The Soviet Union could not win in Afghanistan, and now the US is about to have something in common with that futile campaign: nine years, 50 days. On Friday, the US-led coalition will have been fighting in this South Asian country for as long as the Soviets did in their humbling attempt to build up a socialist state. The two invasions had different goals, and dramatically different body counts, but whether they have significantly different outcomes remains to be seen.
What started out as a quick war on October 7, 2001, by the US and its allies to wipe out al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and the Taliban has instead turned into a long and slogging campaign. Now about 100,000 NATO troops are fighting a burgeoning insurgency while trying to support and cultivate a nascent democracy.
A Pentagon-led assessment released earlier this week described the progress made since the United States injected 30,000 more troops into Afghanistan earlier this year as fragile. The top US military commander in Afghanistan, Gen David Petraeus, has said the core objective is to ensure that Afghanistan "is never again a sanctuary to al Qaeda or other transnational extremists that it was prior to 9/11."
There is an ongoing effort to get the Taliban to the negotiating table. President Karzai has set up a committee to try to make peace, and the military hopes its campaign will help force the insurgents to seek a deal.
When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan on December 27, 1979, its stated goal was to transform Afghanistan into a modern socialist state. The Soviets sought to prop up a communist regime that was facing a popular uprising, but left largely defeated on February 15, 1989.