A proper analysis of the Afghan campaign has not yet been made. No, and official stories this war, and such should be multivolume, with maps, tables and graphs. At this stage, the weekly MIC offers only some very brief conclusions from this nine-year armed confrontation.
The coup d'état in September 1979, the coming to power of Hafizullah Amin and the elimination and then killing of Nurmuhammed Taraki and them forced the Soviet leadership to come to grips with the Afghan problem. Finding no other solution acceptable to the USSR, the Kremlin considered it necessary to introduce troops into the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan (DRA). This step was taken mainly to eliminate Amin and create conditions for replacing him with a more progressive leader, which at the time was Babrak Karmal.
This conclusion is supported by such facts as the small initial composition of the Soviet troops, their staffing with reservists, and not personnel officers, the intention of the General Secretary of the CPSU Central Committee Leonid Brezhnev to withdraw the limited contingent of Soviet troops (OXF) from Afghanistan in February as having fulfilled its main task .
The inconsistency of the structure of the tasks to be solved
The mobilization of the formations, units and institutions intended for entry into Afghanistan was carried out as an appeal to the registration fees of separate orders (after each time oral instructions of Defense Minister Dmitry Ustinov were received) of the General Staff addressed to the commanders of military districts, who in turn gave the established signals troops and military commissariat.
At the same time, the imperfection and even the deficiency of our system of preparation and accumulation of reserves was revealed.
The situation with the training of reserve officers was very bad. For example, from the number of officers called up for December 1979, more than 70 percent never served in the army at all. They received their titles in the military departments of civilian universities. The vast majority of them showed a complete inability to command units.
Due to the fact that the conduct of active hostilities against irregular opposition groups was not initially envisaged, the formations and units of the TurkME and SAVO intended for entry into Afghanistan were deployed, and then sent to the DRA in a standard organizational structure, the same as in Western theater. Connections with Afghanistan entered Afghanistan tank and anti-aircraft missile regiments, missile and anti-tank divisions, chemical defense battalions. In addition, the army had artillery and anti-aircraft missile brigades.
40-I army in its military composition was ready to repel, if necessary, external aggression against Afghanistan. Instead, she had to be drawn into hostilities with detachments and groups of internal armed opposition that used the principles of guerrilla warfare.
The very first months of the fighting showed that in the OKSV there is an excess of tanks, artillery, anti-tank weapons that are ineffective in mountain conditions. The amount of anti-aircraft missile weapons was unreasonably large (the enemy aviation he didn’t have, and the actions of Pakistani aviation on DRA facilities with violation of its borders were practically excluded). The missile divisions in the divisions were generally only a burden - they did not take part in the hostilities, however, they required additional significant protection.
At the same time, there was a lack of motorized rifle units and guard and service units in the army. Despite the fact that the troops of TurkVO were, in principle, intended for operations in the mountains, they did not have full-scale mountain (alpine) units and almost no mountain equipment (it was not possible to adjust the supply of troops with mountain equipment to the very end) .
The revealed discrepancies between the combat composition and the organizational structure of the troops, the nature of the tasks to be accomplished and the local conditions, the General Staff, the command of TurkVO and the 40 army had to be eliminated already in the course of the combat activity of the OXF. In the first half of 1980, extra units and subunits were withdrawn from Afghanistan — a tank regiment, three missile battalions, three anti-tank battalions, army artillery and army anti-aircraft missile brigades (the withdrawal of these units was also used for propaganda purposes). In different years in Afghanistan, two motorized rifle regiments were reorganized into separate motorized rifle brigades, and the tank regiment of the 108 th motorized rifle division into a motorized rifle division. To fight the insurgent caravans on the territory of the USSR, seven special purpose battalions were formed and brought into the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan (another one was formed on the spot). For the protection of airfields and the most important objects in the army were introduced ten battalions of protection.
The experience of using OXV in Afghanistan has shown that it is necessary to abandon unified formations and units, to strengthen the elements of specialization in training personnel for operations on certain theaters (European, desert, mountain, mountain-wooded), as well as in organizing, arming and equipping formations and parts.
