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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Outgoing Kabul Envoy Warns of Afghan Mistakes

KABUL — The United States risks losing the war in Afghanistan if it continues to repeat the mistakes that once helped the Taliban's forerunners defeat the Soviet Union, Russia's outgoing ambassador in Kabul said Wednesday.

Zamir Kabulov, a veteran diplomat who worked in the Soviet embassy in Kabul throughout the Russian occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, said the gloomy picture of present-day Afghanistan reminded him of his own diplomatic past.

"There are many similarities between the Soviet embassy of the 1980s and the American embassy of 2009," he told a group of reporters late on Wednesday ahead of his departure next week. 
"There are a lot of similarities as well as differences. The outcome in both cases is quite poor.

"It makes me feel very sad that after having spent so much time in Afghanistan ... I am leaving a country that is still at war without any firm prospects of improvement," added Kabulov.

The remarks by the Russian ambassador, whose surname coincidentally means "from Kabul" in Russian, come at a time when NATO-led troops are engaged in the fiercest fighting in Afghanistan since 2001, when the Taliban were forced from power.

As the war enters its ninth year, violence is increasing sharply as casualties mount and many in the West begin to question their nations' involvement in the U.S.-led campaign.

Twenty years since Moscow's humiliating withdrawal following its own 10-year war, Kabulov's words resonate in Kabul's diplomatic circles.

"Neglect of the population. Failure in establishing firm cooperation with local communities. Leaving them at the behest of the enemy," Kabulov said, listing examples of Soviet mistakes he believed were now being repeated.

Speaking at the lavishly refurbished embassy compound, ransacked in the post-Soviet mayhem of the 1990s, he said the country was slipping back into chaos because efforts to rebuild the economy and win people's "hearts and minds" came too late. 
"If you compare the situation with five or six years ago, it is of course much worse," he said. "Our partners have lost a lot of opportunities to really control the country, to help assist the Afghan government ... provide law and order."

With the Taliban extending their grip across the country, U.S. President Barack Obama is now wrestling with a call for more troops from his Afghanistan commander. 
There are now more than 100,000 Western troops here — nearly as many as Moscow had at the height of its occupation. 
Some in Washington have proposed trimming U.S. forces and focusing more on training the Afghan army so U.S. troops would be gradually withdrawn.

Worried about the spread of Islamist militancy into ex-Soviet Central Asian republics north of Afghanistan, Russia originally backed the 2001 invasion. But, at odds with NATO over an array of other issues, it turned increasingly critical of the campaign.

Kabulov said, however, that scaling down U.S. forces at this stage would be another mistake and praised General Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. and NATO chief in Afghanistan, for his call for more troops and focus on gaining ordinary people's support.

"It's the right way to go," he said.