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Aug-10-2008 14:03printcomments

Will Russia Repeat Horrors of Afghanistan in Georgia?

If the ghosts of Afghanistan were given voices, they would warn against the behavior of Russian military forces.

Salem-News.com
Soviet tank barrel points at a history of modern day war atrocities. Photos of Afghanistan by Tim King Salem-News.com

(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.

Kabul children in 2006

The patterns of abuse carried out by Russian soldiers at war is well documented and it rings of some of the most primitive and cruel behavior ever recorded.

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.


Navy Chief Petty Officer Lucas Hooper in a haunted
castle tower. Locals believe the Khyar Khot Castle
is haunted by ghosts of people that were tortured
and murdered there. Photo by: Tim King

Today it is occupied by American, Romanian and Afghan forces. During the Soviet invasion, the castle was refurbished from ruin and became a Soviet rape and torture center. They would round up local women and girls and bring them here and people who live in the area were subjected to the sounds of their screams. They also used the premises to torture Afghan prisoners and execute people.

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: newsroom@salem-news.com




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Telford August 14, 2008 1:06 pm (Pacific time)

Henry et al: Our problems with the Soviet Union has been going on long before Nixon and his Sec. of State Kissinger were in power. Some of you may remember back in the fifties when Kruchev(sp?) pounded his shoe at the UN and ultimately saying he would bury us within 20 years. Or during JFK's administration that dealt with the Cuban missle crisis, which was averted when JFK took bold action and the Soviets heeled to that pressure. Currently what's going on in Georgia is just a taste of what is about to begin unless we act boldly once again and challenge Russia's war footing (because that's what it is!) by telling them in concrete terms that we will protect those countries that are 1) pursuing a democratic form of government and 2) if they ask for our help. Russia has been the belligerent and they must be taken to task. Had JFK allowed the Soviets to permanently park their nukes in Cuba the Soviet Union never would have broken apart. Russia's primary goal is to reconstitute itself and killing thousands (which they already have done) is not a problem for them. From an historical perspective, we allowed Russia to gain too much power during WWII, and we have paid dearly for that error by both FDR and Truman. Also Ike to a minor degree. To put todays problem at the foot of any recent presidential administration fails to understand the real context of history, and/or one may have a political agenda that is deceptive and very misleading. My guess is that understanding history along with it's ebbs and flows can be very difficult to grasp. Years ago I was told, and as I passed on to my students, do not apply your values, standards and mores to other cultures, ergo, know thy foe, before you act.


Henry Ruark August 13, 2008 6:13 pm (Pacific time)

To all: For those needing historical fill-in, Kissinger and Nixon authorized CIA to disrupt elected governance in Chile, S.A.'s longest active democracy, assassinate elected President Allende,install Gen. Pinochet, who became dictator --then sought Friedman/Chicago School neocon economic help leading to disasters across South America ever since. Surely Tel must know this; information from declassified State Dept. files in 1999. His friend may have been involved in what became opening act in the S/A economic debacle. IF you want further War for Empire, and further murder of dissidents and populace, your choice is clear.


Henry Ruark August 13, 2008 5:02 pm (Pacific time)

Tel et al: Disregard incomplete just sent via eMac in revolt...!! Must be necessity to stomach stuff such as yours re history since 1917...obviously your "friend in the State Dept." must be close associate of that other international brigand named Kissinger. Re current events, simple Simon understands "choice": War or Peace. IF we roust the Bear hard enough, even now in dissolute, degenerating old age, he may just claw a few of our NATO "friends". THEN WE IN DEEP DOODOO since that will demand we drop the Big One rapidly --"before they do !"-- or ELSE ! If you remember so clearly r Truman-Stalin, then you should also recall MAD: Mutually Assured Destruction, still the natural order of all things atomic --brought on by Reagan worldwide/domination threat via space-based "defense". If you wish more of same neocon nonsensities which got us here, choice is entirely clear...despite your obvious ploy re your vote-witheld. Ha! We have some inattentive readers here, due to overall distractions in modern life, but none are really that stupid re where you cometh from...waste of time and attention to go further, so "Goomby, friend Tel !". Say Hi to Kissinger from me...and ask him to pat old pal Pinochet on back next time they meet, even if extremely hot there !!


Telford August 13, 2008 1:07 pm (Pacific time)

Henry things have been less than ideal between us and Russia/Soviet Union and Russia again since 1917, actually since the 1890's. I know a number of experts in this area of the world, in fact a good friend of over 40 years who retired from the State Department has been talking about Russian expansion coming soon for many years now. He was posted all over eastern Europe as well as Russia (Soviet Union), and would not put current conflict(s) at the feet of any presidential administration as he mentioned to me earlier today, it is far more complex than offering that simplification as per him. He feels that we should immediately demand that Georgia and the Ukraine be admitted into NATO. Russia would crap in their pants. As it is now they will use their natural gas leverage over Europe to get all kinds of concessions. Our next president is one who will need considerable experience in dealing with this old foe of ours. Henry remember when Truman met Stalin? He went on record saying "I can do business with this man!" We know how that worked out. What I liked earlier was when McCain (who does not have my vote,as of today) said he sees "K-G-B" in the eyes of Putin. Anyway there are many experts out there coming from all sides, but my friend says one thing I buy and that is both Russia and China respect power, not talkers. I agree, best defense is a good offense. The Russians will never stop trying to get their Soviet Union back, never! The 1950's may be back with us.