In Afghanistan, Soviet troops had to solve a variety of tasks, much of which was alien to them. These included, for example, the long-term protection of communications and various objects by posting permanent guard posts, posting transport convoys with military and national cargoes through the territory controlled by the enemy, inspecting caravans to identify those that were transported weapon and ammunition.
These tasks to commanders of all degrees - from the army commander to the platoon commander - were previously unfamiliar, since the process of training officers and subunits did not provide for the Soviet army to perform such functions. There were no recommendations, charters and manuals on these issues. The commanders had to develop appropriate tactics directly in the course of combat activities.
The practice of fighting OCB against detachments and groups of irreconcilable opposition showed that the main tactical unit deciding the fate of the battle was the battalion. Even in large-scale operations in which a significant number of troops took part, the battalions, as a rule, had areas of responsibility and acted in them independently, albeit within a single plan. The role of the battalion commander in Afghanistan was very significant. He had to be able to properly use all the forces and means at his disposal, including artillery, as well as aviation, which he had the right to call to support his battalion. The success of the battle and the operation, the lives of people and the safety of military equipment depended on the preparedness of the battalion commander.
The Soviet troops used the entire arsenal of tactics recommended by our statutes and instructions. Other techniques dictated by local conditions and the nature of hostilities also appeared and were widely used, for example, blocking any objects or zones by Soviet units and their subsequent combing by Afghan units, fighting to destroy the enemy in mountain caves and underground irrigation systems (karezes). The tactics of ambush actions against enemy caravans with weapons and ammunition were further developed: ambushes were planned in regiments and divisions and they immediately blocked the maximum possible number of routes in the corresponding zone.
In the mountains of Afghanistan, military equipment could not be used everywhere. In this connection, such elements of the battle formations of subunits, such as armored groups, appeared and were widely used, not provided for by our charters and manuals. They consisted of military equipment units, as well as tanks and artillery assigned to them (except for portable mortars), brought together under a single command. Operating in areas accessible to technology, armored groups supported their units with fire.
Often, they also performed independent tasks, for example, they used to complete the blocking of enemy objects in certain sections of the environmental ring, protected artillery positions, command posts, logistics points, etc.
The USSR had the opportunity to use Afghanistan as a kind of testing ground to test new positions of tactics, methods of conducting operations and combat in mountain-desert terrain, modern samples of combat and technical means of warfare, including advanced weapons and military equipment and methods of their use. However, the experience of the combat activities of the Soviet troops in Afghanistan was summarized and used only in parts of the 40 Army and did not find its use in combat regulations and manuals for combat training of troops in peacetime.
The combat activity of the Soviet and Afghan troops was carried out on the basis of monthly plans, which were developed by the chief military adviser in the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan, the command of TurkVO and the 40 Army and were approved by the USSR Defense Minister. This planning procedure was established by Minister of Defense Ustinov in 1980 and remained unchanged until the very end, which was hardly advisable.
Due to the fact that Soviet units and units performed several tasks at the same time, each of which required continuous leadership, the combat operations were carried out not by state bodies, but by specially created permanently operating control groups (the so-called task forces) led by the commander. They were engaged in the specific planning of each operation, prepared the troops allocated for it, and managed them in the course of the hostilities.
Groups were small in composition. Their positive side is high mobility, the disadvantage is the inability to deploy other control points (control panel, TPU) apart from the command one. True, in the conditions of Afghanistan this was not particularly necessary.
The combat operations of the reinforced battalion, separated from the regiment for any operation, were usually led by the regimental command and control group, and not by the battalion commander themselves, which naturally did not contribute to increasing his responsibility. As a rule, the battalion commanders completely independently led the military operations only during large-scale operations, when they received a certain area of responsibility.
The fighting in Afghanistan, especially in the early years, revealed serious shortcomings in the combat training of personnel. Single training of soldiers and sergeants did not fully meet the requirements of the battle. This was explained both by the imperfection of training programs, the saving of material resources (ammunition, equipment’s motor resources, fuel) and the massive marginalization of trainees for various economic and construction work.
