Soldiers and generals from both sides tell how the Soviets were sucked into invading Afghanistan and the parallels that conflict shares with the current American-led intervention.
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'Afghanistan, one of the most isolated, barren landscapes on Earth.
'And for three of the greatest powers the world has ever seen
'an unlikely target, an enduring obsession
'and an unwinnable war.'
In the 21st century, a US-led coalition attacked
and is still mired there.
In the 19th century, it was the British Empire who invaded
and suffered an agonising defeat.
And in the 20th century,
with communism dominating almost half the globe,
Soviet Russia decided to invade.
Their mission, to quell the growing Afghan insurgency,
stabilise the government, train the Afghan Army and leave.
They thought it would take 12 months.
Nine years later, after more than a million Afghans had been killed,
all the Soviet Union could look back on was humiliation.
Like the British in the 19th century and the US-led coalition today,
the Soviets found themselves trapped and fighting a fierce resistance.
If you were going to pass a message
to the American and British troops today,
what would you say to them?
'After the British experience in the 19th century,
'Afghanistan was dubbed "the Graveyard of Empires."
'So why did two superpowers invade in the 20th and 21st centuries
'and once again make Afghanistan a place of tragedy?'
For many in the West, Afghanistan is now synonymous with war.
A land where soldiers go to die.
A place which is believed to represent
such an overwhelming threat to the security of the West
that over a 100,000 western soldiers are currently stationed here,
in a war costing 130 billion a year.
It's a million miles from the vision of the country I had as a child...
'..because when Afghanistan first entered my consciousness,
'it was as a place of peace.'
This place, Istalif,
was one of the great tourist traps on the hippie trail.
My mother came here in the 1960s, my sister in the 1970s,
and when I visit people often in suburban houses in England,
I see the distinctive blue ceramics that they bought.
For travellers, this was a very peaceful place
where they experienced the generosity of Afghans.
All the people who came on that overland trail as hippies
were feeling that they were living in a beautiful bubble,
a land that time forgot.
A Shangri-La where you could go to have a relaxed time,
smoke some drugs and buy some woolly jackets.
But a peaceful Afghanistan wasn't just a hippie mirage.
'In Boston, I've come to meet an anthropologist and historian
'who spent a lot of time travelling in Afghanistan in the 1970s,
'Professor Tom Barfield.'
You had this perfectly peaceful Afghanistan
where I, as a foreigner, could travel unarmed all over the country
and there was never any trouble. And I never saw anybody armed.
Now, people look back on it as a golden age.
It was a time of peace and security where people went about their business.
From 1929 to 1978, Afghanistan has 50 years of peace,
most European countries can't make that statement in the mid-20th century.
Afghanistan was absolutely at peace.
'God expressed his love for all the children of mankind.
'May the life of these children of Afghanistan be a happy life.'
But while it was a peaceful place, it was not a unified one.
Because, outside the cities, Afghanistan was,
and remains, in many ways,
a country of 20,000 diverse, isolated villages,
where every village chief is almost a king.
That was the case when the British invaded in the 19th century.
It was still pretty much the case
when the hippies came in the 1960s and '70s.
And it was definitely what I found
when I walked across Afghanistan at the end of 2001.
These self-contained communities
posed little danger to the outside world.
But by the 1960s, foreign governments were beginning
to take a very threatening interest in Afghanistan.
Because, once again, they were perceiving it
as a key strategic point for empires.
A centre point in the Cold War dividing the new superpowers,
the Soviet Union from the allies of the United States.
Afghanistan was surrounded.
To the north, the Soviet Union.
East and west,
the US allies Iran and Pakistan.
And while the Americans feared a Soviet push south
in search of a warm water port and oil reserves,
the Soviets assumed that America was going to inspire instability
on their southern border.
And so, both powers tried to bring Afghanistan under their influence,
sending in billions of roubles and dollars of economic support.
In the snowy countryside outside of Moscow,
'I've come to meet a man who spent much of his career in Afghanistan,
'helping to coordinate economic development in the country in the 1960s,
'Soviet economic adviser, Valeri Ivanov.'
With projects like this,
Afghanistan became the fourth largest recipient of Soviet aid anywhere in the world.
