Memories of Kandahar

Who said this?

There is no piece of land in Afghanistan that has not been occupied by one of our soldiers at some time or another. Nevertheless much of the territory stays in the hands of the terrorists. We control the provincial centers, but we cannot maintain political control over the territory we seize.

Our soldiers are not to blame. They’ve fought incredibly bravely in adverse conditions. But to occupy towns and villages temporarily has little value in such a vast land where the insurgents can just disappear into the hills…

About 99 percent of the battles and skirmishes that we fought in Afghanistan were won by our side. The problem is that the next morning there is the same situation as if there had been no battle. The terrorists are again in the village where they were — or we thought they were — destroyed a day or so before.

Are these the words of some Canadian or American soldier-turned-dissident? Or perhaps a US General pushing President Barack Obama for more troops?

Nope. This was Sergei Akhromeyev, commander of the Soviet armed forces, speaking to the Soviet Politburo on Nov. 13, 1986. Two years later, the Soviet Union abandoned Afghanistan after nine futile years. US and Canadian troops, who have been there almost as long, will inevitably do the same. The only question is when.

Victor Sebestyen, author of “Revolution 1989: The Fall of the Soviet Empire,” recalls the remarks in today’s edition of the New York Times. He points out that humiliation in Afghanistan began the rapid unravelling of the Soviet dictatorship. The US, too, is likely to pay a lasting price in lost prestige and power as a result of the humiliation that awaits it in withdrawing from Afghanistan.

Contrarian is one who believes the US and Canada went into Afghanistan for good reasons: in hot pursuit of those who planned and executed the 9/11 attacks. The US relied too heavily on air power, thereby forfeiting any chance of an early success in that narrow goal. Then the Bush administration stupidly allowed itself to get distracted in the senseless invasion of Iraq.

Our current effort to occupy Afghanistan is doomed.