the past and the current Washington administration
disregard the old traditions, national pride, and the religious and
civilisation preferences of the peoples on whom they tried to impose their
will. Afghanistan never bowed to a foreign will, be it Alexander the Great,
the decline of whose invincible army began in Hindukush Mountains, or
Britain, which lost regiments at Puli Khumri. By the way, the latter is
translated as "go without return." The Soviet army did not succeed either.
And Iraq has always been terra incognito for the invaders, including the
British, who were the country's masters in the mid-20th century but were
eventually forced to leave.
General of the Army Makhmut Gareyev, deputy chief of the Soviet General
Staff who spent several years in Afghanistan as a military attach, to
President Najibullah, told your correspondent the following: "Our analysts
learned a lot while the 40th Army was deployed in Afghanistan; they studied
the operation of the local mujaheddin very carefully. The mujaheddin, who
had no military power or hardware to speak about, hardly ever confronted
Soviet troops in the open; instead, they laid ambushes. They staged raids,
shelled our positions, mined roads, conducted subversive and terrorist
actions, and attacked military units deployed in settlements. It was
extremely difficult to protect and defend army convoys, individual vehicles
and military posts, though we had planes, helicopters, reconnaissance
groups and raid units. It is always difficult to detect an ambush in the
city or village or by a road, especially without optical reconnaissance or
radars. Some field commanders frequently used their rivals as a lure or
betrayed the trust of Soviet command to lay a deadly ambush."
The US troops find themselves in the same situation in Iraq.
World practice shows that even the strongest army, including the armies of
Napoleon or Hitler, is impotent against guerrillas, especially when it
cannot effectively seal the borders and place a force that would be larger
than the aggregate number of men and boys of the conquered country.
It will take the USA and its allies much time and money to deal with the
painful Iraqi problems. They should launch a genuine peacekeeping and
humanitarian operation. They must invest billions into the Iraqi economy,
instruction and education. Iraqis need jobs and see that their life is
becoming better, freer, more profitable and diverse than it was under Saddam.
If they do, peace in Iraq will be restored in five to 15 years - provided
life there is based on Muslim traditions and norms.