In 1983 a poster appeared on walls all across Soviet occupied Afghanistan. The print featured a tough Soviet Red Army soldier kneeling in the snow, smashing his Kalashnikov automatic rifle over his knee while roaring – “The war is finished! Let’s go home!”
I thought of that poster when President Obama announced on Dec. 16, 2010 that there was “significant progress” in his war against the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Mr. Obama was telling the press about his administration’s “review” of Afghan war strategy when he proclaimed, “Thanks to the extraordinary service of our troops and civilians on the ground, we are on track to achieve our goals.”
This month marks the one year anniversary of the president deploying 30,000 extra combat troops to Afghanistan. Of course, the president’s claims of success are contradicted by the grim findings of the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) conducted for the president by 16 U.S. intelligence agencies. According to the NIE, as the Los Angeles Times reported, “large swaths of Afghanistan are still at risk of falling to the Taliban.”
Norine MacDonald, president of the policy research group, The International Council on Security and Development, made the following remark about Obama’s Dec. 16 war strategy review, “It… is primarily for U.S. domestic political consumption.” Indeed, does anyone believe Mr. Obama’s assertion that “our goals” in Afghanistan are on the verge of being met, and that U.S. troops will start their withdrawal next year?
In 1983 Vincanzo Sparagna and Savik Shuster published a mock version of the official Red Army newspaper, Red Star, and distributed the broadside in Soviet occupied Afghanistan. The counterfeit paper carried a proclamation that it was published in 1984 and written by “soldiers coming from all the principle garrisons of the Soviet Union.” The bogus paper announced; “The war of invasion is finished! There’s unexpected peace in Afghanistan! Soviet and Mujahideen troops are fraternizing! Comrades, our true enemy finally sleeps! Destroy your weapons and let us return home. The war is finished!” The parody Red Army newspaper featured the bold illustration of the Soviet Red Army soldier destroying his Kalashnikov rifle that is shown above.
Sparagna and Shuster set up their operations in Peshawar, Pakistan, where they contacted and made alliances with Pakistani based Afghan Islamic guerrillas who were crossing into Afghanistan to wage “holy war” on the Soviet occupiers. Sparagna and Shuster supplied the Afghan mujahideen with thousands of copies of their phony Red Star newspaper, and the Islamic guerrillas plastered the posters on walls all over Afghanistan, sometimes right under the noses of the Soviet Red Army. Sparagna and Shuster were two journalists who worked for the monthly Italian magazine, Frigidaire, but the story of their poster collaboration with the mujahideen was covered in magazines in Austria (Wiener), Italy (Current, Frigidare) and Spain (Interviu). The French magazine Actuel, which also ran the story at the time, reported that Soviet and Afghan soldiers actually surrendered or defected to the mujahideen while clutching the “War is Finished!” poster.
Sparagna and Shuster’s poster campaign could have been part of the massive covert undertaking designed to undermine the Soviets in Afghanistan that was carried out by the CIA in the 1980s; the only mystery being whether Sparagna and Shuster were dupes of the Cold War intelligence operation or were instead willing accomplices in the venture. It is amazing to think back to the 1980s when Americans viewed the Islamic guerrillas of Afghanistan in a favorable light. In the archives of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library one can find Reagan’s Proclamation 5034, where in 1983 he proclaimed March 21st to be “Afghanistan Day,” a time for Americans to celebrate – in Reagan’s illustrious words:
“an extraordinary people who, in their determination to preserve the character of their ancient land, have organized an effective and still spreading country-wide resistance. The resistance of the Afghan freedom fighters is an example to all the world of the invincibility of the ideals we in this country hold most dear, the ideals of freedom and independence. (….) It is, therefore, incumbent upon us as Americans to reflect on the events in Afghanistan, to think about the agony which these brave people bear, and to maintain our condemnation of the continuing Soviet occupation.”
The U.S. has entered its 10th year of war and occupation in Afghanistan, the only change in all of those years being that Barack Obama is now the Commander in Chief. When George W. Bush launched Operation Enduring Freedom on October 7, 2001, I remembered the copy of Actuel magazine I purchased back in 1983. The French monthly had published a reproduction of the “War is finished! Let’s go home!” poster as an illustration to its article on Sparagna and Shuster’s poster campaign. As the U.S. bombs rained on Afghanistan, I wrote and posted an essay titled The War Is Finished!, which you can read here; the piece of writing was based on the facts recounted in Actuel regarding Sparagna and Shuster’s notorious print and how it was utilized to help defeat the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan.
We should all be haunted by the truism that “Afghanistan is the graveyard of empires,” as well as by the thoroughly reactionary politics behind Ronald Reagan’s “Afghanistan Day” proclamation. And speaking of the great communicator, since March 21, 2011, is only two and a half months away I would like to take the opportunity in advance to wish the readers of my web log a glorious “Afghanistan Day.”