U.S. War in Afghanistan Has Echoes of Soviet Experience
The young president who ascended to office as a change agent decides to end the costly and unpopular war in Afghanistan. He seeks an exit with honor by pledging long-term financial support to allies in Kabul, while urging reconciliation with the insurgency. But some senior advisers lobby for a deliberately slow withdrawal, and propose leaving thousands of troops behind to train and support Afghan security forces.
This is a nearly exact description of the endgame conundrum facing President Obama as he prepares for a critical visit by Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, planned for early January.
But the account is actually drawn from declassified Soviet archives describing Mikhail S. Gorbachev’s closed-door struggles with his Politburo and army chiefs to end the Kremlin’s intervention in Afghanistan — one that began with a commando raid, coup and modest goals during Christmas week of 1979 but became, after a decade, what Mr. Gorbachev derided as “a bleeding wound.”
What mostly is remembered about the withdrawal is the Soviet Union’s humiliation, and the ensuing factional bloodletting across Afghanistan that threw the country into a vicious civil war. It ended with Taliban control and the establishment of a safe haven for Al Qaeda before the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.