But, at the same time, in the south of the country,
the United States was also constructing dams and housing.
Two superpowers jockeying for influence in a far smaller country.
As indeed they were doing again and again across the world,
because the Cold War stretched from Berlin to Korea,
Latin America to Indochina.
'Communism denies religion and debases the individual
'to a part of a vast machine that powers the state.
'Children are taken early and moulded to fit the machine.
'Here is no search for the truth.'
'As communism and capitalism clashed,
'foreign aid flowing into Afghanistan
'paid for places like this - Kabul University.
'Here many of the bright young minds of Afghanistan,
'hungry for new ideas,
'were excited by the opportunity to bring rapid change to their country.
'Some focused on communism,'
others immersed themselves in political Islam,
an ideology rejecting both the Soviet Union and the United States.
The university became a hotbed of Afghan radicalism.
In the 1970s, the peaceful gardens and foreign-funded buildings
here at Kabul University had been taken over by radicals.
Maoist and Leninist students marching in the streets.
And over there, professors funded by Egyptian Muslims
training on Kalashnikovs.
Islamists and communists in a race
to see who could kick over the traces of the old Afghanistan
and create their new paradise.
And it was the communists who got there first
infiltrating the army and, in April 1978, taking control of the country.
Communism was a foreign idea,
but it was Afghans themselves and not foreigners who implemented it.
They believed ideology would transform their country.
And coming to power the new Communist president,
Nur Mohammad Taraki,
announced a manifesto of staggering ambition.
Secular education, equality for women
and with wild optimism he predicted
the mosques would be empty within a year.
'In Kabul, I've come to meet Hamidullah Tarzi,
'who was a minister in these first Afghan Communist cabinets.
'And I wanted to talk to him about the wisdom and the speed
'of some of these extraordinary reforms.'
And education for women and literacy?
Why did people resist them? Why was there a resistance?
'When people tried to resist the revolution,
'the Afghan communists responded with terror,
'brutally driving through their reforms.
'And nothing symbolises the horror of their rule more than this,
'the PuliCharki Prison.'
It almost feels inappropriate to be here.
I have a friend in Kabul who had 71 members of his family
executed in the courtyard adjoining this building.
The few months after the Afghan communists took power,
12,000 Afghans had been arrested,
put in Kabul prisons and were then executed.
'And this contained at one time 15,000 prisoners,
'many of them political prisoners.
'The contrast between this brutal, rigid concrete prison,
'and the reality of rural Afghanistan,
'the mud houses, the villages,
'in the centre of which this sat,
'some great modern horror.'
It's the brutal arrival of a modern state
trying to impose its ideology on a country.
By 1979, the Afghan communists were facing growing unrest,
particularly in the more conservative, religious countryside outside Kabul.
Their followers were beginning to mutiny and they were losing control.
Finally, the Afghan president, Nur Mohammad Taraki,
flew to Moscow to see his friend and ally,
Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev,
and he pled with the Soviets to send troops to Afghanistan
to prop up and secure this Communist revolution.
But the reaction was not what you might expect.
You would have thought that the revolution in Afghanistan in 1978
would have been a great moment for the Soviet Union.
Suddenly, a new communist country had emerged in the late 1970s.
The Cold War, you would have thought,
was swinging in their direction.
But, actually, the reaction that came here in the Kremlin
was not one of celebration, not one of popping champagne corks,
but profound nervousness and trepidation
about what Afghanistan had got itself into,
and what this would mean for the Soviet Union.
'And the historical records of the Politburo have now been released,
'confirming just how bewildered and anxious the Russians were.
'Again and again, the documents show the Foreign Minister,
'the Intelligence Minister and the Defence Minister saying'
that if the Soviet Union got involved,
it would firstly spark Muslim resentment.
It would turn the Afghan government into a puppet.
And it would destroy the Soviet Union's reputation around the world.
And yet, in the end, despite all these fears,
Brezhnev considered invasion.
'A man who saw Russia's interaction with Afghanistan firsthand
'was Sir Rodric Braithwaite, later Britain's Ambassador to Moscow.'
The crucial incident was when Taraki, the president,
who was a sort of favourite of Brezhnev's, the then Soviet leader,
was assassinated by his number two, Amin.
