GROUND BREAKING INTERVIEW WITH TOP SOVIET/RUSSIAN EXPERT ON AFGHANISTAN
Colonel Eugene Khrushchev’s last post in Afghanistan was in 2006 as First Secretary of the Russian Embassy in Kabul. Khrushchev serves today as Editor of Veterans Today and Military Affairs Analyst of Russia Today)
> (Question) In a 2001 BBC interview, just after 9/11, you stated that to be
> effective in Afghanistan, America’s military must exclusively use Special
> Forces and air support, as opposed to invading with a large conventional
> force. The Taliban was subsequently defeated in accord with that tactic.
> Fast-forward to today; we have a large conventional force in-country, the
> efficacy of which is hotly debated. Why did you feel that way back then and
> how would you advise President Obama today?
> (Col. Khrushchev) Before fielding the questions, let me set the record
> straight about the Taliban. It’s a fact that Taliban government in
> Afghanistan was toppled by US invasion, but it’s an oft-repeated fiction
> that Taliban force was defeated in the initial stage of the occupation. In
> the fog of war, ISI smartly executed strategic pullback of its Taliban
> assets to their breeding & staging area in Pakistan.
> Back then I thought the Fort Bragg should take the lead to conduct a massive
> SOF blitzkrieg and would invoke a concept of ‘hot pursuit’ to cross the
> Afghan/Pakistani border to ‘kill or capture’ UBL and to disrupt, dismantle &
> destroy Al Qaeda, the Taliban, Hekmatyar & Haqqani outfits on the run. Alas,
> the right thing was done the wrong way and a tactical counter-terrorism op
> has morphed into half-baked COIN-LITE strategic mission creep in the shadow
> of the Opium War against the World.
> No offence to the Chief Executive, but I wouldn’t bother him with my opinion
> due to his information overload and conflicting priorities. I’d rather have
> a confidential coffee klatch with the Chief of Staff of the National
> Security Council, Dennis McDonough, to present my AfPak vision. For
> starters, I’d offer this maxim: when it comes to Afghanistan, think about
> Pakistan; forget about political expediency – get real or get out.
> (Question) The Northern Alliance was a misleading name because this group
> enjoyed the popular support of several ethnic groups, including Pashtuns,
> and from all over the country, not just in the North. That was then. Now
> that the Northern Alliance has been largely absorbed into the Karzai
> apparatus, could you estimate the level of popular support received by the
> Taliban throughout Afghanistan today?
> (Col. Khrushchev) If you consider The Northern Alliance a misleading name,
> would you agree that the North Atlantic Coalition label sounds a little
> kinky in landlocked Afghanistan? My informed guess is that since Kandahar is
> definitely Taliban hotbed in Southern Afghanistan, the ragtag opposition,
> for the sake of self-identity and for the lack of imagination, assumed the
> opposite toponymic title. Now, back to your question.
> First off, ‘support’ as metrics is highly misleading: there’s no such thing
> as indigenous ‘support’ in Afghanistan, and has never been for either side –
> for the Soviets vs. ‘freedom fighters’ or for US/ISAF vs. the Taliban (the
> usual suspects, old ‘freedom fighters’ leading the next generation of
> mujaheddin ).
> Mind you, out there everything, not only politics, is local. Afghans,
> despite their tribal differences, are notoriously independent: they just
> want to be left to their own devices and ‘support’ anybody only if they are
> forced to, because they consider any unexpected & unwelcomed ‘guests’, be it
> from the USSR, the USA, Pakistan or the neighboring hamlet, as hostile
> intruders to be treated accordingly.
> The intrinsic fallacy of the population-centric COIN is its obsession with
> ‘hearts & minds’ – whatever you pay, you can’t buy local loyalty, trust and
> Instead of guestimating ‘support’, it would be more appropriate to evaluate
> the impact, influence and control the warring sides exert over the
> (Question) When your military forces departed Afghanistan in 1989, you left
> a highly competent President in control of that country, Dr. Mohammed
> Najibullah; a ruler widely considered to be politically astute, an effective
> military strategist, and as the former head of the Afghan intelligence
> services, very well informed. He lasted over three years before the Taliban
> were able to take over Kabul, where they dragged him and his brother out of
> the United Nations compound and brutally executed them. Could you compare
> his capabilities with those of President Karzai?
> (Col. Khrushchev) What are you talking about? How could I compare The Iron
> Lion with The Palace Peacock, the national leader & helmsman with expat
> poppy puppet? Contrary to the doomsayers who claimed that his regime would
> collapse the very next day after the Soviet Army pullout, he outlasted the
> USSR in his forlorn battle against the US, Saudi Arabia, Iran &Pakistan. As
> a man of honor & dignity he refused to leave the native country and take
> refuge abroad.
> Now, let’s imagine the unimaginable – the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.
> Karzai will scramble for the first flight to Dubai and his narco-corrupted
> house of cards collapses before his plane will taxi tarmac in OAE, unless or
> until the Taliban will announce him their Ambassador to the US.
>(QUESTION) Abdul Sayyaf is a lawmaker in the current Afghan government, and considered
> “loyal” to President Karzai, notwithstanding Sayyaf’s differing political
> views. And yet this is the same person that extended the invitation to Osama
> Bin Laden to base his operations in Afghanistan.
> Furthermore, in 2004 President Karzai named Fazal Hadi
> Shinwari as Chief Justice of their Supreme Court.
> Shinwari wants Taliban style punishment throughout Afghanistan, and
> reactivated the Taliban’s defunct Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and
> Vice (not to be confused with the Saudi Arabian version; the Committee for
> the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice), only Shinwari renamed
> it the Ministry of Haj and Religious Affairs.
