The US commander, General Austin S. Miller, quietly left the country on July 12. And the United States cleared its headquarters at Bagram Air Force Base — a site originally built by the Soviets — without a formal handover to the Afghan military.
The Soviet pageantry at the departure, of course, did nothing to prevent a protracted civil war in the wake of the withdrawal, or to look for war at home. And given what followed, General Gromov’s march became symbolic of the ignoble end of the Soviet war.
The leader the Russians left behind, Mohammad Najibullah, stayed on the Friendship Bridge three years after the parade, considerably longer than President Ashraf Ghani, who fled the country before all his American backers had left.
The Soviet Union was in some ways more deeply rooted than the United States, despite the fact that the US occupation lasted longer, said Yuri V. Krupnov, a Russian expert on Afghanistan and director of the Institute of Demography and Migration in Moscow. .
The Soviet Union trained about 200,000 Afghan engineers, military officers and administrators, providing the Najibullah government with a base of support.
“You can criticize the Soviet Union as much as you want, but the goal was to build a contemporary, modern state” and stabilize the empire’s southern borders, he said. The Soviet Union built hydroelectric dams, tunnels, roads and bridges, including the Friendship Bridge.
The government left behind by the Soviets also limped longer, he said, because Moscow entrusted its client army with heavier weapons like tanks and artillery, as opposed to the mostly light weapons the Americans handed out. The Soviets also cracked down on drug trafficking, preventing the rise of a corrupt class of police and civil servants.