With a tearful word of remembrance and a brief glance back at the country that defeated his army, Lt. Gen. Boris Gromov walked across the Friendship Bridge into Soviet territory Wednesday - the last Soviet soldier to leave Afghanistan.
"The day that millions of Soviet people have waited for has come," Gromov, 45, said at a formal review of his troop on the Soviet side. "In spite of losses and sacrifices, we have fulfilled our duty."The pullout, set out under the April 15, 1988, Geneva agreement and begun May 15 when there were 103,000 Soviet soldiers in the country, ended Wednesday - fulfilling Soviet compliance with the U.N.-arranged accord.
"My first thoughts were of joy that we had fulfilled our international duty and came home," Gromov told reporters on the bridge over the Amu Dariya River dividing the Soviet Union from Afghanistan to the south.
"I have many thoughts about those that we left behind but most are for those who came back," the ruddy-faced commander, a veteran of three full tours in Afghanistan, said as he brushed a tear from his eye.
Fulfilling a pledge to be the last Soviet soldier out of Afghanistan, Gromov rode halfway across the 960-yard gray steel span atop a red flag-draped armored personnel carrier.
He then dismounted, glanced back at the Afghan border, and with his head slightly bowed, walked the remaining distance at a funeral pace as his 14-year-old son, Maksim, ran to greet him with a bouquet of carnations.
Gromov then stopped briefly and stood at attention at a border marking on the Soviet side of the bridge over which nine years earlier Soviet forces rolled into Afghanistan in secrecy.
In Moscow, the Communist Party newsaper Pravda criticized the stealth of late leader Leonid Brezhnev in initiating the conflict, but defended the aims of the conflict - to stabilize Afghanistan under a Marxist leadership against a Moslem insurgency.
"In the future, such important decisions of employing troops should not be decided in secret without the approval of the country's parliament," Pravda said.
"But there is no doubt that the U.S.S.R. did not pursue any expansionist aims in Afghanistan, and that the help to the people of Afgahnistan was an act of good will," the newspaper said.
The Afghan government of President Najibullah is expected to fall to U.S.-backed rebels within months now that the Soviets are gone.