October 2010

An Interview with Colonel Evgeny Khrushchev                                  

In a 2001 BBC interview just after 9/11, you stated that to be effective in Afghanistan, America’s military must exclusively use Special Forces and air support, as opposed to invading with a large conventional force. Why did you feel that way back then and how would you advise President Obama today?  

Before fielding the question, let me set the record straight about the Taliban. It’s a fact that the Taliban government in Afghanistan was toppled by the US invasion, but it’s an oft-repeated fiction that the Taliban force was defeated in the initial stage of the occupation. In the fog of war, ISI (Pakistan’s intelligence agency) smartly executed a strategic pullback of its Taliban assets to their breeding and staging area in Pakistan. Back then I thought that Fort Bragg should take the lead to conduct a massive Special Operations Force blitzkrieg, invoking a concept of ‘hot pursuit’ to cross the Afghan/Pakistani border to ‘kill or capture’ Bin Laden and to disrupt, dismantle & destroy Al Qaeda, keeping the Taliban, Hekmatyar & Haqqani outfits on the run. Alas, the right thing was done the wrong way and a tactical counter-terrorism op has morphed into half-baked COIN-LITE strategic mission creep in the shadow of the Opium War against the World. No offense to the Chief Executive, but I wouldn’t bother him with my opinion, due to his information overload and conflicting priorities. I’d rather have a confidential coffee klatch with the eminence grise of the National Security Council, Denis McDonough, to present my AfPak vision. For starters I’d offer this maxim: when it comes to Afghanistan, think about Pakistan; forget about political expediency – get real or get out.

The Northern Alliance was a misleading name because the group enjoyed the popular support of several ethnic groups, and from all over the country. That was then. Now that the Northern Alliance has largely been absorbed into the Karzai apparatus, could you estimate the level of popular support received by the Taliban throughout Afghanistan today?

If you consider The Northern Alliance a misleading name, would you agree that the North Atlantic Coalition label sounds a little kinky in landlocked Afghanistan? My informed guess is that since Kandahar is definitely a Taliban hotbed in Southern Afghanistan, the ragtag opposition, for the sake of self-identity and for the lack of imagination, assumed the opposite toponymic title. Now, back to your question. First off, ‘support’ as metrics is highly misleading: There’s no such thing as indigenous ‘support’ in Afghanistan, and there never has been for either side – for the Soviets vs. ‘freedom fighters’ or for  US/ISAF vs. the Taliban (the usual suspects, old ‘freedom fighters’ leading the next generation of mujahidin ). Mind you, out there everything, not only politics, is local. Afghans, despite their tribal differences, are notoriously independent: They just want to be left to their own devices and ‘support’ anybody only if they are forced to, because they consider any unexpected & unwelcomed ‘guests’, be it from the USSR, the USA, Pakistan or the neighboring hamlet, as hostile intruders to be treated accordingly. The intrinsic fallacy of the population-centric COIN is its obsession with ‘hearts & minds’ – whatever you pay, you can’t buy local loyalty, trust and respect.  Instead of guestimating ‘support’, it would be more appropriate to evaluate the impact, influence and control the warring sides exert over the population.

When your military forces departed Afghanistan in 1989 you left a highly competent President in control of that country, Dr. Mohammed Najibullah; a ruler widely considered to be politically astute, an effective military strategist, and as the former head of the Afghan intelligence services, very well informed. He lasted over three years before the Taliban was able to take over Kabul (where they dragged him out of the United Nations compound and brutally executed him). Could you compare his capabilities with those of President Karzai?

What are you talking about? How could I compare The Iron Lion with The Palace Peacock, the national leader and helmsman with the ex-pat poppy puppet? Contrary to the doomsayers who claimed that his regime would collapse the very next day after the Soviet Army pullout, Najibullah outlasted the USSR in his forlorn battle against the US, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan. As a man of honor and dignity he refused to leave the native country and take refuge abroad. Now, let’s imagine the unimaginable: the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. Karzai will scramble for the first flight to Dubai and his narco-corrupted house of cards will collapse before his plane has taxied down the tarmac. That’s unless the Taliban announce him as their first Ambassador to the United States.

