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Will Russia Repeat Horrors of Afghanistan in Georgia?Tim King Salem-News.com
If the ghosts of Afghanistan were given voices, they would warn against the behavior of Russian military forces.
(KABUL, Afghanistan) - I will never forget the horror stories about the Russians in Afghanistan. People there harbor a hatred so fierce and venomous toward the former Soviets that it is hard to describe with words.
The Soviets invaded Afghanistan for a decade, beginning in 1979. It happened because the Afghans weren't toeing the Communist line. I hate to wonder how many similarities there are between what is happening in Georgia today and what happened to Afghanistan.
In the end, the Russians fled Afghanistan like a wounded dog with its tail between its legs... in total and complete defeat and disgrace. The eastern masters of technology and warfare were undermined by a handful of dedicated Mujahideen fighters armed with American rocket launchers.
Military conflict always means death, but the Russian way of fighting goes far beyond killing the enemy. Soviet forces in Afghanistan, like in other wars, hurled stones against the very fabric of humanity with their treatment of local women. Rape and sexual abuse are not easily forgiven by the rugged men of this mountainous land, and the Kremlin paid a toll for its policies toward people the likes of which they never imagined.
Everywhere in Afghanistan today, particularly around Kabul and Jalalabad, are children and young adults with Russian features. They are the products of the brutality that accompanied this invasion.
Filleting Russian Officers
The U.S. mission in Afghanistan is probably the only invasion of this country that has ever really been accepted by the people here. While it is not without faults and problems, it is a genuine effort to improve life for the people of Afghanistan and most of them accept that and even appreciate Americans. When U.S. and Coalition forces are in the area, fewer Afghan civilians find themselves in the line of fire. That is a fact.
One patrol that I went on in Kabul was an intelligence mission and the platoon had an intelligence officer attached who was a "mustang" lieutenant. A mustang is a military officer who was previously enlisted. These officers often command an elevated level of respect, as the troops know he literally emerged from their ranks.
This lieutenant met a local village elder along the way that he had known over the last several months. This interaction is key for an intelligence officer as they learn the local perspective and gain information on insurgent activity in the area and gauge the concerns of those who are charged with keeping an eye on things in their respective neighborhoods.
The stories the village elder shared were chilling, to say the least. He is one of the Kabul Mujahideen who drove the Russian invaders out of this country. Today he seems to enjoy trying to make the Americans lose their lunch by talking about what they would do to Russian officers when they captured them. He motioned to a building that was just a few yards away from where we paused to visit on a Kabul street, not far from the Jalalabad Highway. He said they would take the officers into the building and lash them to a table, and they would literally cut them into pieces, while they were alive. He beamed brightly in a way that only the sweetest revenge must bring, as he told the stories of the suffering of these men.
It is just a small amount of insight toward what it must be like to have to stand by while soldiers are allowed to pillage women. This man's brutal memory is also a reminder that the way Russians carry out aggression is as close to unforgivable as it gets. If this takes place in Georgia today then the people will be motivated to carry out acts of revenge that are unimaginable by western standards.
Ghosts and Haunted Castles
Sadly, the same stories accompany the Khyar Khot Forward Operating Base in Afghanistan. It is a castle fort built by the British in the 1870's during their war there.
Local Afghans say the castle is haunted by the ghosts of people who were killed there and they steer clear of it. To make the saga even darker, the Taliban took the castle over and also used it as an execution center. The place certainly has a dark feeling that is hard to miss.
I was there in January, 2007 when the winter had Afghanistan in a deep chill. The drafty buildings were finished with typical Russian workmanship and staying warm was a challenge. The castle was a typical expression of the cold and bitter legacy of the wars that have happened there.
Death in a Chow Hall
Kabul was the center of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, as it is for the Americans today. This is the country's capital. Many buildings that American and other Coalition forces use today were built during the ten-year Soviet invasion of 1979-1980.
Most are solid but far from ideally constructed. One consistent thing I noticed was the way Russians build stairs that are of different heights and sizes. There are western changes and additions in place and one that I noticed right away at every chow hall, was a line of sinks with hot water and soap.
I was shocked to learn that the chow hall at what is now known as Camp Phoenix in Kabul, is where many Russians met their deaths from Hepatitis in the late 1980's.
This happened primarily over the Russian's lack of proper, sanitary hygiene. Even in the modern age, they did not have hand-washing standards or requirements in place for the cooks or the troops before they ate, and Hepatitis overwhelmed the bases. It was accompanied by other afflictions like dysentery, typhoid, pneumonia and drug abuse.
Camp Phoenix in particular, was an example of where the disease began with food preparation and was passed out on cafeteria trays. Today every person who eats there washes with hot water before entering the chow hall or "defac" as it is called in the Army; short for dining facility.
Purveyors of Environmental Havoc
Anyone who has seen the movie "The Beast" or "The Beast of War" as it is also known, was likely horrified at the depiction of a Russian tank crew during the 1980's. The tankers become lost in the Kandahar Valley of Afghanistan after singling out a village and nearly leveling it. The movie is about the Afghans tracking down the lost Russians in the tank or "the beast".
The storyline pits one decent Russian soldier against a tank commander who has no pity in his heart for anyone. It explores the Afghan struggle for independence and the quest to defeat and eject the Soviet invaders.
The movie shows Russian forces purposely poisoning water wells in Afghanistan and this really happened. They did this all over this country that is now devoid of trees and fresh water especially in Kabul. The ten years brought an end to an otherwise calm and peaceful country.
Afghanistan had existed as a fairly free and open society under Communism throughout the 1950's, 60's and 70's. They were not part of the Soviet Union, but a country nonetheless connected to Moscow.
Their desire to have religious freedom brought the wrath of the Kremlin, and the Soviet invasion supposedly happened at the request of the former Communist Afghan government. The Afghan Army of that time worked with the Soviets, as they do today work with American forces.
One character in "The Beast" was an interpreter who spoke Russian and Dari. The drill is exactly the same today and the actor reminded me of several English-speaking Afghan interpreters I met while covering the war there.
Today Afghanistan is littered with Soviet tanks, trucks, armored personnel carriers and other vehicles. Many are in remote locations and they are sometimes burned out hulks. Children sometimes play on them.
Around the Kabul Military Training Center, the Afghan Army boot camp, there are hundreds and hundreds of these vehicles lined up near bombed out buildings. To make things more interesting, they are located in a mine field and as I walked around photographing these relics, a local Afghan ordinance removal team asked me to avoid a particular area. The landmines are another example of how littered this place is as a result of the Russians.
If the Russians treat Georgia's people and environment the way they treated Afghanistan, then the future for this part of Europe is very dark.
Tim King is a former U.S. Marine with twenty years of experience on the west coast as a television news producer, photojournalist, reporter and assignment editor. Today, in addition to his role as a war correspondent in Afghanistan where he spent the winter of 2006/07, this Los Angeles native serves as Salem-News.com's Executive News Editor. Salem-News.com is the nation's only truly independent high traffic news Website, affiliated with Google News and several other major search engines and news aggregators. Tim's coverage from Iraq that was set to begin in April has been delayed and may not take place until August, 2008. You can send Tim an email at this address: firstname.lastname@example.org
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