by Paul Koring
From The Globe and Mail
July 12, 2008
MOSCOW — Head bowed, exhausted, the statue of a young soldier back from Afghanistan’s killing fields is flanked by long, grim, lists of his dead comrades. It’s a cautionary monument for Western politicians and generals who boldly boast they will succeed where the Soviets failed.
In Russia, a country chock full of heroic memorials to enormous military sacrifice, the uniquely dejected pose of the helmetless Afghan combat veteran in the Ural city of Yekaterinburg is a sobering reminder that great powers have an unhappy history of overreaching and then being driven ignominiously from Afghanistan.
“Canadians and Americans are learning the hard way. You have been there seven years and you have no prospect of early victory,” said Ruslan Aushev, a highly decorated combat veteran who served two tours, totalling nearly five years with the Soviet army in Afghanistan. “We knew by 1985 that we could not win,” he recalls. It then took Moscow four more years to extricate hundreds of thousands of troops from Afghanistan, while claiming victory on the way out. Afghanistan was plunged into civil war.
In Russia, there’s a widespread view that the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan has failed to heed the lessons of history.