- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 24, 2002

The Bush administration has become more mindful of the Soviets' mistakes in Afghanistan as the U.S. military begins to cope with some of the same challenges of Moscow 20 years ago.
The coalition's job now is to smash a nascent guerrilla movement and stabilize the country a feat the Soviets never could master. The next few months of hunt-and-destroy operations against al Qaeda and the Taliban may determine whether President Bush achieves a permanent victory in his war on terrorism.
"One of the mistakes we don't make in Afghanistan is we don't send untrained and unseasoned troops in there as the Soviets did," retired Army Maj. Gen. William Moore said. "This goes to the very distinct advantage the U.S. military has over almost every military in the world that is, our soldiers are effectively trained and led."
Mr. Bush referred to the Soviet experience in an address last week at the Virginia Military Institute. He assured cadets that the armed forces had learned Afghanistan's harsh lessons for foreign troops.
"As the spring thaw comes, we expect cells of trained killers to try to regroup, to murder, create mayhem and try to undermine Afghanistan's efforts to build a lasting peace," the president said. "We know this from not only intelligence, but from the history of military conflict in Afghanistan. It's been one of initial success, followed by long years of floundering and ultimate failure. We're not going to repeat that mistake."
Like the Soviets, the U.S. military won a quick victory. The United States ousted the sitting Taliban government and established a friendly replacement.
But the Soviets proceeded to botch the occupation as a determined, U.S.-backed mujahideen relentlessly chipped away at the interlopers until they retreated.
Sharp differences exist today. The United States and its allies enjoy the support of most Afghans. Al Qaeda and Taliban fighters have no major arms source. And Washington wants to reduce its presence in Afghanistan once some type of democratic regime takes hold.
The situation bears enough resemblance to the past, however, that U.S. Central Command which runs the war is working daily to avoid Soviet-style mistakes.
Gen. Tommy Franks, the overall war commander, is keeping the in-country force level low so as not to present the enemy with multiple targets. The command also has a top priority of creating an Afghan professional army. After training by Army Green Berets, a national army would take over the jobs of rooting out remaining pockets of Osama bin Laden's fighters and providing security in the countryside.
Gen. Moore, who guided revitalization of Army special operations in the mid-1980s, said having the United States create an indigenous army is a key step.
"It's in our interest to develop those kinds of military relations that come from training close together and put our mark, an American military mark, on an eventual Afghan army," he said. "We call that 'nation building.' [Defense] Secretary [Donald H.] Rumsfeld doesn't like that term, but Special Forces have been in nation building for some time."
An active-duty Army officer said: "Special Forces will be there for a few years. The creation of a national army would lessen the influence of tribal power. The footprint should be small and not considered an occupying force."
This officer warned against putting different combat units inside Afghanistan just to provide them war experience. "Don't use Afghanistan for a moment of glory or to affirm their relevance," the officer said. "They should stick to what works."
Gen. Franks has increased U.S. troop presence slowly from hundreds to more than 6,000, making up about half of the coalition forces in Afghanistan. But he says he will not put in the thousands more it would take to seal the border with Pakistan and stop al Qaeda fighters from escaping.
"I will tell you that in the nine or 10 years of Soviet experience in Afghanistan, they put 620,000 soldiers on the ground in Afghanistan," Gen. Franks has said. "And I think the results of that particular approach to the Afghan problem are recorded well in history."
Mr. Rumsfeld, who is leery of creating a wide-ranging international peacekeeping force, supports his commander's strategy.
"We ought to keep doing what it is we're doing," he told troops last week, "and try to get other coalition forces and the Afghan national army and border patrol and police force built up sufficiently so they can provide adequate security in the country and keep al Qaeda and Taliban from reassembling and attempting to take back over."
Gen. Moore said the coalition had one big advantage over the Soviet occupiers: The latter were not wanted, while most Afghans seemed to want the American presence.
"[The Soviets] never had any sympathy from the Afghan people," he said. "They had little coalition with the tribes. They were not interested in doing any nation building for the people."

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