And Brezhnev took that very personally,
he had vowed to protect this guy, this guy ended up dead.
Amin was out of control.
A decision was taken absolutely at the last minute.
There was a great outcry that the CIA had failed to predict it,
but they, they couldn't predict something that the Russians themselves hadn't yet decided to do.
'Christmas Eve 1979,
'Soviet Special Forces exploded into the Afghan presidential palace.'
Up through the gardens, swarming in through the windows,
shooting the President's bodyguard and then the President himself.
80,000 Soviet troops followed, flowing across the borders
and the world looked on in horror.
This is a callous violation of International Law.
It is a deliberate effort
of a powerful atheistic government
to subjugate an independent Islamic people.
Why did the Soviet Union finally make the decision
to send in their troops?
The answer is that, like all empires,
they didn't want to look weak.
This was a mini-communist state, an ally on their borders,
and they couldn't let Afghanistan collapse.
Something had to be done.
We underestimate the sense of insecurity that all empires feel.
We were terrified at the end of the 19th century,
at the height of British imperialism that somebody,
the Germans or somebody's going take it all away from us.
And I think that's, that affects policymaking
in empires at the imperial level.
So you see a threat. You think, "Well, if we don't deal with it now,
"it'll come round and bite us from behind."
And I think Afghanistan falls into that category.
But for every wary and neurotic politician,
there was a Soviet soldier confident of success.
And none more so than the vanguard,
the Soviet parachute regiment, or "Blue Berets,"
the cream of the Soviet military.
Among these veterans are many men who were involved in that invasion.
This is the 25th anniversary concert of the Blue Beret Band.
And almost everybody in the audience
is somebody who has either been in the military
or is related to someone in the military.
Like many American and British soldiers today,
these troops felt they were part of a bigger mission
to modernise and change Afghanistan for the better.
These invading soldiers were told
their mission was to support the new Afghan Communist government
and that the intervention would be over in a year.
But they'd completely underestimated the Afghan reaction.
The Afghans turned against these foreigners,
just as they had against the British in the 19th century.
This was driven partly by nationalism
but religion was also a key factor.
The Russians made this very easy
because the Soviet Union was a declared atheist state
so they... "We are atheists,
"we actually have a Bureau of Atheism!" Wow, it's easy.
So we are fighting against these atheist communists,
so that was easy to talk about,
it was placing the war in a jihad context.
When Afghans try to explain why they fought the Russians,
they often talk about religion.
'Here I've come to meet a group of six Mujahideen
'from a poor village 90 miles from Kabul.
'They're almost all that remains of a unit which was once nearly 50 men,
'most of whom were killed in the fight against the Russians.
'This is how they explain their war.'
IN NATIVE LANGUAGE:
'Many in the Soviet capital had agonised
'over the decision to invade Afghanistan.
'Many in the Politburo itself warned it was a trap.
'So was the growing insurgency confirmation that the sceptics had been right?
'In Moscow, I've come to meet a man
'who was on the frontline of the Soviet war.
'One of Russia's most decorated and respected war heroes,
'General Ruslan Aushev.'
In one of these attacks on this beautiful district of Panjshir,
the Soviets entered with nearly 400 aircraft and helicopters,
carpet bombing the valley floor and following up with 13,000 troops.
But the Mujahideen had simply disappeared
and when the Soviets left, they returned.
EXPLOSION AND SHOOTING
The resistance of the Mujahideen was about to become even more formidable
for they had a new ally, the unlikeliest friend.
'Because the United States had spotted an opportunity
'to strike a blow to their enemy in the Cold War.
'Running the CIA in Asia at this time was Chuck Cogan.'
The Soviets were taking advantage of our perceived weakness
and were advancing on all fronts.
The Cuban proxies in Angola, the other advances in the Horn of Africa,
and it seemed as though we were, we had lost momentum.
And then, at the end of the '70s, in '79,
this opportunity arose in Afghanistan
when the Pakistan Intelligence Service approached us
and asked if we could help support the Mujahideen,
the rebels who had risen up against the Communist government.
When this opportunity arose in Afghanistan,
I mean, the watchword was revenge.
