Afghanistan: Pass the $1 billion a week baton to Russia?

Posted March 23rd, 2012 at 6:47 am (UTC+0)
29 comments

American soldiers of 101st Airborne Division return fire during a firefight with Taliban forces in Barawala Kalay Valley in Kunar province, Afghanistan, March 2011. Photo: U.S. Army: Pfc. Cameron Boyd

In early September 2002, one year after American troops entered Afghanistan, I reported newspaper stories from Kandahar, the main city of the Pashto-speaking southern part of Afghanistan.

I drove in from Quetta, Pakistan, and stayed 10 days at the “best” hotel on Kandahar’s main street.

For one report, I spent a morning walking the street with a Pashto-English interpreter. I talked to the video rental man, poked around the bazaar, and sipped tea with the used car dealer and his brothers. As a Westerner, I was a bit of an attraction. People were curious. Some were reserved. Some were friendly. For most of my stay, I’m sure the Taliban knew where I was.

This was back when the war’s goal was to destroy al-Qaida in Afghanistan. From the ruins I saw of Tarnak Farms, the Al Qaeda training camp near Kandahar airport, it was clear that the American and allied soldiers had done fine job of that.

Then, two Washington syndromes descended on Afghanistan.

With mission creep, getting rid of al-Qaida morphed into democratizing Afghanistan.
Without a sunset clause, the war went on and on and on.

New Best Friends? Afghan President Hamid Karzai said in mid-March that his country is plagued by “two demons” – the Taliban and American soldiers. Here, he meets in Sochi, Russia with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. But Russian officials balk at the $100 billion a year cost of stabilizing Afghanistan. They now say American troops should stay until Afghanistan is 'stabilized.' Photo: Reuters/Dmitry Astakhov

As George Friedman, CEO of the Stratfor analytical group, wrote Monday, Afghanistan has become the longest multi-divisional war fought in American history.

And where is the progress? Ten years after I strolled in the sun down the main street of Kandahar, I now would only cover that stretch of asphalt in an armored car.

After a decade, the American public is realizing that Afghanistan is not working out as hoped. In poll after poll, two thirds of Americans want to bring our soldiers home.

With President Hamid Karzai calling American soldiers “demons” last week, the current pullout date of December 2014 seems awfully far away.

In addition to the human cost, American congressmen and American taxpayers are now focusing on the financial cost. Until recently, the calculation was $1 billion a week. Then last week, Rep. Walter Jones, a Republican of North Carolina, upped the bill, saying: “We are spending $10 billion a month that we can’t even pay for.”

In response, Moscow is saying this week: Not so fast!

A little background.

For the last five years, Russia has enjoyed the luxury of sniping from the sidelines at the NATO mission in Afghanistan. Just last month, Konstantin Dolgov, the Foreign Ministry’s Commissioner on Human Rights, used a new United Nations report to criticize NATO for rising civilian casualties. He neglected to mention that the same U.N. report said the Taliban and other insurgents caused 77 percent of documented civilian deaths.

Russian officials routinely — and correctly — note that the NATO mission has made little progress in reducing poppy crops and opium production in Afghanistan. What they fail to note is that, after decades of war against cocaine and marijuana production in Latin America, the street prices for cocaine and marijuana in North America have not changed much since my time in college (a long time ago). The current bloodbath in Mexico is the latest evidence of a failing drug war in the Americas.

Going home: 1st Sgt. Michael McKay, of 101st Airborne Division counts fellow soldiers boarding a C-130 cargo plane as they begin the trip home upon completion of a year long deployment last August in Paktika province, Afghanistan. In polls, majorities of Americans say they want to see an end to what has become the nation’s longest war. Photo: AP/David Goldman

According to the latest figures, the U.S. is spending over $100 million to stop heroin trafficking into Central Asia, and on to Russia. Maybe that money would be more efficiently used in the United States — on education and needle exchange programs to protect our own people?

Moscow has made a big deal about allowing NATO cargo and personnel to fly over or travel through Russia. It does not mention the fine print: Russian transport companies earn about $1 billion a year on these contracts.

But Moscow also wants people to be blind to the BIG PRINT: The United States has been giving Russia enormous help in Afghanistan for the last decade. A chaotic, unstable Afghanistan could destabilize Central Asia, and eventually Russia’s Islamic south.

