...For years, the Soviets heavily bombarded towns and villages, killing thousands of civilians and making themselves even more loathed by Afghans. Whatever tactics the Soviets adopted the result was the same: renewed aggression from their opponents. The mujahideen, for example, laid down thousands of anti-tank mines to attack Russian troop convoys, much as the Taliban are now using homemade bombs to strike at American soldiers on patrol, as well as Afghan civilians.
“About 99 percent of the battles and skirmishes that we fought in Afghanistan were won by our side,” [Commander of the Soviet Armed Forces] Marshal Akhromeyev told his superiors in November 1986. “The problem is that the next morning there is the same situation as if there had been no battle. The terrorists are again in the village where they were — or we thought they were — destroyed a day or so before.” Listen to a coalition spokesman now explaining the difficulties its forces are facing in tough terrain, and it would be hard to hear a difference.
Sebestyen points out lessons that the Soviets learned in Afghanistan and the Americans learned in Vietnam: a technologically advanced military can unleash massive firepower and win battle after battle against a guerrilla force–all the while losing the war. This is especially true in difficult terrain, whether mountains or jungle, that affords an insurgency places to attack and hide. As Marshall Akhromeyev stated, "...to occupy towns and villages temporarily has little value in such a vast land where the insurgents can just disappear into the hills.”
In his commentary, Sebestyen drew upon materials recently discovered by American and Russian cold war scholars, including Politburo papers on the Soviet war in Afghanistan. He stated that the documents "may provide the administration with some valuable counsel." Indeed, the Obama administration is well advised to consider the Soviet quagmire in Afghanistan, lest it become the American quagmire–or the American repeat of Vietnam.