Learning Afghan Lessons

Uzbek veterans of the Soviet Afghan conflict say the US and its allies are in for a long, hard war.

Learning Afghan Lessons

Uzbek veterans of the Soviet Afghan conflict say the US and its allies are in for a long, hard war.

The United States is unlikely to win a quick and easy victory over the Taleban and Osama bin Laden, warn Uzbek veterans of the Soviet Union's Afghan war. They say air-strikes alone will not knock out terrorism in Afghanistan and the US and its allies will have to deploy ground forces in a committed, painstaking campaign.

Talat Muratov, chairman of the Uzbek Union of Afghan War Veterans, says the American-led forces will have to confront a well-trained, professional Taleban army, drawing 40 per cent of its recruits from areas like Pakistan, Chechnya, Uzbekistan, the Arabic countries and China. They are inflamed by a devotion to the idea of worldwide Islamic domination and well armed with the generous assistance of various extremist organisations and the proceeds of the drug business.

The US force will have to deal with the Afghan people, who have been fighting for over 20 years. "They are destitute, desperate people. Whoever has taken over Afghanistan in the past 22 years has brought them nothing but death and devastation," said Muratov. "America was shocked by the monstrous attacks on New York and Washington, and then Americans felt a strong upsurge of patriotism. The Afghans have been in a state of constant shock for the last 22 years, so they're going to put up a serious fight."

Talat Muratov and his colleagues have first-hand experience of the Afghans' combat skills. He volunteered to fight in Afghanistan in 1984-1985. Stationed in western Herat province, he was one of some 65,000 Uzbek troops deployed in Afghanistan. They lost 1,522 men and 4,000 came back with disabilities.

They faced an enemy that was hardy and belligerent. "We train our soldiers for three months, then put them in combat units for another 18 months. Any Afghan kid is trained to fight as soon as he's old enough to hold a weapon. Any Afghan kid is already a professional soldier and a skilled saboteur," said Muratov.

Afghan fighters know how to use the mountainous terrain. The gorges, caves and underground water ducts are ideal for defence, and made the Soviets highly vulnerable. The US will face the same challenges.

"Aerial bombing won't accomplish very much. A lot of civilians will be killed, but not Taleban leaders or Osama bin Laden, who will be safe somewhere where American cruise missiles and bombs cannot get them," said Muratov. "Ground forces, at least a commando unit, will have to be deployed to track down and destroy the Taleban leaders."

The Soviets sent troops to Afghanistan in 1979 to bolster the ruling People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan, headed by Babrak Karmal. It was an attempt to export communist ideology, to impose an alien political system on Afghanistan, and Muratov believes it was doomed from the start.

But as a result, Washington will have to confront a different, better organised and trained mujahedin in Afghanistan. Muratov recalls that US and Pakistani secret services encouraged bin Laden and his al-Qaeda organisation by supplying arms and financing their operations in order to drive Soviet troops out of Afghanistan.

Muratov says the Taleban are already threatening a jihad (holy war) against their neighbours who are willing to cooperate with the US, and he fears the Kabul regime will act if it survives.

Galima Bukharbaeva is IWPR regional director in Uzbekistan.

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