Major General Alexander Lyakhovski, 55, served in Afghanistan between 1987 and 1989 and watched as the massive Soviet army struggled. He spoke to TIME's Yuri Zarakhovich:
I understand President Bush's predicament: he must show the American people that he defends his country. But if the objectives of a military action in Afghanistan are destroying Osama bin Laden and wiping out terrorists' bases, no air operation will work. The bases are hidden in bunkers, tunnels and mountain caves. You can't hope for a blind direct hit when you don't know where your target is. Bombs and missiles, however smart, will only crush hills into dust, and should they fall on cities, kill a lot of innocent people. Nor will it work in terms of intimidation either: Afghans are not the people to be intimidated. We learned that through bitter experience.
So you have to bring in ground troops. But a ground operation must be thoroughly prepared. This takes planning. Fighting in the mountains rules out any use of wheels and armor. The landing force will have to walk and fight the opposition with the same light weapons the Talibs have. But the Talibs have been fighting for 30 years now. This generation has grown up with rifles in hand. They are adept at making ambushes. They know the terrain by heart. The landing force will not be able to protect its rear. All communication and supply lines will be vulnerable. Unless you mount fortified checkpoints along your lines, everything will be blown up, destroyed or stolen.
The Afghans have been second to none at small-war tactics ever since they fought the British in the 19th century. They honed that technique to perfection fighting us. They also learned the use of more sophisticated weapons. Permanent warfare on the tactical scale is their way of life. The most effective weapon in Afghanistan is money. When I was there we said, "You can't conquer this country; you can only buy it." But Russia is not the richest country in the world. There are some that are much richer. And we know who the richest country in the world is.