A Long Goodbye: The Soviet Withdrawal from Afghanistan
By Artemy Kalinovsky
Harvard University Press $27.95 (£20.95)
“In 1979 Afghanistan was in growing chaos under a brutal and disorderly Communist government. The Russians believed they had a viable model for sorting things out. They had given clean water, healthcare, education for girls, a developing agriculture and industry and the Soviet version of law and order to their own central Asian Republics. Surely they could do the same in Afghanistan? So they set out to stabilise the political system, reconcile the Communists with their enemies and train up the army and police force. They built roads, factories, irrigation projects, schools. They placed advisers everywhere in the military and the civilian administration…
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The Russians had not expected to fight and believed they could get out within a year. Instead they found themselves in a quagmire, as the civil war between Afghan Communists and their domestic enemies became a three-way fight of ambushes, roadside bombs, villages obliterated by bombardment, atrocities on all sides. It took them more than nine years to extricate themselves.
Gorbachev summed it up: “We could leave quickly, without worrying about the consequences, and blame everything on our predecessors. But that we cannot do. We have not given an account of ourselves to the people. A million of our soldiers have passed through Afghanistan. And it looks as if they did so in vain. So why did those people die?” The dilemma is sadly familiar today.” FT Review