When I was younger, I remember hearing potentially apocryphal stories from time to time about US MIA soldiers still living in Southeast Asia. The Russians have faced the same stories about their troops possibly being left behind in Afghanistan, 30+ years after their invasion of that country.
And they’ve just found one.
For Vietnam, the stories varied from those who survived and chose to stay in the jungle, to those who were being held against their will. Whether any US POW/MIA soldiers were left in Vietnam after the war remained (and for some, still remains) a hotly-debated subject.
As for the Russians, they have an organization devoted to finding Soviet soldiers who were left behind after the war in Afghanistan. Today they have 263 soldiers on their list that they are trying to locate. Many will never be found, and may have died leaving no remains behind. Having said that, they’ve been able to find 29 missing Soviet soldiers.
It’s amazing to see how much success the Russians have had locating their former comrades in Afghanistan. The Guardian has reported on this but the English version of a Russian site has more details.
Since its inception, the committee has discovered 29 missing Soviet soldiers alive in Afghanistan. Seven of them chose to stay, while the others returned home when given the option, Aushev’s deputy, Alexander Lavrentyev, also an Afghan veteran, said at the press conference.
Khakimov is the eighth. He suffered severe head trauma during fighting in Shindand 33 years ago, when he was still a 20-year-old draftee, but was nursed back to health by a local village elder. The now-deceased Afghani, who made a living as a healer, adopted the native of the ancient Uzbek city of Samarkand and taught him the trade, Lavrentyev said.
Khakimov, who still has a nervous tic from the injury, forgot whatever Russian he knew and never tried to contact his relatives after being captured. “He was just happy he survived,” said Lavrentyev, who personally met with Khakimov in the city of Herat in western Afghanistan in late February.
Reading this, and seeing that in fact Soviets soldiers were left behind in Afghanistan, it does make you wonder how many American soldiers may have been left behind after the wars in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.
US soldiers would generally have been taller and heavier than the normal local populations, and unless they were Asian-American, they probably would have stood out a lot more compared to a Russian with a beard blending in with the Afghanistan population. Thus it might have been harder to hide an American in Asia, making it less credible that any are still there.
Still, judging by the Russians’ success, the idea of finding “lost POWs” is no longer as crazy as it may have once seemed.