Revenge above all for Vietnam.
The communist governments had supported the resistance in Vietnam,
and 58,000 Americans had been killed in this faraway land,
in the first ever humiliation of the United States.
Now, six years later, the US saw a chance
to give the Soviet Union a taste of their own medicine.
We felt that somehow if we could sort of right this balance
and inflict as much damage as possible on Russian soldiers,
this would be a sort of a semi-vindication.
Cogan authorised a plan to covertly supply weapons
across the Pakistani border to the Mujahideen in Afghanistan,
but only weapons that could not be traced back to the US.
And Cogan agreed the plan directly with Pakistan's military ruler, General Zia.
This Afghan covert action programme run by the agency
would never have gotten off the ground without Zia.
And I can remember meeting Zia
in Zia's rather modest bungalow in Rawalpindi.
And during the meeting,
Zia brought out this huge map of Pakistan and Afghanistan,
and he put a red template over the southern part
of where Afghanistan touches Pakistan and Iran.
The Pakistanis always want to have an influence in Afghanistan,
as an insurance against India,
and as a sort of rearguard for themselves,
they decided to help the Mujahideen.
And at the same time Zia used another simile,
which he used frequently, and that is,
"The pot should be kept boiling, but should not boil over."
In other words, the Soviets should not be antagonised by this amount of,
huge amount of weaponry to the point that they would intervene
to attack across the border into Pakistan
or some other action, air attacks, and we were very conscious of this.
For that reason, Cogan's operation remained relatively small and secret
and in itself it would have had only a modest effect
upon the outcome of the Afghan-Soviet war.
'But, at this point, the Islamist Afghans
'acquired the most unexpected anti-communist ally of all.
'The Christian, Texan, wealthy socialite, Joanne Herring.'
-There's very few champions like Miss Herring.
-That's right, that's right.
-The man you just met is one of the richest men in Houston...
..and he is wonderful.
He does so much and, and I'm working on him for Afghanistan.
This is an evening which both shows Joanne Herring
as part of the Texan elite with whom she raises money
at gala dinners like this
and through whom she influences policy,
but it's also a reminder that she is a very unique individual.
She is somebody who almost single-handedly
created the entire American support
for the Mujahideen during the Afghan war.
'The CIA was of course already involved with the resistance,
'but it was this society hostess
'which took it into a different league financially.
'And she did it for the most improbable reasons
'and in the most unlikely way.'
I worked with the Afghan poor in the mountains.
I felt that they were an honourable people, and that they valued honour,
but they valued freedom more than anything on Earth.
And when you think of the juggernauts that they have faced.
Great Britain was the strongest country in the world,
the sun never set really on the British flag.
And they were now facing, when I was there,
the greatest build-up of military might in history
and they were willing to fight to the death against that
with pitchforks, so to speak.
Joanne Herring's mission was
to make sure it wasn't pitchforks or ancient rifles
that the Mujahideen had to fight with,
but that they could take on the Soviet military
with the latest in 20th century weaponry.
And the secret of her success was one relationship in particular.
So, guess who I was dating?
The minute Charlie heard about it, wow!
He understood the communists, and he wanted to stop them too.
Joanne Herring's boyfriend
happened to be Texan Congressman Charlie Wilson.
And crucially, he sat on the Congressional Committee
which set the budgets for the CIA Covert Operations.
And what happened next was brilliantly portrayed
in the Hollywood film Charlie Wilson's War.
-What do you want me to do, Joanne?
-This is what I want you to do.
I want you to save Afghanistan for the Afghans.
I want you to deliver such a crushing defeat to the Soviets
that communism crumbles and, in so doing, end the Cold War.
I'll tell you, I'd do it too, but I've got this Dairy Queen problem in Nacogdoches.
Don't underestimate me, Charlie. Believe everything you've heard.
-What exactly do you want me to do?
-Go to Pakistan and meet with Zia.
-He's the President of Pakistan!
-I've already arranged it.
With Joanne Herring's help, Charlie Wilson lobbied and cajoled the committee,
and persuaded them to channel incredible quantities of funds, in secret, to the Mujahideen.
Total US funding for the resistance
went from five million to nine billion dollars.
It became the largest covert operation in US history.