Abdul Sayyaf is a lawmaker in the current Afghan government, and considered loyal to President Karzai, notwithstanding Sayyaf’s differing political views. And yet this is the same person that extended the invitation to Osama Bin Laden to base his operations in Afghanistan. Furthermore, although he has since been replaced by a moderate judge, in 2004 President Karzai named Fazal Hadi Shinwari as Chief Justice of their Supreme Court. Shinwari favored Taliban style punishment throughout Afghanistan and reactivated the Taliban’s defunct Ministry of Virtue and Vice (not to be confused with the Saudi Arabian version: the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice), only Shinwari renamed it the Ministry of Haj and Religious Affairs. Is President Karzai so spooked by the fate of Dr. Najibullah that he lacks the courage to insist on women’s rights and similar, post- Stone Age era laws? Or do you envision him acquiescing to anything the Taliban desires, such as their practice of denying women the access to hospitals?       


Ironically, in Soviet times Afghanistan used to be called DRA, The Democratic Republic of Afghanistan. It was the only period in the country’s history when women’s rights were fully enforced against the acid-splashing ‘freedom-fighters’. Nowadays  it’s IRA, The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, where it’s just fine to stone, mutilate and nose-cut women while negotiating with the Butcher of Afghanistan, the same acid-splashing Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. As  time goes by, the only difference between the Karzai regime and the Taliban will be their impunity, corruption and major stake in drug production.

In the spring of 2001, the leader of the Northern Alliance, the late Ahmed Shah Massoud, addressed the European Parliament in Brussels. During this address he stated that the Taliban wouldn’t last a year without Pakistan’s support. How dependent are the Taliban on Pakistan today, and is Saudi Arabia still financially supporting the Taliban?

As I have already indicated, the Taliban, together with Lashkar-e -Toiba and other extremist and terrorist outfits in the region, are totally under ISI control. Wahhabi and Salafi influence over the madrasa network in Pakistan, radicalizing a new generation of mujahedin, is much more important than Saudi Arabian financial support, direct or otherwise, of AfPak Talib Bros.

Over the last several weeks there have been public proclamations by three of our most senior general officers, in which they make their case to extend our large scale presence in Afghanistan beyond the July, 2011 date that President Obama set for the beginning of a withdrawal. I refer to General David Petraeus, the commander of all American forces in Afghanistan; Lt. General William Caldwell, the commander in charge of building the Afghan army; and General James Conway, the Commandant of the US Marine Corps. Do you believe they were setting the table and providing political cover for an imminent announcement by President Obama that July 2011 is off the table? Or the alternative; they were using their status to pressure the President, through the news media, to rescind his July 2011 directive?  


I’d rephrase your question this way: who is manipulating whom? The President pulling it over the Pentagon, or the other way around?  My read is that the top brass, tempted by POTUS ‘strategic ambiguity’, has picked up the baton from Gen. McChrystal and resumed ‘managing upward’ in a subtle fashion to dilute and delete the meaning of the ‘deadline’. I’ve seen that before: from victory to success, from success to progress, from progress to process…It’s called expectations scale down in perception management.

In that same BBC interview nine years ago you were asked if you would return to Afghanistan to assist American Special Forces, an organization with whom you have considerable experience. You answered that, if ordered to, you would be glad to work with your American SOF friends in Afghanistan. Last year you stated, “Russia’s role in stabilizing the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan has been underestimated.”  Early in 2009 Secretary of State Clinton presented Foreign Minister Lavrov with a “reset button” as part of the Obama administration’s announced desire to reset the US-Russian relationship. This has already produced unprecedented cooperation; in the proposed Beringia National Park, and especially in the recent Operation Vigilant Eagle. Today our two countries truly share a common, vile enemy. In light of that fact, and of the “reset”, what is preventing bolder steps? Specifically, American and Russian Federation forces cooperating in military operations against the Taliban?

Actually, since that BBC interview, I did return to Afghanistan. First, in an unofficial capacity; on a fact-finding mission in 2005, and then officially, as the Russian Embassy 1st Secretary in 2006. Despite the fact that the Russian President was the first to offer succor to the White House after 9/11, it was US Cold War hangover and hubris that have effectively torpedoed our bilateral cooperation in Afghanistan. Russia has opened up an air corridor, has written off $12 billion of Afghan debt and provided all imaginable actionable intelligence on terrorists and druglords – only to watch in frustration the action of NATO; corruption and drug expansion in Afghanistan.