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Soviet Union's Afghan lessons

Leo Korolkov says modern weapons against the Afghans are
Leo Korolkov says modern weapons against the Afghans are "useless"  

MOSCOW, Russia -- Veterans of the Soviet Union's Afghan war in the 1980s know the perils of waging a war in Afghanistan.

Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, the British, and finally the Soviet Union all sent their armies into Afghanistan, only to be beaten back.

Soviet forces fought a war against the Mujahadeen that lasted over 10 years in terrain which many veterans say rendered the inhospitable country a virtual fortress.

The war, which began when Soviet forces invaded in 1979, claimed nearly a million Afghan lives and 15,000 Russian troops, with a further 50,000 wounded.

John Garnett, Centre for Defence Studies, London: "Ground warfare in Afghanistan...should be avoided"
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Leo Korolkov, a Russian veteran who trained Soviet special operations units, similar to the U.S. Delta Force and British SAS, told CNN's Jill Dougherty: "Modern weapons, rockets, laser-guided missiles -- they're useless against these mountains.

"I feel sorry for the people who are going to be thrown into those deserted mountainous, regions where the enemy knows every single rock, every cave.

"No maps, no computer training can prepare you for it."

Korolkov says the chances of finding Osama bin Laden are slim because there are numerous places he can hide.

In their protracted war with the Mujahadeen, the Soviet forces faced guerrilla tactics, including ambushes and suicide attacks.

Korolkov says he saw critically wounded Afghan fighters still clutching their weapons and firing until their last breath.

Many of them, he says, used drugs before launching operations.

He says they were the most effective force he has ever faced, honed on 20 years of continual war.

He added: "These fighters can bring any country, even a superpower -- be it Russia, the United States or Europe -- to the brink of catastrophe."

John Garnett, chairman of the Centre of Defence Studies, at London's King's College, said the U.S. should avoid mounting any ground-based action in Afghanistan.

Garnett told CNN: "The British had terrible experiences in that part of the world in the 19th Century and the Russians have had awful experiences not so long ago.

"Getting involved in ground warfare in Afghanistan... is a very difficult proposition indeed and I think, on the whole, the United States should avoid it.

Soviet soldiers deployed in rugged Afghan highlands in 1988
Soviet soldiers deployed in rugged Afghan highlands in 1988  

"I don't think you can just bomb the Afghan people into the ground. that would be a terrible mistake and would lose the United States a lot of the support and sympathy it now enjoys.

"The critical thing about whatever the United States does it that it must carry the world community with it, otherwise that support will evaporate.

"I don't think it can do very much in terms of breaking the will of a population. I think the more focused the American response is, on actually getting (Osama) bin Laden and terrorists organisations, the better.

"If the Americans decide to widen the conflict to attacking countries that might harbour terrorists, and there are many of them around the world -- one thinks of Syria, or Algeria, Iraq perhaps, even Pakistan -- then I think sympathy for the United States might begin to evaporate."

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