> (Question) Is President Karzai so spooked by the fate of Dr. Najibullah,
> and of his own father, who was also killed by the Taliban, that he lacks the
> courage to insist on women’s rights and similar, non Stone Age era laws? Or
> do you envision him acquiescing to anything the Taliban desires, such as
> their practice of denying women access to hospitals?
> (Col. Khrushchev) Ironically, in Soviet times Afghanistan used to be called
> DRA, Democratic Republic of Afghanistan. It was the only period in the
> country history when women’s rights were fully enforced against the
> acid-splashing ‘freedom-fighters’. Nowadays, in American times, it’s IRA,
> Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, where it’s just fine to stone, mutilate and
> nosecut women while negotiating with the Butcher of Afghanistan, the same
> acid-splashing Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. As the time goes by, the only difference
> between Karzai regime and the Taliban will be the impunity, corruption and
> major stake in drug production.
> (Question) In the spring of 2001, the leader of the Northern Alliance, the
> late Ahmed Shah Massoud, addressed the European Parliament in Brussels.
> During this address he stated that the Taliban wouldn’t last a year without
> Pakistan’s support. How dependent are the Taliban on Pakistan today, and is
> Saudi Arabia still financially supporting the Taliban?
> (Col. Khrushchev) As I have already indicated, the Taliban, together with
> Lashkar-e Toiba and other extremist & terrorist outfits in the region, are
> totally under ISI control. Wahhabi & Salafi influence over the madrasa
> network in Pakistan, radicalizing new generation of mujahedin, is much more
> important than Saudi Arabia direct or otherwise financial support of AfPak
> Talib Bros.
> (QUESTION) Over the last week and a half there have been remarkably public
> proclamations by three of our most senior general officers, in which they
> make their case to extend our large scale presence in Afghanistan beyond the
> July, 2011 date which President Obama set for the beginning of a withdrawal.
> I refer to General David Petraeus, the commander of all American forces in
> Afghanistan; Lt. General William Caldwell, the commander in charge of
> building the Afghan army; and General James Conway, the Commandant of the US
> Marine Corps.
> Do you believe they were providing
> political cover for an imminent announcement by President Obama that July
> 2011 is off the table? Or the alternative; they were inappropriately using
> their status to pressure the President, through the news media, to rescind
> his July 2011 directive?
> (Col. Khrushchev) I’d rephrase your question this way: who is manipulating
> whom? The President pulling it over the Pentagon, or the other way around?
> My read is the top brass, tempted by POTUS ‘strategic ambiguity’, has picked
> up the baton from Gen. McChrystal and resumed ‘managing upward’ in a subtle
> fashion to dilute & delete the meaning of the ‘deadline’. I’ve seen that
> before: from victory to success, from success to progress, from progress to
> process…It’s called expectations scale down in perception management.
> (Question) Please summarize the current ISAF opium eradication policy.
> (Col. Khrushchev) I have extensively covered the US & NATO drug-promotion
> strategy in Afghanistan. A lousy& losing Coalition of the Unwitting, ISAF is
> in search of its evanescent self-identity and therefore, is incapable to
> articulate any policy. As NATO miscarriage, it fully ‘supports & assists’
> narco-production and corruption lest narco-farmers and public officials get
> offended and jump on Taliban bandwagon. To translate ISAF as ‘International
> Support and Assistance Force’ is a misnomer. McChrystal Team America’s
> disdain encapsulates a much more accurate reading: ‘In Sandals And
> Flip-flops’ and ‘I saw Americans Fighting’.
> (Question) In that same BBC interview nine years ago, you were asked if you
> would return to Afghanistan to assist American Special Forces, an
> organization you have considerable experience with, and you answered that if
> ordered to, you would be glad to work with your American SOF friends in
> Afghanistan. Last year you stated, “Russia’s role in stabilizing the
> situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan has been underestimated.”
> Early in 2009 Secretary of State Clinton presented Foreign
> Minister Lavrov with a “reset button” as part of the Obama administration’s
> announced desire to reset the US-Russian relationship. This has already
> produced unprecedented cooperation; in the proposed Beringia National Park,
> and especially in the recent Operation Vigilant Eagle. In October of 1996,
> when the Taliban took over Kabul and threatened to extend their rule
> throughout northern Afghanistan, two Afghan generals, Abdul Rashid Dostum
> and Ahmad Shah Massoud, met for the first time in three years, in an old
> Soviet guesthouse.
> They ended their own rivalry and signed the document that created the
> Northern Alliance. Present at that guesthouse was Oleg Nevelayev, a Russian
> Consul General. He announced that Russia was determined to oppose the
> Taliban. Today, our two countries truly share a common, vile enemy.
> In light of that fact, and of the “reset”, what is preventing
> bolder steps, namely American and Russian Federation forces cooperating to
> destroy the Taliban?
> (Col. Khrushchev) Actually, since that BBC interview, I did return to
> Afghanistan. First, in unofficial capacity on a fact-finding mission in 05,
> and then, officially, as Russian Embassy 1st Secretary in ’06.
> Despite the fact that the Russian President was the first to offer succor to
> the White House after the 9/11, it was US Cold War hangover and hubris that
> have effectively torpedoed our bilateral cooperation in Afghanistan. Russia
> has opened up air corridor, has written off $12bil of Afghan debt and did
> provide all imaginable actionable intelligence on terrorists and druglords –
> only to watch in frustration the action of NATO, corruption & drug expansion
> in Afghanistan.