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Argument: Soviet war in Afghanistan is not analogous to US/NATO war

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Peter Bergen. "Winning the good war. Why Afghanistan is not Obama's Vietnam". Washington Monthly. July/August 2009: "The Soviets, of course, spent almost a decade waging war in Afghanistan, only to retreat ignominiously in 1989, an important factor in their own empire’s consignment to history’s dustbin. But today’s American-led intervention in Afghanistan is quite different from the Communist occupation. The Soviet army killed more than a million Afghans and forced some five million more to flee the country, creating what was then the world’s largest refugee population. The Soviets also sowed millions of mines (including some that resembled toys), making Afghanistan one of the most heavily mined countries in the world. And Soviet soldiers were a largely unprofessional rabble of conscripts who drank heavily, used drugs, and consistently engaged in looting. The Soviets’ strategy, tactics, and behavior were, in short, the exact opposite of those used in successful counterinsurgency campaigns.

Unsurprisingly, the brutal Soviet occupation provoked a countrywide insurrection that drew from a wide array of ethnic groups—Tajiks, Uzbeks, Pashtuns, and Hazaras—and every class in Afghan society, from mullahs to urban professionals to peasants. By contrast, the insurgents in Afghanistan today are overwhelmingly rural Pashtuns with negligible support in urban areas and among other ethnic groups.

That makes quite a difference to the scale of today’s insurgency. Even the most generous estimates of the size of the Taliban force hold it to be no more than 20,000 men, while authoritative estimates of the numbers of Afghans on the battlefield at any given moment in the war against the Soviets range up to 250,000. The Taliban insurgency today is only around 10 percent the size of what the Soviets faced.

And while today’s Afghan insurgents are well financed, in part by the drug trade, this backing is not on the scale of the financial and military support that the anti-Communist guerrillas enjoyed in the 1980s. The mujahideen were the recipients of billions of dollars of American and Saudi aid, large-scale Pakistani training, and sophisticated U.S. military hardware such as highly effective anti-aircraft Stinger missiles, which ended the Soviets’ command of the air."

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