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Russian Military: U.S. Goals Hazy
October 19, 2001

MOSCOW (AP) - Russian military experts said Friday that America's goals in the war with Afghanistan are muddy and the lack of a clear strategy is causing disquiet in Moscow, which had its own bitter experience during a 10-year occupation that ended in defeat.

``We don't know what the Americans' plans are'' once the military campaign ends, Pavel Felgenhauer, an independent military expert, told the Foreign Correspondents' Association in Moscow.

U.S. officials have said the goal of the campaign is to capture Osama bin Laden, topple his al-Qaida terror network and hardline leaders of Afghanistan's ruling Taliban militia, and provide a harsh lesson to any states that give shelter to terrorists.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Cabinet ministers have expressed strong support for the U.S.-led military campaign and offered use of Russian airspace for humanitarian flights.

However, they have drawn the line at military involvement - wary of repeating the horror of a war in which at least 15,000 Soviet servicemen - lost their lives. The conflict helped bring about the Soviet Union's collapse.

Moscow sent troops to Afghanistan to back a fledgling socialist government against Islamic rebels supported by the United States. Gen. Makhmud Gareyev, the president of the Russian Academy of Military Sciences, said that the military brass was never aware of strategic goals other than ``doing their internationalist duty.''

``I would not want America to repeat the mistakes of the Soviet Union,'' Gareyev, who served as a military adviser to Najibullah, Afghanistan's last communist president, said at the meeting.

``It was our military's naivete to believe we could come to a country torn by civil war and stand on the side.''

U.S. officials have said they favor the formation of a broad-based, ethnically mixed and democratic government in Afghanistan. They have left the door open to participation by the Taliban's more moderate members - a position Russian officials oppose.

The experts said that despite their joint work against terrorism, Russia and the United States continue to distrust one another. They said Russia was concerned that the United States' broader interest was gaining a foothold in Central Asia, a region that Russia has always considered its own backyard.

``Bin Laden is the excuse,'' said Gen. Alexander Vladimirov, vice president of the Collegium of Military Experts in Moscow. ``The strategic aim is to change the balance of power in the region.''

There is also worry that if they achieve their immediate aim of nabbing bin Laden, U.S. forces will withdraw, leaving chaos that could reverberate as far as Russia. It could start an uninterrupted flow of heroin and other drugs, militant incursions and weapons-smuggling.

``We fear simultaneously that the Americans will stay and that they'll leave,'' Felgenhauer said.

He said that Russia's main hope is to destroy the Taliban movement. At a minimum, he said, it wants to help the opposition alliance strengthen its hold over northern Afghanistan and prevent violence from spilling across the Pyandzh River into Tajikistan. The Central Asian nation suffered a five-year civil war of its own in the 1990s, and Russian troops are deployed there today to help keep drugs and weapons out.

``We backed the northern alliance in order to keep the Taliban from entering Central Asia,'' Felgenhauer said.

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