RUZA, Russia (Reuters) - Violence will erupt in Afghanistan once NATO-led forces complete their planned pullout, repeating the aftermath following the Soviet exit, the head of Russia’s Union of Afghan Veterans said in an interview.
Moscow is still haunted by its own disastrous, decade-long war in Afghanistan, where some 15,000 Soviet soldiers died fighting mujahideen insurgents before pulling out in 1989.
Frants Klintsevich, also a deputy in the Russian parliament, said he understands the desire to try to tame Afghanistan, but that “the problem of radical Islam will not be solved there, its violence cannot be solved. It is simply unsolvable.”
He spoke to Reuters at an annual veterans’ convention just outside of Moscow, where he conducted a wreath-laying ceremony with generals in full military regalia, many left blinded or crippled. Russian veterans are so tightly tied to the catastrophic conflict, they refer to themselves as “Afghans.”
An increasingly unpopular war now in its tenth year, violence in Afghanistan has intensified. In 2010 all sides took record casualties, making it the worst year since U.S.-backed Afghan forces overthrew the Taliban government in late 2001.
“As soon as the Americans and Europeans leave, the Taliban will crack down on everything,” said Klintsevich, 53, who as a colonel between 1986-88 won praise from Moscow for quickly learning the Dari language and using it to negotiate with mujahideen.
After the dispirited Soviet exit, the Afghan communist government collapsed, leading to infighting between warlords, a civil war that reduced Kabul to rubble and paved the way for the Taliban’s rise to power in 1996.
With around 100,000 troops, the U.S. has the lion’s share of up to 150,000 NATO-led foreign forces in Afghanistan. In its time, the Soviet Union sent 115,000 troops.
U.S. President Barack Obama has promised to begin gradually bringing U.S. troops home from July, with NATO eyeing a full handover of security responsibilities to Afghan forces by the end of 2014.
“They (NATO and the United States) are 100 percent repeating the same mistake we made by entering into a war in that country,” Klintsevich said.
He said he wished the United States had consulted Russia before entering the war because Russia has more than 200 years’ experience of dealing with Afghanistan and is now vying to boost its clout in the country amid fears of growing Islamism.
“They should have invited Russian specialists, involved Russia, really studied how they could use Russia. But unfortunately Americans think they know everything,” he said.
Editing by Paul Tait and Daniel Magnowski