Gorbachev Says Obama Should Start Afghan Withdrawal (Update2)
Nov. 10 (Bloomberg) -- Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, drawing on his experience of military failure in Afghanistan in the 1980s, said the U.S. can’t win the conflict there and should begin pulling out its soldiers.
Afghanistan, where U.S. and NATO forces are battling a Taliban-led insurgency, is too fragmented between clans to be controlled militarily, Gorbachev, 78, said in an interview today in Berlin. While he said President Barack Obama would be unlikely to take his advice, Gorbachev said he saw no chance of success even with more U.S. troops.
“I believe that there is no prospect of a military solution,” Gorbachev said in Russian through a translator. “What we need is the reconciliation of Afghan society -- and they should be preparing the ground for withdrawal rather than additional troops.”
Gorbachev, who became general secretary of the ruling Communist Party in 1985, at age 54, initiated a restructuring program known as perestroika that eventually led to the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991. He spoke a day after he joined Chancellor Angela Merkel and current world leaders in the German capital to mark the fall of the Berlin Wall 20 years ago.
As Soviet leader, Gorbachev pursued a policy of detente with the U.S. while overseeing the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan in 1989 after grappling with an unsuccessful decade- long presence in the country.
Obama is considering a military request to send as many as 40,000 more U.S. soldiers to Afghanistan, on top of the 68,000 due to be stationed there by the end of the year. Other North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces, comprising personnel from 42 countries, number about 36,000.
The U.S. troop review has been complicated by increased Taliban attacks and by a disputed victory for the incumbent, Hamid Karzai, in this year’s presidential election.
Speaking in Berlin yesterday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton demanded that Karzai step up efforts to tackle corruption. Karzai was re-appointed president by Afghanistan’s electoral commissioners Nov. 2 following former Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah’s decision to pull out of a runoff election.
In response to an Oct. 28 attack on United Nations staff by Taliban militants that killed five of the agency’s workers in a Kabul guesthouse, the UN last week announced it would move about 600 of its international staff members and remove some from the country.
Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev sent tanks into Afghanistan to support a Marxist regime in 1979, betting superior firepower from the ground and air would keep the country within Moscow’s fold. Soviet aims were thwarted by an Islamist mujahedeen movement supported by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the U.S.
While there was support in the Moscow establishment, Gorbachev as the general secretary of the Communist Party concluded that Soviet objectives couldn’t be achieved.
“We thought that that would lead nowhere,” Gorbachev said. “So we started to disengage our troops from any kind of hostilities in Afghanistan.”
The pullout began in 1988 and ended in February of 1989, nine months before the Berlin Wall fell.
The Taliban, an outcrop of the mujahedeen that dominated Afghanistan in the 1990s, took control of most of the country in 1996. The U.S.-led invasion five years later, following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, was meant to displace the Taliban, accused of harboring the terrorist group al-Qaeda.
Gorbachev said that relations between Russia and the U.S. are improving as America undergoes its own perestroika, or rebuilding, which he said had begun with the election of Obama as president last year.
“America should implement perestroika in the context of American society,” Gorbachev said. “I believe that people of America, most of them who voted in these elections -- and most of them voted for Obama -- did vote for change.”
Asked whether Obama could trust Russia’s current leadership, President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, the former Soviet leader said it would have to be a process. He cited his first meeting with former President Ronald Reagan in Geneva in 1985; after the two leaders met one-on-one, they shared their thoughts on each other with their delegations.
“He’s a real dinosaur, a man from the past,” Gorbachev remembered saying. “Do you think that Reagan had a better view of me? He said: ‘Gorbachev is a die-hard Bolshevik.’ So that was the beginning.”