But Charlie Wilson never pretended
to have a deep understanding of Afghanistan itself,
let alone its problems.
When I try to think about Charlie Wilson,
I tend to come back to this building,
because this, the Lincoln Memorial,
with the Gettysburg address on the wall,
was Charlie Wilson's favourite place in DC.
And when he talks about Afghanistan,
he said that the war in Afghanistan was like Gettysburg.
How could Charlie Wilson think
that a bundle of mountains in central Afghanistan,
10,000 miles away, was like Gettysburg?
Somehow though in his mind, he was a hero, he was Lincoln,
and what was happening in Afghanistan seemed to him
something that threatened the very survival of the United States.
These Texan anti-communists
who spoke of their common cause with the Mujahideen,
romantically painting them as religious freedom fighters,
were really only using Afghanistan
as a proxy for their fight with Soviet Russia.
But the billions of dollars of US funding,
matched dollar for dollar by Saudi Arabia
and the supply routes and safe havens provided by Pakistan
transformed the fortunes of the Afghan resistance.
Now, the Soviets faced not just a popular resistance,
but a guerrilla army equipped with the latest in military hardware.
And when America started supplying Stinger
and other anti-aircraft missiles to the Mujahideen,
they started bringing down Soviet helicopters.
But it was the mines, or what we would call today IEDs,
that the Soviets remember.
And Afghans had become the specialists in mines they still are today.
'General Muslim led the Afghan resistance in this part of the Panjshir valley.'
The bulk of Soviet supplies came by roads like these
and the Mujahideen attacks began to kill thousands of Soviets soldiers
and cut off their supply routes.
The Russians began to call this conflict a war of mines.
The Soviet army brought in helicopters,
experimented with new tactics,
took the most brutal revenge against villages,
but they were never able to defeat the insurgents.
The Russian Special Forces
that landed from helicopters on these ridgelines
were some of the toughest, most courageous,
best trained troops in the world.
And yet, they never really saw their enemy.
They were attacked with mines, people shot into their tents at night,
they were suddenly ambushed with rockets.
And when they wanted to put all their military training,
all their courage, all their energy into action,
they felt they were fighting an army of ghosts.
'And so, if the Soviet tactics hadn't worked,
'weren't working, and weren't going to work,
'why did they continue?'
A British ambassador once said to me
that the US and its allies could not leave Afghanistan
because they had lost too much blood and treasure.
And the same thought has been in the minds of people for centuries here.
Because when empires begin to lose, begin to spend,
begin to have soldiers killed, begin to make promises,
begin to produce justifications,
it becomes more and more difficult for them to leave.
And they end up simply piling more corpses
on top of their soldier's bodies
in the hope that this can somehow justify their loss.
In very blunt terms,
those soldiers are dead and gone, and they're never coming back,
and you can never honour soldiers
by piling more corpses on top of their head.
But no general feels this, no politician can say this,
and so the killing and the occupation continues
far longer than it ever should.
At home, the Soviets tried to conceal
the failures and brutality of this occupation.
The public was told the Soviets were popular,
were helping the Afghan people
and that the rebels were only a small minority of terrorists.
In a Moscow library, I met with Vladimir Vyatkin,
a state photographer sent to Afghanistan in the 1980s.
'When he began to take photographs and ask questions about the war,
'he was sent home and banned from further travel.'
How much was he able to see of Kabul?
TRANSLATES QUESTION INTO RUSSIAN
As the Soviets tried to maintain the illusion
that Afghanistan was a largely peaceful mission,
dead bodies were returned to Russia,
sealed in unopenable zinc coffins
and delivered to their families at night.
'Finally, Mikhael Gorbachev, who became General Secretary in 1985,
'made the decision to withdraw.
'It was the right decision and a courageous one.
'But he had many interests to manage, not least the military,
'who were demanding more time and more resources.
'So the deadline was set three years out for 1988.'
The parallels between Gorbachev and Obama are really striking.
In both cases they come in, they accept that it's not going well.
In both cases they do a mini-surge, they say to the military,
"We're going to give you a little more time and more troops,
"we're going to try harder."
Under Gorbachev, the amount of expenditure on Afghanistan in fact goes up,
but at the same time they're setting a deadline,
and a deadline that completely erodes their authority.
