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PostPosted: Mon Sep 25, 2006 6:54 pm 
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You will be driven from Afghanistan just as we were, Russian generals warn
By Helen Womack in Moscow

(Filed: 24/09/2006)

British troops will be forced to flee Afghanistan, say former Soviet commanders who oversaw Moscow's disastrous campaign against the mujahedeen in the 1980s.

In a withering assessment of the "hopeless" campaign being waged there, they have told The Sunday Telegraph that mounting casualties will drive out Britain and its Nato allies. Chillingly, Gen Ruslan Aushev, who was injured during fighting with mujahedeen rebels, predicted: "You will flee from there."

He added: "Many have fought in Afghanistan; first and foremost, the British fought there in the 19th century. The astonishing thing today is that Nato and the coalition seem to have learnt nothing, neither from their own experience nor from our experience."

The bleak analysis comes only days after Des Browne, the Defence Secretary, admitted that "the Taliban's tenacity has been a surprise", an acknowledgement of recent disclosures in this newspaper that troops are on the point of "exhaustion" because of the lack of numbers and equipment.

It will add to mounting concern over the deployment of 3,600 - British troops to Afghanistan's troubled southern provinces this summer, which has led to the deaths of 15 servicemen at the hands of a rejuvenated Taliban.

Yesterday, Gen Sir Richard Dannatt, the chief of the General Staff, was forced to deny claims by a senior officer that the RAF's performance in Afghanistan had been "utterly, utterly useless".

Responding to emails written by Major James Loden of 3 Para, he said: "This is difficult and dangerous work but we are doing it successfully because we are doing it as a team."

Numbers of wounded are far higher than has been made public, according to a major in the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers last week, a concern first revealed in The Sunday Telegraph. Gen Dannatt denied there was any deliberate cover-up.

It is a far cry from John Reid's declaration on a visit to Afghanistan as defence secretary in April that he would "be perfectly happy to leave in three years and without firing one shot".

Veterans of the former Soviet forces know all too well the risks and dangers facing British troops and their Nato counterparts.

Having invaded to support Kabul's pro-communist government in 1979, they soon found themselves fighting American-backed tribal mujahedeen at a cost of 15,000 Russian lives, despite brutal efforts to suppress the uprising.

The Soviet Union pulled out its 100,000-strong force a decade later, a demoralising defeat that was a factor in the eventual collapse of the communist regime.

Gen Boris Gromov, overall commander of Soviet forces in Afghanistan who supervised their withdrawal in 1989, said in written correspondence with The Sunday Telegraph that Britain, America and their Nato allies appeared to be suffering the same backlash.

Whatever their disagreements with Taliban militants or warlords in their midst, said Gen Gromov, Afghans tended to unite against outsiders when they deemed them no longer welcome. He said there had been a "large number of victims" on both sides, a possible reference to American airstrikes against suspected Taliban and al-Qaeda militants in which civilians are also reported to have died.

"The Afghan resistance is, in my opinion, growing," he wrote. "Such behaviour on the part of the intractable Afghans is to my mind understandable. It is conditioned by centuries of tradition… geography, climate and religion.

"We saw over a period of many years how the country was torn apart by civil war… But in the face of outside aggression, Afghans have always put aside their differences and united. Evidently, the coalition forces have also been seen as a threat to the nation."

The former Soviet commanders point out that they had enjoyed the advantages of a functioning and politically sympathetic domestic government in Kabul, and a 100,000 strong Afghan army on their side. Its equivalent today is a quarter of the size and still being trained by coalition forces.

"It was a 100,000 strong army with aviation, armoured vehicles and artillery," said Gen Aushev. "Their officers were trained in Moscow and they were more or less battle-ready. Now I just don't see the Afghan army."

Opium was a local crop, instead of the export industry that it has become. "Now opium is a major business and no one is going to get rid of that," added Col Oleg Kulakov, who served as a military translator during the Afghan war and is now Professor of Geopolitics at the Moscow Defence University. "Each warlord has his own stake in it; sometime his power is completely based on drugs."

He added: "The only thing in the West's favour is that you have allies, while we were isolated."

Gen Aushev believed that the Americans, who have 18,000 troops in Afghanistan, were attempting to pave the way for a quiet exit by asking for more soldiers from allies such as Britain and Poland.

"The Americans can't have another Vietnam, so they are saving face. They will say, 'We did not withdraw; it was the Australians, the British who withdrew'."

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