MOSCOW (AP) - The prospect of a U.S. attack on Afghanistan brings
an ominous message from veterans of the Soviet Union's decade-long
war with Afghan guerrillas: You'll never win.
``You can occupy it, you can put troops there and keep bombing,
but you cannot win,'' said Lt. Gen. Ruslan Aushev, who was decorated
for bravery during the 1979-89 war.
The Soviet Union's brutal conflict in the mountainous land helped
bring about the superpower's collapse. The Soviet Union said it
lost 15,000 troops in Afghanistan, and unofficial estimates are
Moscow sent troops to Afghanistan to back a fledgling leftist
government against Islamic rebels supported by the United States.
The Taliban militia who now rule most of the country have sheltered
Osama bin Laden, whom the United States suspects of masterminding
last week's terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the
Any nation sheltering bin Laden faces ``the full wrath'' of the
United States, Vice President Dick Cheney said Sunday.
But even if U.S. officials are certain bin Laden is in Afghanistan,
it may be impossible to find him there, Aushev said in a telephone
interview Tuesday from the Russian region of Ingushetia, of which
he is president.
``It's as easy to lose yourself in the mountains as in the jungle,''
he said. ``They'll find him only if they're ready to go over 500,000
square kilometers (200,000 square miles) rock by rock.''
Renowned warriors, the people of Afghanistan have staved off
many a foreign enemy. Like the Soviet Union and Britain, which
attempted to conquer the country in the 19th century, the United
States is destined to fail, Aushev said.
``America doesn't want to kill 20 million Afghans,'' he said,
implying that nothing short of genocide could win a war in Afghanistan.
``No matter how they prepare for a ground operation, it is hopeless,''
said Yevgeny Zelenov, a member of the Russian parliament and a
veteran of the Soviet war.
U.S. troops would be facing a people who have learned to ``sleep
and live with their weapons,'' he said.
After the Soviet occupation, violence among rival factions killed
more than 50,000 people. And fighting between the Taliban, who
preach the idea of holy war, and the northern-based opposition
alliance has continued since the Islamic fundamentalist militia
took power in 1996.
But Alexei Arbatov, deputy chairman of the Russian parliament's
defense committee, said U.S. officials have the advantage of Soviet
experience as they plan their campaign.
Moscow has amassed in-depth knowledge of Afghanistan's terrain
and may still have valuable intelligence contacts that it could
share with Washington. But the United States may be able to learn
the most from Soviet mistakes, Arbatov said.
``At a minimum, the experience of Russia in Afghanistan is already
influencing the U.S. in the sense that the United States is not
planning - and I am convinced will never plan - to bring in a
big contingent of ground troops with the goal of occupying
Afghanistan,'' he said at a news conference.
But because of the abundance of hiding places, missile strikes
without a ground operation are destined to be nothing but ``noise,
aimed at showing the government is doing something,'' Zelenov
Khulkar Yusupov, who covered the Soviet war for the newspaper
Komsomolskaya Pravda, said he doubted the United States could
pinpoint military targets and avoid heavy civilian casualties.
During the Soviet war, Yusupov was most disturbed by the suffering
among the already impoverished civilian population. ``You can't
just pinpoint one gorge there. If you hit one gorge, you hit all
the nearby villages,'' he said.
of Terror in the US