Facing calls in the U.S. for a faster withdrawal, Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, gave a lengthy interview Sunday to a reporter from ToloNews, the Afghan TV network.

“I don’t think the job has been done,” Lavrov warned in blunt English. Taking a legal tack, he argued that American troops can only leave Afghanistan when they can report to the United Nations that they have met their mandate to provide law and order in Afghanistan.

Soviet troops and armored personnel carriers withdrawing from Afghanistan in 1988. Photo: Mikhail Evstafiev

“It’s clear that trouble continues in Afghanistan, and that terrorist attacks have not subsided,” he continued. “We are especially concerned that terrorist activities have spread to the north of Afghanistan, where three years ago there was a quiet situation. The terrorists have basically pushed into the northern territories of Afghanistan from where they infiltrate to the Central Asian neighbors of the Russian Federation.”

Lavrov went on to unveil the development programs that Russia plans for Afghanistan: rebuilding the old Soviet cultural center in Kabul as a Russian cultural center, and reviving as many as 150 projects from the 1980s, the Soviet’s own decade-long intervention in Afghanistan.

On Friday, Viktor Ivanov, director of Russia’s Drug Control Service, joined the chorus, warning about chaos in Afghanistan after an American pullout in 2014. He told reporters in Moscow: “Apparently, after 2014 there will be an uncontrollable rise in drug production, some sort of heroin, hashish tsunami that will head both to Russia and the E.U countries along the Balkan route.”

But the people to persuade are American taxpayers, a group that is increasingly tired of spending $1-2 billion a week to keep the peace in a landlocked nation of minimal strategic value, on the far side of the globe from the United States.

Here’s an idea: Maybe Russia might want to pick up the Afghan baton again? Maybe Moscow would like to take over policing Afghanistan for the next decade?
Since many Russians today indulge in selective Soviet nostalgia, wouldn’t policing Afghanistan fit perfectly into the national mood? Back to the big power 1980s!

Russia has $505 billion in foreign reserves — good for a decade of Afghan stabilization.
And on spending money, the Kremlin has a huge advantage over the American White House.
Most of Russia’s federal budget comes from taxes paid by 15 large energy and natural resource companies.

In contrast, President Obama has to deal with 100 million tax payers, most of whom plan to vote on Nov. 6. Now that Vladimir Putin has won his reelection, he does not have to worry about playing nice to voters.

I’m sure that all the Russian teachers, doctors, soldiers and pensioners who were promised big pay hikes during last month’s presidential campaign will fully understand that their pay raises will be indefinitely delayed in order to try to stabilize Afghanistan.

So far, Americans have grudgingly agreed to do their bit. But now, having done our decade in Afghanistan, Americans might like to focus on rebuilding the United States.

Since there are 52 weeks in the year and 50 states in the Union, each week, one new state would win the $1 billion lottery! And, at the end of the year, we would have $2 billion left over for Guam, Puerto Rico and American Samoa!

Sound like a plan, Moscow? Start practicing your Pashto!

Back to the future? A Soviet Spetsnaz, or special operations, group prepares for a mission in Afghanistan, 1988. The next year, the Soviet Union pulled out, ending a 9-year military intervention. Photo: Mikhail Evstafiev

James Brooke
James Brooke is the Russia/CIS bureau chief for Voice of America. A lifelong journalist, he covered West Africa, Brazil, the American Rocky Mountain States, Canada, and Japan/Korea for The New York Times. A resident of Moscow since 2006, he was first Bloomberg bureau chief for the region. In 2010, he joined VOA. In addition to writing Russia Watch, his weekly blog, he also does video, radio and web reports from Russia and the former USSR.

29 responses to “Afghanistan: Pass the $1 billion a week baton to Russia?”

  1. […] for which a US soldier is due to face charges, saying they had no faith in any court …Afghanistan: Pass the $1 billion a week baton to Russia?Voice of America (blog)Taliban vows revenge for US massacreToronto SunTaliban claims to have no […]

  2. Peter Zen says:

    Britain twice in the 19th cent. – failed! Russia in the 1970’s/80’s – failed! Britain and USA et al, last ten years – failed! How many clues do you need? We don’t belong there; they don’t want us there – they never did! Defence from terrorism must occur at our own borders. We are NOT capable of policing the world; democracy is not a concept that most arabs support – they are feudal, medieval, trapped in the 21st cent. with 14th cent. mentality and war lord dominated social systems. Ergo north west europeans and the yanks should depart forthwith. Also, never put boots on foreign land again – we don’t have the right!! There are unlimited alternatives to oil, and who gives a damn whether the Russians have more influence than us anyway?

