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Hindsight – withdrawal as successful Soviet/US strategy?

January 27, 2013

By Tim Foxley

Summary: After literally minutes of research, I discover parallels between the Soviet and US withdrawals from Afghanistan…

SovietTroops415I am currently exploring some of the ideas around a civil war, in particular looking at whether a civil war can return to Afghanistan in the next few years.  It seems to be the standard default warning setting for media, government and academics alike at the moment.  I am struggling to define “civil war” at present, so this could take some time…

But in my readings, I came across this interesting idea, from a piece written by Richard Weitz, entitled ‘Moscows Endgame in Afghanistan’, from late 1992.  Far from criticising the Soviets, he suggested they had made the best of a bad job by their withdrawal.  Here are his words.  If you squint a bit and substitute “USSR” and “Soviet Government” for “US”, it puts an interesting perspective on current and future US actions:

“The USSR’s strategy in Afghanistan proved remarkably successful.  The Soviet Government’s decision to withdraw its troops, but still provide extensive aid to the Afghan government, redefined international perceptions of the conflict…the USSR’s military removal of support transformed a struggle for self-determination against an occupying power into a civil war between a flexible government and an intransigent, foreign-sponsored, guerrilla movement…The military stalemate and the changing attitudes of other countries resulted in the USSR’s influence in Afghanistan becoming more secure with each passing month.”

As he notes shortly after, the reason it failed in the end was the collapse of the Soviet Union which threw a spanner in the works of the Najibullah bandwagon, as funds, weapons and food rapidly dried up.  But otherwise, it kind of makes sense – by leaving you reshape the narrative and, however it was perceived at the time of withdrawal, a few years later Afghan and international memories are much more cloudy on who did what to whom…

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