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America's New War: Afghan Veterans

Aired September 21, 2001 - 05:38   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: That's right. And if American troops do decide to use those eyes and ears there on the ground and invade Afghanistan many are saying it's not going to be an easy mission. In fact, some are saying the U.S. may not know what it's getting into.

Now as the former Soviet Union found out back in the 80s, defeating Afghan troops on their home turf is much easier said than done. Moscow Bureau Chief Jill Dougherty has that part of the story.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

JILL DOUGHERTY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): They came back as heroes all covered with medals, but who cares about that now, he sings, they're still yelling in their sleep, wake up in a cold sweat just because they fought in that war.

That war -- Afghanistan. It ended 12 years ago. Ramis Khaljulov gave two years of his life and more to that conflict. Just like his 11 month old daughter, Alsu (ph), he's learning to walk. He has a new prosthesis to take the place of the leg he lost 20 years ago when his convoy was ambushed bringing in supplies.

RAMIS KHALJULOV, AFGHAN VETERAN (through translator): "I was wounded and laid there in the mountains for four and a half hours," he recalls. "They couldn't get us out. Then they finally got the helicopters in."

The men here at the Afghan war veterans rehabilitation center outside of Moscow say the country's barren mountains demand another kind of fighting -- small groups of specially trained men, not a massive airborne assault.

VLADIMIR KRUPENNIKOV, AFGHAN VETERAN: "The U.S. doesn't fully understand what Afghanistan is like," says Vladamir. "They can't think of it as another Yugoslavia."

DOUGHERTY: Andrei Chepurnoi was 25 when he shipped out to Afghanistan. For two and a half years he commanded a Soviet Special Forces unit helicoptering in at night to capture rebel bases -- operations that had to be carried out swiftly and precisely.

ANDREI CHEPURNOI, AFGAN VETERAN: "The most important thing," he says, "everyone has to be self assured and brave. They have to have a fighting spirit. If they have any doubt -- if they waver the least bit -- well, it's better not to go."

DOUGHERTY: In the rehab center the vets built a small museum filled with the things that got them through the worst of the fighting. Oleg Zagretsky says, "Soldiers must be prepared for extreme conditions."

OLEG ZAGRETSKY, AFGAN VETERAN: "Our convoy was blown up," he recalls. "The explosion went right through the bottom of our APC. We didn't make it to the hospital for two days so I got gangrene and ended up having my hands amputated."

DOUGHERTY: The U.S. military action in Afghanistan brings it all back to these Russian vets. They thought the war was over.

Jill Dougherty, CNN, Moscow.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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