A Soviet Strategy For Afghanistan?

The Obama administration should shape its Afghan policy around the lessons learned from Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's policy in Afghanistan before the Soviet collapse, New Yorker writer Steve Coll says.

Coll, president of the nonpartisan New America Foundation think tank, made the point in a recent blog post for The New Yorker. Coll writes in the post that while planning the Soviet exit strategy from a deteriorating war in Afghanistan, Gorbachev "Afghanized" his military strategy by building up and deploying Afghan security forces to replace Soviet combat troops. Gorbachev also had a vision of regional stability and political reconciliation in the country, Coll says.

"He didn't seek a military solution," Coll tells Melissa Block. "He sought a political and diplomatic solution supported by military means. ... He succeeded until the Soviet Union collapsed, and then this strategy also collapsed."

Coll says the U.S. should pursue an "ink spot" strategy in Afghanistan, similar to the Soviet strategy under Gorbachev: control the cities, and the roads that connect them. During Gorbachev's era, Coll says, Afghans had well-defended island cities in which thousands of people lived securely.

"There were many women in the workforce, women in schools and from that the [Afghan] president would reach out and push out through political negotiations to try to bring more people into his fold," Coll says. "We have to wait and see what Gen. [Stanley] McChrystal exactly has in mind, but the tea leaves suggest that there's some similar vision enhanced by the greater credibility that the United States and international forces now enjoy in Afghanistan."

Still, Coll, the author of Ghost Wars, a book that charts the history of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan from the 1979 Soviet invasion to Sept. 11, 2001, calls the ink spot strategy the best of a series of bad military choices.

He says the U.S. has two main interests in Afghanistan: enhancing U.S. security at home, and preventing the conditions in Afghanistan that led to the Sept. 11 attacks.

"So then you reach the question: Well, then, what is the role of American investments and military forces in the achievement of that stability? And I think ... the answer can't be, we're going to occupy every square meter of Afghanistan and shut things down.

"It has to be led by politics and a broader, more patient vision of regional stability."

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.