40 years on, veterans still grapple with Soviet-Afghan war

Kabul, Dec 23 (AFP/APP): At his home in the mountains north of Kabul, former mujahideen fighter Shah Sulaiman closed his damaged eyes, took a sip of green tea and thought bitterly of Afghanistan’s war against the Soviet Union that started four decades ago.

“When we fought against the Soviets, we were expecting a good future,” said the 62-year-old father, who was blinded in one eye and suffered a leg wound when he trod on a landmine during the conflict in 1985.

“Unfortunately things turned out for the worst.”

This month marks the 40th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s “intervention” — or invasion — of Afghanistan, the beginning of a decade-long guerilla war that killed up to two million Afghans, forced seven million more from their homes and led to the deaths of more than 14,000 Soviet troops.

“(It) brought only misery and destruction to Afghans and Afghanistan,” recalled Sulaiman, who commanded a unit of 12 men in the Panjshir valley, a heartland of mujahideen resistance north of the capital.

In the decades since the war, which ended in 1989, Afghan veterans like Sulaiman and former Soviet soldiers have had to grapple with the physical and emotional wounds of a bloody conflict whose purpose and consequences remain angrily contested.

While the war was a mujahideen victory, what came next saw Afghanistan plunge deeper into misery and fighting, with veterans blaming the conflict for the rise of the Taliban and the ongoing violence that besets the country to this day.

In Russia, former Soviet soldiers are still trying to make sense of a war the public condemned at the time and that observers say hastened the collapse of the Soviet Union.

“We defended our southern borders, and I still think our presence in Afghanistan was essential,” said Ilias Daoudi, 52, a former Soviet intelligence official who lost a leg in a 1986 landmine blast in Herat, in western Afghanistan.

“A big country like ours has to control what is happening in neighbouring regions.”

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