Soviets return to Afghanistan for -- friendly -- rematch

April 26, 2013 at 3:56 PM

KABUL, Afghanistan, April 26 (UPI) -- Two dozen veterans of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan returned to the country recently, but instead of battling with bullets, they fought over a soccer ball.

Some 22 retired servicemen who fought against the Afghans during the 1979-89 invasion came back to play a pair of friendly soccer matches with their former enemies, RIA Novosti reported Friday.

The visit marked the anniversary of Soviet withdrawal from the country, which began 25 years ago next month. The veterans received a surprisingly cordial reception from people who now mostly remember the Russians for the schools and factories they built.

The men kicked the ball and sipped tea with Afghans, many of whom still speak Russian they learned during the invasion. Some of the veterans traveled to the Panjshir Valley, 95 miles north of Kabul, to lay flowers at the gravesite of guerilla leader Ahmad Shah Massoud.

"He was a real threat," trip organizer Vyacheslav Nekrasov said of his former foe. "But he was also sparing prisoners and observing truces, and we respected him."

Massoud was killed in 2001 by suicide bombers believed to have been affiliated with al-Qaida.

Russian veterans' organizations footed the bill for the trip, which came to $3,500 for each of the 33 veterans who traveled, not all of whom participated in the soccer matches.

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