Iconic bridge sees US allies flee Afghanistan like the Soviets did

DUSHANBE, Tajikistan – The bridge has a strangely Orwellian name – the Friendship Bridge – and a rich history The wars in Afghanistan . ...


DUSHANBE, Tajikistan – The bridge has a strangely Orwellian name – the Friendship Bridge – and a rich history The wars in Afghanistan.

And again this week, the bridge, which spans the Amu-Darya River between Afghanistan and Uzbekistan, served as the backdrop to a watershed moment in the fighting. In a chaotic retreat from the town of Mazar-i-Sharif, pro-government soldiers flocked to the crossing, seeking safety on the opposite bank.

Thursday’s scene mirrored an iconic moment 32 years ago at the end of the failed Soviet war in Afghanistan, when the bridge was the last way out of the country for the defeated Soviet army.

Then, red flags attached to the armored vehicles flapped in a winter wind as the departing Soviet troops rolled over and across the bridge on February 15, 1989. This was intended to signal an organized and dignified sortie for the superpower army. after a decade of occupation and defeat.

The Soviet commander, General Boris V. Gromov, walked alone behind the last armored column as it crossed and exited the country. He then said that Russia was done with Afghanistan.

“That’s it,” General Gromov told a television crew. “Not a Soviet soldier or officer is behind my back.”

The Red Army solemnly withdraws.

Armored vehicles drove slowly and precisely over the choppy, glacier-fed river, as if it were a parade. On the Uzbek side, the women met the soldiers with the traditional salutation of bread and salt. The soldiers were given wristwatches for their service. Television cameras filmed.

The Biden administration had been keen to avoid a similar scene of a solemn shutdown for the US military in Afghanistan, hardly imaginable anyway now given the rapid and unexpected collapse of the US-backed government on Sunday.

The US commander, General Austin S. Miller, quietly left the country on July 12. And the United States evacuated its headquarters from Bagram Air Base – a site originally built by the Soviets – without a formal transfer to the Afghan military.

The Soviet pomp at the start of course did nothing to prevent a bitter civil war in the wake of the withdrawal, or soul-searching at home about the war. And given what followed, General Gromov’s march became emblematic of the vile end of the Soviet war.

The leader the Russians left behind, Mohammad Najibullah, remained three years after the parade on the Friendship Bridge, much longer than President Ashraf Ghani, who fled the country even before all his American backers had are out.

The Soviet Union has in some ways taken deeper roots than the United States despite the fact that the American occupation lasted longer, said Yuri V. Krupnov, Russian expert on Afghanistan and director of the United States. ‘Institute of Demography and Migration in Moscow.

The Soviet Union trained around 200,000 Afghan engineers, military officers and administrators, providing the Najibullah government with a base of support.

“You can criticize the Soviet Union as much as you want, but the aim was to build a contemporary and modern state” and to stabilize the southern borders of the empire, he said. The Soviet Union built hydroelectric dams, tunnels, roads and bridges, including the Friendship Bridge.

The government the Soviets left behind also limped for longer, he said, because Moscow gave its client army heavier weapons like tanks and artillery, unlike the mostly small arms distributed. by the Americans. The Soviets also brutally suppressed the drug trade, preventing the emergence of a corrupt class of police and civil servants.

He failed anyway. Najibullah’s government collapsed in 1992 and in 1996 the Soviet-installed leader was captured and executed by a new emerging force in Afghanistan, the Taliban. His body was hanged from an electric pole in Kabul.

After they left, the Russians talked about having an Afghan syndrome, like the Vietnam syndrome in the United States: they didn’t want anything to do with the country.

The retreat to the Friendship Bridge of soldiers loyal to the US-backed Afghan government, which collapsed three days later, was a more chaotic scene than the Soviet departure decades earlier.

The Taliban grasped Mazar-i-Sharif quickly after breaking through the front lines of the Afghan army. Government security forces and the militias of two warlords – Marshal Abdul Rashid Dostum and Atta Muhammad Noor – fled towards the bridge about 75 km to the north, seeking safety.

In the evening, the Friendship Bridge became a stuck traffic jam of cars and vans loaded with soldiers, social media posts show.

There was no dignified exit.

Uzbek authorities allowed the entry of a group of 84 pro-government soldiers but arrested them for illegally crossing the border, the foreign ministry said in a statement. declaration. They prevented the others from crossing.

Russian officials have been ambivalent in their public statements about the collapse of the US-backed government in Afghanistan, three decades after their own withdrawal.

They weren’t above scoring propaganda points in noting the abandonment of the allies and the failure of a long-standing US foreign policy. But Russia could now also be forced to defend Central Asian client states against Islamist extremism in Afghanistan. The US military had done this job.

“It was a surprise,” Zamir Kabulov, former Russian ambassador to Afghanistan, said Monday in an interview with Moscow’s Echo radio station, speaking of the rapid collapse of the US-backed government. “We thought that the Afghan army, whatever its condition, would hold out for a while. But apparently we were overly optimistic in assessing the quality of training for the US military and NATO.

The White House, for its part, said the Afghan army was trained and equipped but lacked the will to fight. “They have what they need,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said last week.

And Afghan and American officials said that as of 2018, Moscow covertly armed a Taliban group operating around the town of Kunduz, a dusty regional trading center east of the Friendship Bridge. It was, in a sense, revenge for American support for the anti-Soviet insurgency years ago.

But as the Taliban swept through northern Afghanistan this summer, ultimately taking Kunduz and other major cities, the Russian military deployed tanks for a military exercise near the Tajik border.

The name of the bridge has always had a sinister tinge, as the Soviet Union built the Friendship Bridge in 1982 to facilitate the resupply of its army fighting in Afghanistan. The full name is the Uzbekistan-Afghanistan Friendship Bridge.

The road and rail bridge crosses the silty waters of the Amu-Daria River, which is fed by melting glaciers in the Hindu Kush Mountains and prone to seasonal flooding. The US Army, much like the Red Army before it, sent helicopter and jet fuel tankers on the crossing for years.

He had also been at the center of US plans to deepen trade and infrastructural ties between Afghanistan and the former Soviet Central Asia, to spur economic development and to wean the US-backed government in Kabul from aid. American.

Ten years ago, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund were funding improvements to the railroad.

Uzbekistan planned to extend the railroad, which reaches only Mazar-i-Sharif, about 45 miles south, to Kabul and to neighboring Pakistan. Work was due to start in September. He is now on indefinite hold.

The bridge, said Alexander Cooley, director of the Harriman Institute at Columbia University and author of “Great Games, Local Rules” on the geopolitics of Central Asia, has become “a symbol of the engagement of great powers and the withdrawal of the great powers ”.



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Newsrust - US Top News: Iconic bridge sees US allies flee Afghanistan like the Soviets did
Iconic bridge sees US allies flee Afghanistan like the Soviets did
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