So between these two impossibilities,
the impossibility of winning
and the impossibility of acknowledging that you can't win,
all the tragedy of Obama and Gorbachev emerges.
If you were going to pass a message
to the American and British troops today,
what would you say to them?
But the route out of Afghanistan is never quick or straight.
Although it was now clear that Russia was withdrawing,
it would still be years before the final soldier left.
And whilst the bloodletting continued,
no-one really believed in the project any more.
Half as many soldiers died again following the decision to withdraw.
By the time they leave,
there's nobody there to greet them.
Nobody from the Department of Defence,
nobody from the Politburo, nobody from the party.
They've sacrificed 25,000 lives for the ideal of the Soviet Union
and not a single person pays them the courtesy
of meeting them at the border.
'The Afghan war may not have brought down the Soviet Empire,
'but the war had dealt it a major blow,
'both financially and to its prestige.
'And the Politburo was embarrassed
'even to honour the sacrifice of its soldiers.'
This is the great monument
to the Soviet soldiers of the Second World War.
For generations now, Soviet soldiers have come to this flame
to remember their sacrifice and their victory.
But the Afghansti, the Soviet soldiers from Afghanistan,
returned to a different world.
They came from an almost shameful, secret war,
'and the million who returned, many of them psychologically damaged,
'returned to a Soviet Union that was itself collapsing.'
Now, 12 years later,
veterans of Afghanistan still meet in places like this,
Moscow's Kombat Bar.
I wanted to sit with them and find out
'what these veterans thought
'all this killing and sacrifice had been for.'
Could you ask a little about whether they felt
that they were trying to modernise the Afghan state?
But many of these other veterans were much more sceptical
about their mission and the ideology behind it.
'But elsewhere, others were celebrating.
'The US felt it had won a war
'without losing a single American soldier.
'For it was Afghans who had fought on their behalf.
'Hundreds of thousands had died
'and Afghanistan had been left with a shattered economy and government.
'Would the US take responsibility for Afghanistan in the future?
'The man who ran the CIA's covert action in the latter part of the war
'now lives in rural Vermont.
'He's never spoken publicly about Afghanistan before
'and I wanted to ask Tom Twetten about the American post-war plan.'
We have this sort of piece of paper in our system,
which is called "the finding," that is signed by the President.
Our finding on the Afghanistan said, "Push the Russians out,
"support the Afghans, give them all the support they need",
but it didn't say anything about what came next.
I can remember being present at a congressional hearing
in which one Congressman actually said,
"So what party are you going to back?"
And we said, "Well, that's not our problem, we don't do that."
We're a tool of foreign policy.
That covert action tool worked, was successful in this case,
and then over to you, diplomats.
That was a problem of really bad timing,
because '88, '89, the wall came down in Berlin.
It was the major event of the 20th century,
the end of the Cold War really,
and Afghanistan fell off the bottom.
There were no funds for the reconstruction of Afghanistan,
but what the Americans did leave was modern weaponry,
some in the hands of Islamists
increasingly connected to global terror networks.
There was one goal that trumped all others,
help the Afghans defend their soil, kill the Russians.
Who was there to do it? They were all Islamists,
and we didn't spend much time thinking about, you know,
what degree of Islamist is it that we can't tolerate.
Twetten's CIA had avoided the trap of outright occupation.
But they had worked
within a dangerously narrow and limited vision,
funding brutal warlords, men linked to terrorists
who would eventually kill thousands across the world.
But the first to reap the consequences were not the Americans,
but the Afghans themselves.
Ten years of Soviet occupation had left Kabul largely intact.
But when the Mujahideen seized the capital,
they turned on each other,
firing rockets from the ridgelines, destroying the very city
and killing the very families they'd fought to liberate.
The civil war, perhaps the very darkest period in Afghan history,
lasted for five long years.
'I asked these Afghan men
'about its impact on their lives and their city.'
IN NATIVE LANGUAGE:
It was out of this dark period that the Taliban emerged,
believers in a strict interpretation of Islamic law.
Many were the orphan children of the Soviet war,
taught in fundamentalist schools.
