The Soviet Afghan war cost you Russians less, in lives and money, than Nam cost us. But the USSR collapsed for good right when the Afghan war was ending. That’s kind of a bad sign—it’s like, when the patient dies on the table it’s hard to say the operation was a success. The truth is that the USSR was dying anyway, and it probably wasn’t the Afghan campaign that finished it off. But the timing was real bad luck, not just for Russia but for all of what they like to call "the West."
I’m not blaming you Russians too much for losing in Afghanistan. That’s a tough place. The British, the smartest and most careful Imperialists ever, lost a whole army there in January 1842. Out of 700 British troops, 4000 Indian auxiliaries and 12000 civilians who marched out of Kabul, only a few dozen made it back to India.
These battles where East beats West make a big, big difference. Take the battle of Adowa (1896), when the Ethiopian Army slaughtered 11,000 Italian troops. Sure, it was only the Italians who can’t fight anyway, but to the Africans it was a miracle: we beat the whites!
And unfortunately, you Russians have a long history of losing to non-Western armies. When you go up against Europe you kick ass, but you don’t seem to fight as well facing East. A hundred years ago the Japanese got the Orientals all excited by kicking the Tsar’s ass in the Tsushima Straits and Port Arthur. The Japs didn’t calm down until we administered the ultimate chill pill at Hiroshima.
And when you lost in Afghanistan, you went and made the Muslims think they can fight. When you’re fighting Muslims, Morale is probably the biggest factor of all, because they’re so damn emotional. If you stomp on them instantly, they fold. But just let them get the upper hand once, and you’re in trouble.
And they have this weird Muslim unity deal too. Muslims don’t give a damn about each other under normal conditions—run over a fellow believer in the street without a second thought—but once an infidel army invades one of Allah’s countries, suddenly every mosque from Jakarta to Manchester is screaming about Islamic solidarity.
A lot of rich, aimless Saudi and Egyptian boys heard the call and drifted up to Afghanistan, to do summer camp with the Mujahedeen. That’s where bin Laden got his start, going from a beanpole with cash to Allah’s hairy Joan of Arc.
When the Russians were beaten, these Jihadis all dispersed to their home countries to tell war stories and get the kids excited. In their minds, they defeated one of the Infidel Superpowers and destroyed it. Now they think they can do it again, and again. Americans like to blame Clinton for giving Al Qaeda inspiration, but the fact is, nothing inspired the jihadists more than their victory over the Soviet Union—a victory that we funded and orchestrated.
The Chechens got the message and declared themselves independent after the USSR fell apart in 1991.
They picked the right time. Yeltsin’s Russia was so feeble it could barely field a military brass band, never mind an effective army. When the Russian Army got around to attacking Chechnya in 1994, most of the top brass refused to help plan the attack at all. The Russian armored columns stumbled into Grozny with as much enthusiasm as Robert Downey checking into rehab. It was a classic of how NOT to do urban combat.
The air force wasn’t speaking to the Army, the Army wouldn’t share intelligence with the security agencies, and nobody bothered to check what the Chechen resistance had planned.
What they’d planned was to let the armored columns into the city, then blast them in the narrow streets. It worked. Whole columns of tanks and APCs were turned into giant BBQs in the alleys of Grozny.
But winning is dangerous, if you don’t have discipline. The Russians pulled out—and the Chechens turned into monsters. The biggest industry in the country was kidnapping. They kidnapped more than 3,000 Russians in cross-border raids between 1997-99. To convince the relatives to part with the ransom, they released videos of some hardworking loony sawing off the hostage’s head with a sheepgutting knife. Another video I saw shows the Chechen kidnappers shooting off a Russian hostage’s finger, then laughing as he cries in pain.
All these gory hostage videos coming out of Iraq—it was the Chechens who were the pioneering filmmakers. Not sure there’s an Oscar for most innovative Terrorist Film, but if there is the Chechens deserve it.
Meanwhile Shamil Basaev, sort of a Chechen version of Nathan Bedford Forrest, launched incredible raids deep into Russia, which ended with hundreds of Russian civilians dead. The Chechens were so confident of Russian weakness that they actually tried to invade the Russian republic of Daghestan, take it over, and create an oil-rich independent Muslim country on the Caspian Sea.
The original quagmire: elephant shown here stuck in mud, awaiting hyenas.