Better trained were sergeants and soldiers of the airborne units, special forces, and reconnaissance units of motorized rifle formations and units.
Revealed deficiencies in the training of officers. Most of them were weak in possession of the weapons of their unit, many did not know how to engage in combat training and education of personnel, could not properly organize the battle and its full support.
In the work of commanders and staffs, there was often a desire to use classical forms and methods of combat operations in combat without taking into account the theater of operations and enemy tactics, which did not bring noticeable results.
There were deficiencies in the organization of interaction and all types of support in the specific conditions of Afghanistan.
The fighting in the DRA showed that in this mountain theater it is too early to give up some types of weapons, considering them to be outdated. This applies, in particular, to tanks with rifled guns, 82-mm mortars, large-caliber DShK machine guns, sniper rifles.
In the conditions of Afghanistan, tanks were mainly used in the uncharacteristic role of direct infantry escort guns. However, the smooth-bore guns of modern tanks could not always effectively hit point targets (the calculation of the DShK machine gun, the entrance to the cave, a small trench) in the unstable weather conditions of the mountains. The best results of firing at such targets were given rifled guns, the shells of which were on the trajectory less exposed to the wind.
The combined-arms units of the OCSV conducted most of the fighting in the mountains in dismounted combat formations. They could not rely on fire support of their own armored groups or howitzer artillery, and this was not always advisable (especially when meeting with single point or small targets). Combat practice proved the need to have heavy infantry weapons directly in dismounted combat systems — large-caliber machine guns, portable mortars, disposable “Fly” type grenade launchers (preferably with a high-explosive or fragmentation grenade).
We have in vain refused in due time from regular snipers, from personal selection of the best shooters and their targeted training. The experience of Afghanistan shows that in many cases, even in the conditions of saturation of subunits with heavy weapons and equipment, single precise fire of small arms continues to play a large role.
The choice of firing positions during the fighting in the mountains for towed artillery presented a serious problem, especially when it was necessary to deploy it on the move for immediate support of the combined-arms units. The best solution is to saturate artillery units and units intended for operations in the mountains with self-propelled installations that can fire from almost any place, even while in columns at reduced distances on a mountain road or trail.
Remembering the hardships experienced by the Soviet soldiers, sergeants, warrant officers and officers in the mountains of Afghanistan, involuntarily become envious of the American troops who took part in the hostilities in the Persian Gulf and in the same Afghanistan. They are equipped with not only powerful modern weapons, a variety of guided munitions, radio-electronic means, but also many details that facilitate the life of soldiers in the mountains and deserts. It is not yet clear that we should learn the relevant lessons from our Afghan experience or the experience of the hostilities of multinational forces.
Due to the difficult natural and geographical conditions, the extremely weak operational equipment of the territory of Afghanistan, the revealed specifics of conducting combat operations against the “fleeing enemy”, the preliminary periods of stay of Soviet troops in the country and the size of the group were repeatedly revised by the leadership of the USSR.
Without front line
During the highest voltage fighting (1983 – 1985), the number of Soviet troops in Afghanistan increased and by the 1985 year reached its maximum number - 109 500 people.
Thus, the main grouping of Soviet troops in Afghanistan was deployed in the 1985 year, which made it possible to more effectively carry out large-scale joint military operations, at the same time address issues of protecting important objects from enemy guerrilla actions, and sharply reduce personnel losses.
The war in Afghanistan became a local anti-guerrilla war for the Soviet army, during which hostilities were fought throughout the country without a particular front line, mainly along roads, gorges, in areas of military and air bases, settlements, in areas with underdeveloped communication routes and stationary communications, which hampered the management of troops.
Distinctive features of offensive actions were high aeromobility, the allocation of significant support forces and the desire for a clear interaction. The main way of conducting combat operations was to reveal the concentration points of the rebels, surround them (block them) or suppress them with aviation and artillery with the help of operational reconnaissance groups or other types of intelligence. If the conditions of the situation did not allow to complete the encirclement, then on the escape routes of the gangs they intercepted helicopter assault forces and pursued and destroyed all kinds of weapons. During operations in the green zone and populated areas, assault groups reinforced with mortars were widely used. Without fire support of aviation and artillery, infantry units did not advance and did not engage in close combat, especially at night.
