Video: Endgame in Afghanistan
KABUL, Afghanistan — The Soviet Union couldn’t win in Afghanistan, and now the U.S. is about to have something in common with that futile campaign: nine years, 50 days.
On Friday, the U.S.-led coalition will have been fighting in this South Asian country for as long as the Soviets did in their humbling attempt to build up a socialist state. The two invasions had different goals — and dramatically different body counts — but whether they have significantly different outcomes remains to be seen.
What started out as a quick war on Oct. 7, 2001, by the U.S. and its allies to wipe out al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden and the Taliban has instead turned into a long and slogging campaign. Now about 100,000 NATO troops are fighting a burgeoning insurgency while trying to support and cultivate a nascent democracy.
A Pentagon-led assessment released earlier this week described the progress made since the United States injected 30,000 more troops into Afghanistan earlier this year as fragile.
When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan on Dec. 27, 1979, its stated goal was to transform Afghanistan into a modern socialist state. The Soviets sought to prop up a communist regime that was facing a popular uprising, but left largely defeated on Feb. 15, 1989.
In 1992, the pro-Moscow government of Mohammad Najibullah collapsed and U.S.-backed rebels took power. The Taliban eventually seized Kabul after a violent civil war that killed thousands more. It ruled with a strict interpretation of Islamic law until it was ousted by the U.S.-led invasion.
Nader Nadery, an Afghan analyst who has studied the Soviet and U.S. invasions, said “the time may be the same” for the two conflicts, “but conditions are not similar.”
More than a million civilians died as Soviet forces propping up the government of Babrak Karmal waged a massive war against anti-communist mujahedeen forces.
“There was indiscriminate mass bombardment of villages for the eviction of mujahedeen,” Nadery said. “Civilian casualties are not at all comparable.”
The Soviet occupation last from December 27, 1979, to February 15, 1989. The continuing U.S. campaign to route the Taliban and al Qaeda started on October 7, 2001.
The Soviet army withdrew in defeat, having suffered more than 14,000 deaths and more than 50,000 wounded. By comparison, the U.S. involvement has been less costly; 1,403 Americans have died, although that number has been rising rapidly. Half of the U.S. deaths have been in the last two years. About 7.000 Americans have been wounded.
The latest Pentagon “Report on Progress Toward Security and Stability in Afghanistan” paints a bleak picture of the current situation, with violence on the rise, corruption increasingly entrenched and the Taliban gaining strength.
Polls show that the majority of Americans have grown disillusioned with the U.S. presence in Afghanistan. Nonetheless, both President Barack Obama and the Congressional leadership of the Republican Party are committed to keeping American troops in the country until as least until 2014.
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