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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Afghan Vet: Earlier Pullout Was Needed

The last Soviet commander in Afghanistan, marking the 10th anniversary of his troops' pullout from that country, said Friday the war had been a tragic mistake but he praised the bravery and patriotism of his men.

Boris Gromov also had harsh words for both Soviet and Russian leaders who he said had betrayed the Afghan war veterans and failed to learn the lessons of a conflict that claimed the lives of 15,000 Soviet soldiers and around 1 million Afghans.

"The mistake was not withdrawing from Afghanistan but in not pulling out much earlier," Gromov said after a news conference marking the start of commemorative events across Russia and other former Soviet republics.

Gromov led the last Soviet troops over a border bridge out of Afghanistan on Feb. 15, 1989 - a decade after the Kremlin first ordered the Red Army into the Central Asian country.

"The war drained the Soviet economy and contributed to the collapse of our great state," said Gromov, now a member of the State Duma, the lower house of parliament.

He lambasted Moscow's neglect of the war's 25,000 invalids, whose meager pensions have been eroded by high inflation.

"We condemn the Afghan war but we bow before the courage of those who served in it," his movement Otechestvo, which supports Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, said in a statement.

Gromov said failure to learn from the mistakes of the Afghan war had led directly to Moscow's next military debacle in Chechnya.

"If our country had learned its lessons in Afghanistan, I am sure there would never have been a Chechnya," he said.

The glasnost policy of more public openness encouraged by Kremlin leader Mikhail Gorbachev after he came to power in 1985 exposed the truth about the Soviet role in Afghanistan and the atrocities of the war.

Gromov, now 56, said he still recalled the "huge sense of joy" on crossing onto Soviet territory in 1989, saying the pullout was the only good decision Gorbachev ever made. Two years later the Soviet Union collapsed.

On Friday, lawmakers in the Duma approved a resolution congratulating the Afghan veterans on their 10th anniversary and commending their courage and loyal devotion to duty.