MOSCOW (AP) — Russia's defense minister has praised veterans of the Soviet war in Afghanistan as "true patriots" as the nation on Saturday marked the 25th anniversary of the Soviet withdrawal.
Sergei Shoigu said in a statement marking the anniversary that Soviet soldiers' heroism in the war was part "of the best combat traditions of the Motherland." He added that the experience has proven useful for counter-terrorism and peacekeeping duties.
The Soviet invasion began on Dec. 25, 1979 and ended when the last units withdrew on Feb. 15, 1989. On Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's initiative, the Soviet parliament in 1989 declared the Afghan war a mistake. According to Shoigu, more than 14,000 Soviet soldiers died and about 50,000 were wounded.
The government of Soviet-backed Najibullah fell in April 1992 after Moscow withdrew support following the 1991 Soviet collapse.
Franz Klintsevich, the chairman of the Afghan Veterans Union, has urged the government to revise the Soviet parliament's condemnation of the war.
But Col.-Gen. (Ret.) Boris Gromov, who served as the commander of the Soviet troops in Afghanistan and led their withdrawal in 1989 and currently serves as a lawmaker, dismissed the request as "stupid," according to the Interfax news agency.
Deputy Defense Minister Nikolai Pankov also that revising the assessment of the war would be "inappropriate" now.