  3. […] Afghanistan: Pass the $1 billion a week baton to Russia?Voice of America (blog)American soldiers of 101st Airborne Division return fire during a firefight with Taliban forces in Barawala Kalay Valley in Kunar province, Afghanistan, March 2011. Photo: US Army: Pfc. Cameron Boyd In early September 2002, one year after American …Afghan Taliban: no faith in trial of US massacre suspectReutersAfghanistan: what 'victory' looks likeBradenton HeraldPresident must end 10-year warLas Vegas SunThe Daily Advertiser -This is Cornwall -Florida Courierall 65 news articles » […]

  4. Terrence says:

    We need to Leave Immediatley, give them some goats and they will be happy. If three major powers could not bring them into the 20th century after trying for 100 years, its not ever going to happen. We should have used Afganistan for Nuclear waste disposal for the rest of the world, send all their refugee’s to Pakistan.

  5. […] Afghanistan: Pass the $1 billion a week baton to Russia? – Voice of America (blog) Posted in Afghanistan, Featured Stories, U.S. News, War on Terror, Washington Politics, World at War, World News | Tags: afghanistan, america, barawala, barawala-kalay, cameron-boyd, courier, Economist, florida-courier, moscow-news, return-fire, russia, taliban /* […]

  6. SM says:

    Better yet…China?

  7. Njunaid says:

    In the last year of their Afghan occupation, the Soviets requested Ronald Regan to help them with a face saving way out, instead, Regan increased the donation of Fire Power to the Taliban by a BILLION dollar to humiliate them. As always, the Irony of Afgan adventures by foreigner historically “Shameful exit only”, as at this time even the US Puppit Karzai considers the US a “Demon”. Ask yourselves, why havnt Pakistan, Iran or the Turkiministan states have ever tried to conquor or included Afghanistan within themselves.They always warn invaders not to do so, but powerful never listens till they are humiliated. Go figure.

    • El Cuetlachtli says:

      @ Njunaid

      Funny that you say we can’t conquer the country, if we had tried to truly take over and establish ourselves all we need is firepower against everyone and everything, completely remove any signs of life and then walk right in and set up everything how we want. Instead we tried to win the hearts and minds of a people that don’t want us there and are apparently contempt with living in the past. No one can truly say that you cannot completely overtake another county, because if you apply enough military firepower (especially to a country that can’t defend themselves) anything really is possible. Like I said earlier though, we tried the nice approach and I really don’t see any of the countries currently assisting as failures simply because they all tried their best. “ACTA NON VERBA” and “SIC VIS PACUM PARA BELLUM”

  8. Gennady says:

    1. The article conveys bitterness as the cost of the war for the USA is enormous and Russian government is reluctant to pick up the Afghan baton again.
    Technically for Vladimir Putin to start the war is easy-peasy. In nowadays Russia under the state of emergency he doesn’t need anybody’s approval but rubber-stamping Duma.
    Just to suspend more articles in the Russian Constitution.
    The same as there are people in the world who still believe that the Earth is flat and rests on three elephants, there are influential people in Russia who think that policing Afghanistan would fit perfectly into the brainwashed national mood. The warmongering people dream of back to the big power 1980s! They are profiting from human sufferings and already have the never-ending billion-cost war in the Northern Caucasus.

