The Soviets and Afghanistan, Part III

by Michael Crowley | September 3, 2009

I know I've already made my point, but I remain fascinated by Soviet savagery in Afghanistan, and America's wholly different moral and strategic approach there. Today, there's an (understandable) outcry whenever a U.S. airstrike targeting Taliban fighters also kills a handful of civilians--as when an early August raid left four civilians dead near Kandahar, stirring local outrage and wide media coverage. Now, consider this 1984 NYT account of Soviet tactics in northern Afghanistan:

Several hundred civilians have reportedly been killed in Afghanistan in a sweep by Soviet troops backed by tanks and helicopter gunships through a valley north of the capital....

One Western source said the Soviet forces appeared to have embarked on a renewed effort to crush popular backing for the guerrillas. Last week's drive, in which Afghan Government forces played some part, was said to be part of an increased Soviet effort over the last six months to strike at civilians supporting the rebels, especially in the Shomali region.

The informants said the Soviet troops concentrated their attacks on the village of Istalif, a rebel stronghold 30 miles north of Kabul, the capital. Soviet soldiers were said to have surrounded the village before dawn last Thursday and to have captured and killed some guerrillas and their families. One diplomat said he had been told that Soviet troops bayoneted large numbers of women and children, shot young Afghan males and burned a number of homes before withdrawing at dawn. Tanks, armored personnel carriers and helicopter gunships were then said to have bombarded the village....

An Afghan exile here said the marketplace at Istalif had been destroyed. Istalif was the scene of heavy bombings by Soviet forces last November and December when an estimated 500 people were killed.

Stanley McChrystal's approach to Afghans who support the rebels is to try and win them over with better security and governance. The Russian approach was to slaughter them.

Photo: Soviet helicopters after an attack on a camel caravan from Pakistan. (Alexander Lyakhovsky archive)

Source URL: http://www.newrepublic.com//blog/the-plank/the-soviets-and-afghanistan-part-iii