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Brookings: Comparing the U.S. and Soviet Experiences in Afghanistan

Author: Bruce O. Riedel, Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy, Saban Center for Middle East Policy, Brookings Institution
May 2009

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"A country rarely fights the same war twice in one generation, especially from opposite sides." Yet Bruce Riedel writes that in many ways the idea describes the United States' current role in Afghanistan. Pakistan's role as a safe haven is remarkably consistent in both conflicts, but that similarity fails to account for the fundamental differences between the two wars. Riedel addresses the differences, and assesses how Pakistan's role is impacting the possibilities for success today.

A country rarely fights the same war twice in one generation, especially from opposite sides. Yet that in many ways describes the U.S. role in Afghanistan today. In the 1980s, the Central Intelligence Agency, working from a safe haven in Pakistan, engineered the largest covert operation in its history to help defeat the Soviet 40th Red Army in Afghanistan. Today, the United States is fighting a Taliban-led insurgency in Afghanistan that operates from a safe haven in Pakistan. Many suggest that the outcome will be the same for the United States as it was for the Soviet Union--ultimate defeat at the hands of the insurgency. Pakistan's role as a safe haven is remarkably consistent in both conflicts, but focusing exclusively on that similarity misses the fundamental differences between the two wars. This article will address those differences, and will also assess how Pakistan's role is impacting the United States' possibilities for success today.

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