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INTERVIEW-U.S. could win war, lose peace -ex Soviet minister
By Adam Tanner

MOSCOW, Nov 9 (Reuters) - America's use of massive military force in Afghanistan could win the war but lose the peace, the former Soviet defence minister who withdrew Moscow's troops from the Asian nation said on Friday.

"If you carry out carpet bombing as the Americans are doing now you can win, but what will be left? You could destroy the entire population," Dmitry Yazov told Reuters.

"The Americans don't understand that by fighting bin Laden, they are provoking the wrath of the whole Afghan population," Yazov said in a rare interview. "You can have a military breakthrough but lose politically."

Yazov, 78, was Mikhail Gorbachev's defence minister in 1989 when the Soviet Union pulled out from Afghanistan after a nine-year war. The top-ranking Soviet marshal later broke with Gorbachev and backed a failed coup against him in August 1991.

The United States has bombed Afghanistan heavily in its fight against the Taliban and Osama bin Laden, whom they blame for the World Trade Center attack. Washington says its bombing is carefully aimed at military targets.

Yazov said Washington could outdo Soviet military efforts in Afghanistan because Moscow held back from all-out war.

"Do you really think that having defeated Germany, Japan, practically every European government, we could not deal with Afghanistan?" he said. "If we had done everything correctly we should have not gone in at all. But once we had intervened, we should have acted more decisively."

"We didn't try to win. We wanted to help, but not everyone accepted our help so we left," he told Reuters.


Yazov played a central role in the Soviets' Afghan war that badly strained relations with the West. He was military commander for the neighbouring Central Asia Soviet states early in the war and then served as defence minister from 1987-91.

Although he still describes the invasion as an intervention at Kabul's request -- the official Soviet line -- Yazov said Moscow badly misjudged the struggle for Afghan hearts and minds. The lesson serves as a warning to the United States today.

"The main lesson was that the Afghan people did not support the presence of Soviet forces, although they welcomed material help," Yazov said. "We were uninvited guests and our presence did not cement society but divided it instead."

"We didn't understand what Islam and religion was, and who really was in charge of the villages, the local Muslims."

The Soviet pullout opened the way for the Taliban's rise and the growth of bin Laden's influence. But their embrace of terrorism stemmed from a business rather than a religious need, Yazov argues.

"To protect their narco-business, they started to create terrorist organisations. The main goal for the terrorists was to earn money through the drugs trade," he said.

In the interview, Yazov, now a Defence Ministry adviser on issues such as monuments and memorials, defended secret Soviet work on biological weapons that continued until the country's collapse despite an international treaty against it.

"We were working against plague and such work was necessary on bacteria that would counter the plague," he said.

"To say that we closed down all production and no one did any work would not be correct. There was such work in England and America as well. If you work with poison, you can also come up with an antidote. How else could you do it?"

A World War Two veteran who led a regiment in Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis, Yazov's long military career has been overshadowed by his leadership in the 1991 coup which he still defends. He served a year and half in prison for his role.

"I don't regret any of that," he said. "If we had succeeded in preserving the Soviet Union, then I would have been really proud of that."

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