The Lessons of the Past

Iraq is not Afghanistan but the situations are similar

militaryThe 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 Iraq. Why?

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 leadership.

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.

Col. Viktor LITOVKIN, RIAN