Grim Milestone: American Presence in Afghanistan Equals Length of Soviets' War

ABC's Nick Schifrin reports from Afghanistan:

The Afghan war hit another grim milestone today: it has now lasted the same amount of time as the Soviet war in Afghanistan.

9 years and 50 days ago, the U.S. and its Afghan allies began a quick rout of the Taliban government. The war was supposed to last only a few months, or perhaps a few years; it wasn't supposed to be all that difficult.

It took the Soviets 9 years and 50 days to abandon Afghanistan after their invasion. On Dec. 27, 1979, 80,000 soldiers arrived; on Feb. 15, 1989, the last one walked home over a bridge. The Soviets believed they were leaving behind a functional, loyal government and sufficiently strong army to hold the country together. But the 250,000 mujahedeen that the Americans, Pakistanis, and Saudis helped fund and train proved too hard to handle, and the rest of the story we all know.

Tomorrow, the U.S. war in Afghanistan will officially be longer than the Soviet's, but the day will pass just like any other day. The U.S. and its allies have committed to 4 more years of robust military presence. There is little talk of withdrawing in any meaningful way next summer.

The U.S. military hopes that by committing to Afghanistan through 2014 (and beyond, in a lesser capacity), Afghans will trust that they won't be abandoned -- and therefore throw their lot in with the U.S., instead of sitting on the fence and waiting to choose the winning side.

But the Taliban is really good at waging a guerilla war: they abandon ground when an overwhelming enemy arrives, and they still terrorize the population they've just left behind. And huge parts of the Afghan countryside remain uncontrolled -- vacuums of governance in which insurgents, criminals, and militias rule the day. And until that ends, Afghans will remain doubtful the U.S. can win, and therefore the Taliban's often-quoted saying remains true -- regardless of the U.S. end-date: "You may have all the watches, but we have all the time."

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