The Rembrandt of Paybacks

I’m not fond of the “Putin is a chessmaster” meme.

I am, however, willing to say he’s nobody to piss off; it’s just not a good idea to mess with someone whose idea of subtle revenge is to poison an enemy with Polonium-209. Putin doesn’t just say “fuck you” – he says “fuck you” and he means it.


The US helped give the USSR its own Vietnam in Afghanistan in the 1980s: as the Soviets invaded the mountainous, tribal, region and tried to hold it – the US helped make life for the Soviets worse by arming the local insurgency as it formed. Initially, the weapons were pretty moderate, but when the Soviets doubled down with their own version of a “surge” including a lot of air support (most notably the MiG-24 “hind” helicopter, which was very good for ground support) the US helped the insurgents with antiaircraft missiles.

Destroyed Hind helicopter

The degree to which the US helped the insurgents, or it changed the war, is questionable to me – the USSR was going to lose eventually, and all it did was hasten the process a bit. And it empowered the muhjahideen who eventually became the Taliban.

Depending on who you listen to, it was a brilliant strategy.

Depending on who you listen to, the Russians may be in the process of spinning up a similar effort in Afghanistan, today.

Despite the Russian denial, analysts say signs of Moscow’s assistance to the Taliban have been felt in Afghanistan.

Kabul-based Taliban expert Wahid Muzhda this month told VOA that Moscow had provided the Taliban with a well-equipped mobile clinic, along with a large supply of medicine to treat injured Taliban fighters in Helmand province, which borders Uruzgan.

A number of Afghan lawmakers accused Russia of allowing its military personnel to visit Taliban locations near the border with Pakistan, after a Russian military delegation visited the Waziristan tribal region in Pakistan — a sign of Moscow’s deepening relations with Islamabad, which has been supporting the Taliban in Afghanistan. [voa]

I’m a bit hesitant to quote propaganda outlets like Voice of America but it’s interesting – are they setting up the “foreign fighters” excuse for an upcoming loss, or what? The US is not going to want to start having it’s ‘assets’ shooting at Russian ‘assets’, so, what? Checkmate?

Russian military advisers have been spotted twice recently near Tirinkot, the Uruzgan capital, Haji Abdul Bari, a tribal elder in the province, told VOA.

Russia’s role in Afghanistan was questioned again Tuesday when the provincial police chief in Uruzgan told Afghan media that intelligence reports showed visiting Russian generals were providing Taliban militants with weapons and training.

“Eleven Russians, including two women, dressed in doctor’s uniforms and guarded by four armed Taliban, along with an Afghan translator, have been spotted in various parts of the province,” Ghulam Farooq Sangari, Uruzgan police chief, told VOA’s Afghan service. “They have been enticing people against the government, providing training and teaching how to assemble land mines.”

Meanwhile, the Afghan resistance to the US puppet government is continuing. The Guardian reports that the Afghan Army is not doing a very good job holding the Helmand:[guardian]

The Taliban are closing in on Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province, after a string of gains in recent weeks.

Despite a drastic increase in US airstrikes, militants have captured territory a few miles from the city, blown up bridges leading into town and repeatedly cut off the main highway. On Wednesday the Afghan army rushed reinforcements to Helmand to try to stem the advance.

The inability so far of the Afghan forces to secure a province where more international troops were deployed – and killed – than any other raises concern about their capability and the effectiveness of an international training mission

If you look at a map of Afghanistan, the area held by the Taliban is most of the Helmand, with growing influence elsewhere except for the northern provinces. It’s starting to look like Vietnam all over again. The MOAB side-show was just an Afghanistan version of the B-52 ARCLIGHT strikes the US was attempting when the war turned south.

Even CNN is talking a bit about Russia’s moves in Afghanistan: [cnn]

America’s top military officer in Europe, Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, said Thursday that Russia had increased its support to the Afghan Taliban, including potentially the provision of supplies.

I’ve seen the influence of Russia of late, increased influence in terms of association and perhaps even supply to the Taliban,” Scaparrotti told members of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

To be fair, “that’s how it’s done.”

Meanwhile: [guardian]

More than 50 Afghan soldiers have been after killed Taliban suicide attackers disguised as army personnel targeted a national army base in northern Afghanistan, in the worst single attack on the country’s security forces in recent years.

Remember, the US military’s purpose in Afghanistan appears to be primarily to show that we’re too stupid to cut and run when we should. Anyone want to bet that Putin’s not going to give his special forces a bit more rein in Afghanistan, as a way of saying “Thank you for the cruise missiles”?

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The US allegedly stopped supplying Stinger missiles after they began turning up in Iran, where the Iranian government was interested in learning how to make such things, and (probably) re-sold them to other weapons researchers who were interested in such things. [source]

Russian sources such as The Bear Went Over The Mountain [amazon] do not support the “it was Stingers” argument. The main problem the Soviet troops had was increasingly sophisticated ambushes, rocket propelled anti-tank grenades(RPG), and mines. It is fair to say, however, that putting fear into the helicopter pilots reduced the availability of close air support, which increased the casualty rate from RPGs. The problem with RPGs and close air support helicopters was demonstrated in Mogadishu, and Syria. ATGMs are pretty good against helicopters – which means high altitude/fast movers – bigger bombs and less accuracy.

Get out, get out!


  1. brunswick says

    Recent fairly regularly reader, found your blog via Pharnageluga (sp) and the Freethoughts Blogs frontpage,

    Two little nits, sometimes changes some views,

    Carter/Brezinski started funding the fundi Muj, against the secular Afghan Government, 6 months before the Soviet backed Coup and Intervention.

    The “West” has sought a lot of different “villians” over the years for the failures in Afghanistan,

    But the reality is that Afghanistan was lost at the First Loya Jirga, when the Warlords, War Criminals and Drug Dealers were elevated over the Tribal Elders and actual Reformers.

    Now of course, most of the people who could have lead Afghanistan into a new future, are dead, killed by “all” sides.

  2. says

    I did not know that the US was funding before the USSR intervention. Suddenly it sounds more like one of those “Ukraine” scenarios, where the Russians thought they were about to have a flipped hostile power appear in their back yard.

    But the reality is that Afghanistan was lost at the First Loya Jirga, when the Warlords, War Criminals and Drug Dealers were elevated over the Tribal Elders and actual Reformers.

    Why did that happen?
    Have you seen Adam Curtis’ “Bitter Lake”?

    I’m probably fairly typical for an American – history starts about the time when I started becoming aware of things, which is to say the 1970s and 1980s – whereas the Middle East in general and Afghanistan in particular are problems going back to the fall of the Ottoman Empire. (and before) It’s always seemed to me to be crazy to treat that area as a “nation” of its size when it’s really small tribal zones. The British screwed that up plenty back in 1879-80; it’s always been treated as the soft underbelly of Russia.

  3. says

    Thanks! I discovered TomDispatch a couple years ago but I never dug through the archives. I will fix that!
    (check out Bitter Lake)