Henry Ruark August 13, 2008 11:11 am (Pacific time)

Tel et al: Depends, as always on source for your "news": Bush et al have undermined UN for years with precisely this kind of action in view. International sources show covert hand of U.S. at work for long time, to make Georgia our puppet, as in others, in preparation for snatch of oil and gas regional control. We may have re-awakened the Russian Bear, with new "Cold War" in prospect,demonstrated by our impotency here. Russia owns $50 billion in F-Mae "security", can create sabotage of U.S. economic recovery anytime by demanding rapid liquidation, setting all payments for R-oil ONLY in rubles and euros. We had to settle anyway we could... Cheney badly overplayed hand on this one, and we will come to regret it very painfully, as did British long ago in same empire/oil game.


Telford August 13, 2008 6:48 am (Pacific time)

The Russians had been planning this attack on Georgia for quite some time, especially evident when you see the logistics that were in place . I imagine our intelligence services had a pretty good idea it was going to happen, just not when. Doing it during the Olympics was one way to keep it at a lower level of public notice/coverage. I would imagine Edwards was happy to see it happen to minimize the coverage on his marital misbehaviors. Seth how do you think the Afghani's liked the Taliban's leadership methods in comparison to the Russians? I would imagine you would need a poll that would get a good cross-section of the population to answer that question. I have not heard of any large gatherings hoping for the Taliban to come back and take over. Ditto for Iraq and getting a new dictator of Saddam's leadership style. I t does now appear that Iraq is starting to stablize, certainly a lot less violent than here in the states. Are you familiar with our violent crime rates Seth?


Seth Bennett August 12, 2008 6:00 pm (Pacific time)

Anyone reading this article might consider renting the movie 'Charlie Wilson's War.' It gives a great background regarding our efforts to help the Afghan resistance to kick the Russians out. It is also a damn good movie starring Tom Hanks. I do not have the knowledge or qualifications to judge whether the Russians or the Afghans were more cruel. But I do think the Russians should not come in there, nor the USA into Iraq.


Telford August 12, 2008 10:04 am (Pacific time)

This conflict clearly demonstrates the impotence of the United Nations when major powers are involved. Plus these major powers will never subordinate their soverignty to the United Nations. Maybe it's time to use the UN for 3rd world problem resolutions, and allow the major powers to create their own alliance (something bigger and more inclusive than NATO) to head-off future conflicts between them. Moving the UN to a different country may also help with a re-defined mission. Possibly in Kenya, this would allow more resources to be concentrated in an area of the world where they are needed. Just too much corruption going on in the New York City area. Maybe after nearly 70 years it's time for a move?


Vic August 12, 2008 6:54 am (Pacific time)

Right on, sts..and I would add that I believe it was Israel and the US's intent to hamstring Russia so it would not be able or willing to intervene when we attack Iran. Anyone who thinks Russia is weak militarily is simply naive. And anyone who thinks our military acts for the good of AMERICA is naive also.


sts August 11, 2008 11:10 am (Pacific time)

THought maybe I would give you the facts since mainstream media wont. The eve of August 7, 2008, Georgia (backed by U.S. and Israel), launched a raid on South Ossetia. It was a sneak attack that killed countless citizens and pinned down the Russian Police. So, Russia retaliated to go in and rescue them. The media of the western world is gotten so bad, with false info, I dont even pay attention to them anymore. This was all instigated by the U.S. and Israel. They have been planning this for months, and did it during the start of the Olympics to distract.


rjerryc August 10, 2008 6:33 pm (Pacific time)

Strange how quickly we complain of any country invading another - unless we are the invaders. We invaded Iraq with no true justification, only lies. We are still there. We can make ourselves feel better by saying that we got rid of a cruel dictator but the reality is that the manner in which Saddam handled his country was the only manner the people of that country truly understood. He was able to maintain control and we cannot do that after all the time we have been there. Yes, his means were cruel by our standards but they were the heritage and life of the Iraqi people.


Tony August 10, 2008 3:02 pm (Pacific time)

"This is the country's capitol." I don't think capitol means what you think it means... And while it's always great to rejoice at the stories of the suffering of Russians being cut to pieces alive, you might want to consider that this kind of tribal violence is more common among afghanis than Russians, and was perhaps not imported but locally acquired? As far as atrocities in Georgia, it may serve us well to remember that Stalin and Beria (in charge of KGB during WW2) were both georgian, and populated the KGB with more than half of their fellow Georgians. The largest atrocities of the last century were committed by this group, might want to remember.

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Sean Flynn was a photojournalist in Vietnam, taken captive in 1970 in Cambodia and never seen again.