`Afghanistan will be Americans` graveyard`

The NATO force, now on track to remain in a combat role until 2014

Kabul: The withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan in 1989 after nearly ten years of occupation is a favourite public relations theme of the Taliban movement, which itself was toppled by the US-led invasion in a matter of weeks in October 2001, only to regroup and reinvigorate itself in recent years.

"This was their (the Soviet Union’s) graveyard, as it will be for the Americans," the Los Angeles Times quoted Zabiullah Mujahid, a spokesman for the group, as saying.

The Taliban movement is far smaller and less broad based than the anti-Soviet mujahedin, which encompassed many ethnic groups and political factions.

Nonetheless, according to the LA Times, the insurgency is expanding its territorial reach, and NATO troop casualties this year are the highest of the war.

For the Soviets, the scope of bloodletting in their Afghan war was enormous, with 13,833 dead troops and tens of thousands maimed. US military fatalities to date total about one-tenth that: 1,403 as of Friday, according to icasualties.org.
The Soviet forces made scant distinction between combatants and non-combatants, and more than one million Afghan civilians died. US counterinsurgency doctrine, in theory at least, puts protection of civilians at the forefront; even so, civilian deaths this year have run about half a dozen a day, with most blamed on the insurgency.

Despite the contrasts, the two wars have vivid narrative elements in common: An invading force finds that its vast military superiority is no guarantee of victory against a guerrilla insurgency; resentment against foreigners sometimes boils over; the terrain is timelessly formidable; local ways can seem impenetrably mysterious.

The NATO force, now on track to remain in a combat role until 2014, has lately taken an optimistic public tone about the war`s direction. President Obama declared at last week`s alliance summit in Lisbon that, militarily, "we are in a better place now than we were a year ago."

Russian analysts and veterans, however, say the picture they see in Afghanistan is a familiar one.
"Americans haven`t drawn any lessons from the Soviet military presence; they keep stepping on the same rakes," said Sergei Arutyunov, a senior fellow at the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology in Moscow.