    2. Mr. Putin does not have to worry about playing nice to voters after “winning” the election. But without any doubt the war will cost him his crown as he doesn’t enjoy 50% support of the beginning of his rule.
    a) All impoverished teachers, doctors, soldiers and pensioners in Russia whom he promised big pay hikes during last month’s presidential campaign wouldn’t support the priority of stabilizing Afghanistan over their pay raises.
    b) Russia hasn’t got enough resources. At the time of the Soviet war in Afghanistan (1979-1989) Russia was the 2-nd largest world economy. Nowadays it ranks just 11-th. Russia has just regained 1990 year level of economic development. Spread of corruption is peak high and consistently shows that Russia shoulders Nigeria (!) and is at the bottom of the global rank. State of scientific research, public education and health care became unacceptably low.
    c) the dying-out backward country has got neither enough man-power, nor expertise to wage XXI wars. Even at the time of its glory the conscript Soviet army in 1979-1989 wasn’t able to wage the Asian war skillfully enough. Soviets suffered insurmountable losses in Afghanistan: more than 14000 dead, 53000 wounded, 416000 fallen sick of acute GI infection, infectious hepatitis & typhoid, 11000 discharged as disabled.
    The SU wasn’t able to provide its war personnel with safe drinking water and proper waste utilization!!!
    It’s in stark contrast to the losses of the USA army and allies: just 3700 dead & 30000 wounded, fallen sick are not even mentioned.

    • alibi says:

      I’m gonna ignore your bs about the warmongering Russians who just can’t wait to conquere the rest of whats left after the Yanks u seem to be pretty clueless on that one, anyways just wanted to give you an idea about Russian losses in Afghanistan vs the NATO – lets imagine that the Russians provided the Taliban with financial and military supply on the level the Americans did back in the 80s. Say a few hundreed of RPGs and SAMs, plus lets say a dosen of training camps on the Afghan border just to make sure the bad guys from Taliban have some rest and training ‘maybe add to it top of the range mines instead of hand made ones, unlimited munition supply, radar and GPS jammers to get rid of drones and pin point strikes. Reckon it might adjust the numbers a bit?

  9. Harms says:

    Pass the baton to Russia? Bring the country back to the position when you “strolled in the sun down the main street of Kandahar” and we shall discuss your offer.

  10. SA-RUS- says:

    You forgot. During stay of USSR in Afghanistan, America supplied Talibs with the weapon. Now Russia doesn’t do it. If Russia gave the weapon to Talibs, Americans would have losses.

  11. Evgenij says:

    может быть вы американцы и несете демократию, но счас вы без броневика шагу не сделаете а наши пацаны в города там покупки делали. Специалисты строили школы дороги и больницы и это еще не все.а вы за собой только разруху оставляете!!!! Хотя честно говоря и у наших минусы были.

  12. Влад says:

    google translate
    You have rich imagination))).You have a good ability to make other plans. By the way Russia has no common border with Afghanistan. And the drug is very well fighting the Taliban can not be said of NATO troops. Your sarcasm is ignorant. Nastalgiya for Soviet times has nothing to do with this war. Are you know why the Soviet Union sent troops into Afghanistan? Russian troops did not interfere with the United States – is not supplying weapons to the Taliban, and still you lose the war. Are the Russian can discuss other countries failures in Afghanistan? Sorry for the sarcasm. Soviet Union was building in Afghanistan, roads, bridges, schools, and did not complain about how much it is all costing. How many schools built the U.S. in Afghanistan? More than just destroy certain and spend money on the clan leaders that they did not shoot at you

    • Njunaid says:

      Whatever you are smoking/ chewing or snorting is certainly from Afghanistan because they produce the best, which most invaders of Afghanistan do. I was there when you were probably getting Potty training kid.
      I am talking about us defeating our own ego and hormone ridden fried brains. It takes very little physical effort to make a hundered Mud home, even less to make a hundered Afghan Babies (Terrorist if you may call them) and a small amount to of cheap Urea Fertilizer to blow our million dollar vehicles. The cost of this war will kill us not the enemy my die hard American countryman. Lets give a chance to our brains like our ancestors.

  13. Anatoly says:

    What a wonder! The USA started military operations in Afghanistan ten years ago, undertaking certain commitments. Then, after 10 years of the war you understood that casualty and expenses are very large, but it has given no results. Situation in Afghanistan even deteriorated for the time of the war. What is that to Russia? The author began the article with the problems of the USA and concluded it with giving sharp rebukes to Russia. Oh shure, everything’s fault of Russia! Again! Laying the blame for their own problems on someone else is a characteristic feature of the USA.
    The Russian Government members just give their opinions of the war results. And the results are following. Terrorists didn’t annihilate. They are simply moved to the areals near the countries conterminal to Russia. Since the beginning of the war we have been observing growth of opium poppy production in Afghanistan and growth of flow of the opium to Russia. Of course, Russians are dissatisfied with the results! Besides, Afghanistan is in a clutter now. It’s not allowed for the country that positions itself as a world leader just to come, bomb, shoot, and leave. Cause there are certain commitments of the USA vis-a-vis the Afghans, since the moment of the beginning of the war.