They captured 90% of the country in just 2½ years.
They're infamous today for their brutality,
but many Afghans were at first grateful that the Taliban had won,
because they ended the rule of the warlords,
the gangster militias and the civil war.
'I'm afraid many people in the centre of the old city of Kabul felt like that.'
After three years of seeing these great heroic leaders,
the resistance against the Soviet Union,
turned into these monsters of depravity, corruption,
power and killing,
the Taliban seemed a relief.
But for millions of Afghans, Taliban rule was hell.
They banned girls from school,
forced women to hide even their faces
and they inflicted the most terrifying punishments.
And yet, the West did not interfere.
It wasn't the Taliban's cruelty
that led to the next foreign invasion, it was this.
The mastermind of 9/11 first came to Afghanistan
to fight for Islam against the Soviet Union.
He wasn't an Afghan, nor were the 9/11 hijackers,
but the Taliban government gave them refuge.
Once again, a superpower invaded
and, this time, with good reason - to get Al Qaeda.
The coalition brought many improvements to Afghanistan,
particularly in the early days,
but the US soon faced the almost irresistible temptations of empire.
Like the Soviets, they were tempted to reshape Afghanistan
ever more in their own image.
And when the resistance began against them,
like Britain and the Soviets before them,
the coalition did not want to seem weak.
And, once again, another superpower and its allies
were trapped into investing more and more into Afghanistan.
Now, the Taliban has formed again
and the country faces more upheaval or even civil war.
We're on our way to find Mullah Rocketi.
He's a Taliban commander who took the name Rocketi
cos he used to fire a lot of rockets.
'The last time I met a Taliban commander,
'people pulled guns on me and, and threatened to kill me.
'This time, I'm really hoping for more of a political discussion.'
I found him in reflective mood thinking back on the invasion
and the cycle of Afghan politics.
IN NATIVE LANGUAGE:
Three mighty imperial powers,
the British Empire, the Soviet Union and the United States,
all came here, occupied and were trapped.
For each, over the last 200 years,
it was easy to enter Afghanistan,
but proved very difficult to get out.
In Boston's Helmand Restaurant,
'owned by the sister of the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai,
'I reflected on these two centuries of Afghan history
'with my friend the historian Tom Barfield.'
Foreigners always coming into Afghanistan think,
"We have just what the Afghans need",
and are surprised that the people aren't buying it.
And a little bit more knowledge would be there is nothing
that has been tried militarily or civilian in Afghanistan
that two empires before haven't already succeeded or failed at doing.
A little knowledge of that would be like, been there, done that.
Or, you know, this road leads to a bad end.
The price paid in these wars
by the people of Afghanistan is unimaginable.
A self-contained country targeted repeatedly by imperial powers,
left with its society shattered
and over a million Afghan dead.
This suffering and the intervention of all these foreigners,
Victorian British and Soviet Russian, CIA and Bin Laden,
and the current coalition of nations,
has shaped modern Afghanistan.
But, ultimately, this is a story that reveals, for me,
less about Afghanistan itself and more about the foreigners.
There's something about invasion,
particularly invasion of Afghanistan,
which means that you go in very briefly and you get trapped
because all these theories, your fear of Muslim terrorists,
your fear of some other great superpower,
your worries about your own pride trap you in that country.
And from that point onwards, there's nothing that you feel you can do
other than to dig ever and more futilely deeper.
Afghanistan has been for so many men a place of heroism, self-sacrifice.
And yet, in the end, all this energy, all this courage,
was in pursuit of something which is simply wrong.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
Rory Stewart tells the story of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the twentieth century, and its parallels with the American-led coalition's intervention today.
He explains that, quite contrary to popular understanding, the Soviets were reluctant invaders who agonized over the risks of intervention, but despite all these misgivings, they were sucked into Afghanistan.
At first they thought it would take them a matter of months, but eight years later, when they departed, they had gained nothing but humiliation and horror.
In this film Rory Stewart meets the soldiers and generals on both sides, and he meets the CIA spies who covertly funded the Afghans to the tune of nine billions dollars.
And he explains the bloody and tragic aftermath of this invasion - civil war, the rise of the Taliban, and the US-led invasion following the World Trade Centre attack.