MOSCOW, Sept 14: Colonel Yuri Shamanov of Russia spent half a decade fighting in the dizzyingly high mountains and bone-dry plains of Afghanistan, as commander of a regiment in a war that brought the Soviet superpower to its knees.
And he has advice for the United States: do not go to war in Afghanistan.
"If the Americans go to war, I pity those boys. And their mothers and sisters and brothers. It will be 10 times worse than Vietnam. Vietnam will be a picnic by comparison. Here they will get it in the teeth. Oh. They will get it good.
"Rockets won't save you: there's nothing out there to shoot at. Blast away years' worth of ammo. The mountains will survive anything."
As the United States points to Osama bin Laden as the suspect in Tuesday's attacks on New York and Washington, talk is rising of the once unthinkable: that America could go to war in Afghanistan, the country that shelters him.
It is no secret that Afghanistan is one of the toughest places on earth to wage war. Its brutal geography and battle-hardened locals resisted occupation by Russia and Britain for centuries. Moscow's forces pulled out of the country in 1989 after a decade of war in which tens of thousands of Soviet soldiers and many more Afghans died. Shamanov said Americans would face no less of a fight.
"The Afghans will be ready to fight, no worse than they fought against us, and they fought very well against us," Shamanov said in his office in Moscow, where he runs a group providing help to families of soldiers killed in the Afghan war.
If the Americans side against the mainly ethnic Pashtun Taliban, they will receive the support of the mainly ethnic Tajik and Uzbek factions that form Afghanistan's northern opposition alliance, "for the first stage", Shamanov said. But he predicted allies would turn against the United States as soon as the Taliban were defeated.
If the Americans must go, says Shamanov, they should set a tightly limited military objective, to wipe out guerrilla training camps and "kill the
most odious figures", then get out.
"What will they do there? Unless a narrow mission is set to destroy the camps and the most odious figures - if they do only that then God bless
them." But that may not be enough to bring an end to the extremist groups believed to be behind the attacks.
"Paratroops can take the camps. But if you don't send infantry, there is nothing for tanks and planes to do. If you don't actually march through the territory, it will come back to life again. Again there will be camps and the same bandits," he said.
"If you get rid of (bin Laden) then another will grow. You have to dig out this whole system by its roots," he says. What does he remember most about his years in Afghanistan?
"The thing I remember most is that to all my questions, the questions of my colleagues, superior officers, 'why are we here?' There was never any reply. We had no business there."