By Air Force Capt. Dustin Hart
Special to American Forces Press Service
Feb. 20, 2009 - U.S. forces were among some 200 guests as the governor of Afghanistan's Nangarhar province hosted a celebration marking the 20th anniversary of the Soviet Union's withdrawal from the country. Gov. Gul Agha Sherzai celebrated the event at his palace in Jalalabad on Feb. 14 with guests that included Afghan government officials, former Afghan fighters who opposed the Soviets and coalition forces.
Sherzai spoke of the bravery of the Afghan fighters during their nine-year war with the Soviet Union and added thanks to the United States and international partners for their assistance in defeating the Soviets.
In addition to Sherzai, several other government officials including Provincial Council Chairman Fazel Hadi Muslimyar, thanked the U.S. government for helping the Afghans during the difficult period and shared stories from the war.
The Soviet-Afghan War began in 1979 when Soviet troops invaded the country to install a new pro-Soviet leader and attempt to put down a growing uprising against communist rule. When the last forces departed Afghanistan on Feb. 15, 1989, almost 15,000 Soviets and more than 1 million Afghans had been killed.
It's important for a nation to take time to remember the sacrifices made, blood spilled, and lives lost by its warriors, said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Steven Cabosky, Nangarhar Provincial Reconstruction Team commander.
"Despite facing overwhelming odds, the Afghan people showed their incredible strength by forcing the Soviet superpower out of Afghanistan," Cabosky said. "They continue to show the same strength and dedication today in their fight for a safe, stable and free nation and a brighter future for their children."
Michael Sears, the U.S. State Department representative to the PRT, said getting to share in the celebration was an incredible experience.
"Celebrating the anniversary alongside the ... heroes who defeated the Soviet occupation was an honor," he said. "Few people on Earth did more to bring down the Soviet Union - one of the most vicious governments in history - than these Afghan veterans.
"The United States assisted the Afghan people in their struggle against the Soviet occupation because we shared the ideal of freedom," he added. "We were allies then, and we are their allies now."
(Air Force Capt. Dustin Hart serves in the public affairs office for the 1st Infantry Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team and the Nangarhar Provincial Reconstruction Team.)