The fighting, as a rule, was carried out in the daytime and most actively in the summer. Several thousand people took part in major operations. The depth of the operation (combat) ranged from 10 to 200 kilometers. After the operation (battle) was completed, the troops returned to the points of permanent deployment.
In defense, the Soviet troops also used a large number of forces and equipment. The basis of the defense was the strong points with a developed system of engineering barriers, surveillance and combat escort using technical means. The fire connection between these points in most cases was absent.
Aviation infantry support has been the subject of constant study and improvement. The number of aviation sorties was directly dependent on the intensity of the hostilities.
The attack of the infantry was preceded by fire treatment of the positions of the rebels, therefore, in addition to aviation, other fire weapons were used - mortars, recoilless guns that struck before and after the direct support aviation attack. This is how the continuity of the fire effect was achieved.
The mobility and maneuverability of helicopters, a variety of weapons and the possibility of direct communication with the commander of a supported unit made aviation support an extremely effective means of combat. Tactical and front-line aviation is more acceptable for attacking enemy stationary targets. The helicopter is able to pursue and fight against maneuverable forces and equipment.
Artillery in the fighting in Afghanistan has been widely used. It was used as one of the most important means of fire support for connections and parts.
One of the most typical tactical tasks performed by artillery is to provide direct support to subunits in order to defeat objects and targets not only in the depth of the insurgents, but also in close proximity to their battle formations. At the same time, there was a desire to establish solid and continuous interaction between motorized rifle and artillery units. To ensure the autonomy of the units operating in divided areas, artillery batteries and divisions were attached to the period of hostilities to motorized rifle units.
Given the nature and characteristics of the counter-guerrilla struggle, the Soviet command paid primary attention to intelligence and used considerable forces and means to conduct it.
Ground tactical intelligence was conducted constantly. In the zones of responsibility of formations and units, reconnaissance was carried out by patrols, patrols, reconnaissance groups, and agent and aviation reconnaissance were widely used.
Technical means that were installed on the routes of movement and in possible areas of concentration of the rebels were very widely used to gather information. These devices - sensors and instruments - received information and periodically transmitted it to receiving stations, which were located, as a rule, at the command post of artillery units, which shortened the time from detection to the opening fire command.
The most characteristic in the use of Soviet troops in a local conflict were the following points.
In the war in Afghanistan, the Soviet military leadership for the first time in practice encountered the use of troops and their comprehensive support in a specific theater of military operations — in conditions of a civil war on foreign territory.
As a result of the experience gained and taking into account the nature of the local conditions that prevented the use of armored and heavy artillery equipment on a large scale, the Soviet military leadership constantly improved the organizational structure of the formations and units, primarily with the goal of creating autonomy for actions in a separate direction.
Their firepower was also increased by artillery and aircraft. In the course of the hostilities, the motorized rifle subunits were highly dependent on the means of support, primarily from aviation. Most often, the Soviet troops acted on isolated lines in the absence of a clearly defined line of military contact. This caused difficulties in the designation of the front line and its battle formations, and in some cases led to erroneous strikes on its troops.
Since the fighting was conducted mainly by small units, the responsibility of the combined-arms commanders for their planning and implementation increased, the role of junior officers and sergeants increased, strict demands were made on the organization of interaction, control and comprehensive support for the actions of the troops.
At the same time, a relatively frequent change of personnel led to a general rejuvenation of the commanding personnel, which made special demands on their training before being sent to the combat areas.
During the fighting, tested various military equipment and weapons, which was equipped with 40-I army. It is possible, in particular, to note the effectiveness of the use of hand-held flame throwers, helicopters, and various radio equipment. Developed new forms and methods of warfare. The experience gained in combat still needs to be studied, analyzed and rationalized for him in combat training, as well as in the peacekeeping activities of the Russian army.