  14. […] Services Committee on Tuesday he made the case for the US to “stay the course in Afghanistan.Afghanistan: Pass the $1 billion a week baton to Russia?Voice of America (blog)Proffitt: Good reasons to leave AfghanistanSarasota Herald-TribuneBurman: A […]

  15. Kolja says:

    Definitely US and NATO fought in Afgan under support of Russia. Author himself recalls that Russia today became the one only pathway to supply NATO troops in Afganistan. She gave permission to Kyrgizes to open airbase there to do direct ground support of troops in Afgan. Compare it with what America gave to USSR in 1980th. Weaponry supplies to same Taliban. If Russia cut pathway and gave weapons to Taliban then NATO run away from Afgan in week. Don’t you agree? But.. Russia of course acts in her interests and will support NATO in Afgan further ahead. Right. But do not wait that Russia will go to fight in Afgan herself. Russia will stand aside. It is in her interests.

  16. […] 24, 2012) By Laura King, Los Angeles Times Lately, …Could we leave Afghanistan early?Fox NewsAfghanistan: Pass the $1 billion a week baton to Russia?Voice of America (blog)Afghan Taliban: no faith in trial of US massacre suspectReutersSarasota […]

  17. El Cuetlachtli says:

    so what you are all saying is that the US gave weapons to the Taliban during the Soviet occupation, in which the Soviets would force Afghans to try and change (usually a tank platoon would come in to town and tie people to the tracks to make sure the Afghans understood) and you say the Soviets would build schools and other such things. Where now the US is helping the Afghans build their own schools and hospitals (we are teaching them to do it on their own) and we teach them about democracy but tell them to do as they please, all the while Russia let us build some airbases. This all tells me that Russia does not want anything to do with Afghanistan.

    • Kolja says:

      People got tied to tank tracks? It is pure BS and fairy tales. Soviets may just destroy smal village from air and by artillary if they got fired from that village. They answered with whole firepower against shoots in thier direction. True. But to tie people to tank tracks? Why that? Soviets even didn’t speak thier language so what they can convince Afganis with? You just think yourself. Why you will tie someone to anything if he doesn’t understand what you doing and why is it you doing. It is complete BS story. Americans today act just like soviets in past. Use whole firepower if shot upon. Teach them a democracy? Don’t you see how funny it sounded:). Common you spent 1 trillion of tax payer money for almost nothing. Only one alliviation from that. Most of money was spent inside of US for US military and weaponry industry. But still it is bad spendings.

  18. Alex says:

    Technically for Vladimir Putin to start the war is easy-peasy. In nowadays Russia under the state of emergency he doesn’t need anybody’s approval but rubber-stamping Duma.
    Just to suspend more articles in the Russian Constitution.
    ————————-
    Sorry buddy – what are you talking about ? US or Russia ?
    For US – easy enough – without questions for Russia ..2nd war in Afghanistan ?
    Almost impossible

    there are influential people in Russia who think that policing Afghanistan would fit perfectly into the brainwashed national mood.
    ——–
    one more time do not confuse Americans and Russians…
    We are so different

    The warmongering people dream of back to the big power 1980s! They are profiting from human sufferings and already have the never-ending billion-cost war in the Northern Caucasus.
    ———–
    One thing about warmongers – WHO attacked Iraq Libya Serbia Afghanistan ?
    Tell me who ? Russian warmongers ?
    Who preparing war against Iran ?
    Northern Caucasus – Russian territory

    2. Mr. Putin does not have to worry about playing nice to voters after “winning” the election. But without any doubt the war will cost him his crown as he doesn’t enjoy 50% support of the beginning of his rule.
    a) All impoverished teachers, doctors, soldiers and pensioners in Russia whom he promised big pay
    ————————–
    If you spend a lot of many on your soldiers – why you can’t put them I n actions ???
    (joke)

    b) Russia hasn’t got enough resources.
    ——————
    US also hasn’t got
    USA have gone bankrupt

