Policy Memos

Why Peace Operations in Afghanistan Should Heed Soviet Lessons Learned

Policy Memo:


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Common wisdom says that the United States has little to learn from studying the military lessons of Soviet intervention in Afghanistan. U.S. military actions have been designed not to encounter the disadvantages that the Soviets faced in 1979. The United States has gone in better prepared, more knowledgeable about the terrain and opposition facilities because of its covert operations there in the 1980s, and availing itself of good military intelligence shared by Moscow. This time around, the intervention is multilateral, it has the support of Pakistan and other Afghan neighbors, and is not designed as an imperial exercise. Most important, the U.S. goal is not to prop up a particular regime or to occupy territory, but instead to do quick in-and-out strikes against well defined targets. Conventional wisdom concluded that this would not become a U.S. quagmire. [...]

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About the author

Professor; Chair of the Political Science Department
Barnard College, Columbia University