    . Spread of corruption is peak high and consistently shows that Russia shoulders Nigeria (!) and is at the bottom of the global rank.
    —————————
    Why so much troubles with Russia in Syria ? USA must ignore this backward country

    State of scientific research, public education and health care became unacceptably low.
    ———————–
    In US and UK all goes well….

    c) the dying-out backward country has got neither enough man-power, nor expertise to wage XXI wars.
    ————————-
    US lost war in Afghanistan and gone bankrupt .. here the problem

    Even at the time of its glory the conscript Soviet army in 1979-1989 wasn’t able to wage the Asian war skillfully enough. It’s in stark contrast to the losses of the USA army and allies: just 3700 dead & 30000 wounded, fallen sick are not even mentioned.
    ——————————
    SU and US fought 2 different wars in Afghanistan …
    If you attentively look at US military ops – you see the difference
    Always the same thing – US Army NEVER meet strong enemy face to face…
    US Army means CARPET BOMBING.
    Dresden and Hiroshima – not Stalingrad
    The same thing for Afghani no real combats and ground ops
    no ground control at all …
    Only drones killing children’s
    . And U.S. soldiers mostly defending themselves ..
    NO big losses !

  19. Mister Karzai forgot who make him a king

    I think it was a big mistake to stay in Afghanistan. As a former French officer in charge of Asia watch, I think we have to take in consideration the failure of the British, and later of the Soviets in Afghanistan.

    I think it was necessery to destroy the Al Qaida camps and track Ben Laden, as while to dismantle the Taliban regime, but also to leave the mission achieved. So many soldiers killed from all our countries, so many money send for what a result !

    Follow me on The New Asia Observer
    http://www.asiaobserver.org.

  20. […] Drawdown in Afghanistan: What America’s Civilian and Military Leaders are Saying Russia Watch: Afghanistan: Pass the $1 billion a week baton to Russia? National Interest: Five Reasons to Withdraw from […]

  21. […] in 2014, according to Britain's ambassador in Kabul.Could we leave Afghanistan early?Fox NewsAfghanistan: Pass the $1 billion a week baton to Russia?Voice of America (blog)A Feminist on Afghanistan: Qur'an Burning and […]

  22. John says:

    @Alex
    Quote”,The warmongering people dream of back to the big power 1980s! They are profiting from human sufferings and already have the never-ending billion-cost war in the Northern Caucasus.
    ———–
    One thing about warmongers – WHO attacked Iraq Libya Serbia Afghanistan ?
    Tell me who ? Russian warmongers ?
    Who preparing war against Iran ?
    Northern Caucasus – Russian territory”.

    Who Invaded Ukraine, Georgia, Hungary, Poland, Finland, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland, and Romania

  23. Pyotr says:

    Russia is a bum with a bomb. Everybody is afraid of it, but actually it is very weak. Of course it can use the bomb but there will be no Russia after that. What option is left? Right, to threaten to be considered as an equal. That’s mostly the reason of Putin’s anti-american militaristic pre-“election” rancor.

  24. Iak says:

    Remarkably, nobody is able to admit how clearly the Soviets in the eighties had identified their strategic situation even beyond cold-war logic, while the guys at Langley still thought black&white. How come the Soviets had realised, what was upcoming from their vulnerable southern flank almost 30 years before our hotshot professor from Harvard wrote his “big clash”? Instead of boycotting Moscow Olympic Games the U.S. should have been grateful at the time. Not to mention those progressive, educated Afghanis, that at the time called for Soviet troops. The west basically told them to rather stay medieval and sew new burqas than get soviet, because in cold-war logic everything had been better than being red.

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James Brooke is VOA Moscow bureau chief, covering Russia and the former USSR. With The New York Times, he worked as a foreign correspondent in Africa, Latin America, Canada and Japan/Koreas. He studied Russian in college during the Brezhnev years, first visited Moscow as a reporter during the final months of Gorbachev, and then came back for reporting forays during the Yeltsin and early Putin years. In 2006, he moved to Moscow to report for Bloomberg. He joined VOA in Moscow in 2010. Follow Jim on Twitter @VOA_Moscow.

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