The Soviet-Afghan War: How a Superpower Fought and Lost (Modern War Studies Series)


The War in Afghanistan (1979-1989) has been called "the Soviet Union's Vietnam War, " a conflict that pitted Soviet regulars against a relentless, elusive, and ultimately unbeatable Afghan guerrilla force (the mujahideen). The hit-and-run bloodletting across the war's decade tallied more than 25,000 dead Soviet soldiers plus a great many more casualties and further demoralized a USSR on the verge of disintegration. In The Soviet-Afghan War the Russian general staff takes a close critical look at the Soviet ...

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The War in Afghanistan (1979-1989) has been called "the Soviet Union's Vietnam War, " a conflict that pitted Soviet regulars against a relentless, elusive, and ultimately unbeatable Afghan guerrilla force (the mujahideen). The hit-and-run bloodletting across the war's decade tallied more than 25,000 dead Soviet soldiers plus a great many more casualties and further demoralized a USSR on the verge of disintegration. In The Soviet-Afghan War the Russian general staff takes a close critical look at the Soviet military's disappointing performance in that war in an effort to better understand what happened and why and what lessons should be taken from it. Lester Grau and Michael Gress's expert English translation of the general staff's study offers the very first publication in any language of this important and illuminating work. Surprisingly, this was a study the general staff never intended to write, initially viewing the war in Afghanistan as a dismal aberration in Russian military history. The history of the 1990s has, of course, completely demolished that belief, as evidenced by the Russian Army's subsequent engagements with guerrilla forces in Chechnya, Azerbaijan, Tadjikistan, Turkmenistan, and elsewhere. As a result, Russian officers decided to take a much closer look at the Red Army's experiences in the Afghan War. Their study presents the Russian view of how the war started, how it progressed, and how it ended; shows how a modern mechanized army organized and conducted a counter-guerrilla war; chronicles the major battles and operations; and provides valuable insights into Soviet tactics, strategy, doctrine, and organization across a wide array of military branches. Theeditors' incisive preface and commentary help contextualize the Russian view and alert the reader to blind spots in the general staff's thinking about the war. This one-of-a-kind document provides a powerful case study on how yet another modern mechanized army

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This is the third volume in a trilogy on the operational aspects of the Soviet-Afghan War of 1979-1988. The first two dealt respectively with Soviet and mujahideen tactics. This one is the perspective of the Russian General Staff. It follows the Soviet tradition of recording the events and experiences of previous wars not from a historical perspective, but in a "lessons learned" context, to help improve future performance. The work lacks the shaping, ideologically based overview of its predecessors. It is, rather, a compilation of information from a broad spectrum of sources synthesized by a group of authors who mostly have been through the fighting, and the book is destined for think tank and military academic libraries. Its text, admirably translated and edited, will be nearly impossible for lay people to stay with, but it tells a story of poor intelligence compounded by inappropriate force structures, inadequate operational doctrine and no strategy to speak of. Soviet forces did not understand their opposition, especially the mujahideen's ability and willingness to sustain the fighting far beyond rational-actor parameters. Repeated failures of conventional, large-scale war techniques led the Soviets to adopt smaller, more flexible formations and nonlinear tactics with increasing success, but mujahideen-operated Stinger ground-to-air missiles provided by the U.S. helped drag out a conflict the Soviet military could not win decisively in a time frame acceptable to Soviet political authorities. In the end, Afghanistan contributed significantly, perhaps decisively, to the collective loss of confidence that brought the U.S.S.R. to self-destruction. (Feb. 5) Forecast: The hardcover is priced out of the trade market, but if the paperback makes it onto the shelves, expect some unsuspecting browsers looking for layperson's narrative to pick this one up. Otherwise, only collections concerned with the nitty-gritty history of operations planning and execution will find what they're looking for here. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
The stark contrasts between the current American-Afghan war and the traumatic events of the Soviet conflict that ended more than a decade ago are dramatically apparent in this book. Translator and editor Grau (Lt. Colonel, U.S. Army, ret.; The Bear Went Over the Mountain: Soviet Combat Tactics in Afghanistan) had help deciphering the Russian General Staff papers from Gress, a Soviet migr who served in the Soviet army. The main body of the book is about Soviet army and air force tactics, operations, and armaments. At the end of each section, Grau offers "editor's comments" to explain and draw perspective on the accounts from the Russian General Staff. Several recurring themes are that the Soviets/Russians have not given accurate statistics on the war, the Soviet military had thoroughly penetrated the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan before the invasion, and the Marxist-Leninist framework kept the generals from making a proper assessment of their task. Although of some historical interest, this book is ponderous with details and is not a light read. Recommended for public libraries with Soviet history collections and academic libraries. Harry Willems, Southeast Kansas Lib. Syst., Iola Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780700611867
  • Publisher: University Press of Kansas
  • Publication date: 3/1/2002
  • Series: Modern War Studies Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 364
  • Sales rank: 780,125
  • Product dimensions: 6.09 (w) x 8.95 (h) x 0.78 (d)

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations

Foreword, Theodore C. Mataxis, Brigadier General (Retired)

Editors' Preface


General Staff Introduction

1. Phases and Course of the Conflict

2. Organization, Armament, and Training of the Limited Contingent of Soviet Forces and Government of Afghanistan Armed Forces

-Organization and Equipment of Soviet Forces

-Training of Soviet Forces

-Organization and Training of the Armed Forces of the DRA

3. Organization, Armament, and Tactics of the Mujahideen

4. Operational Art

5. Combined Arms Tactics


-Cordons and Searches


-Marches and Convoy Escorts

6. Combat Arms Branch Tactics


-Armored Forces

-Airborne and Air Assault Forces

-Army Aviation

7. Combat Support



-Engineer Support

-Chemical Support

8. Combat Service Support

-Technical Support

-Ammunition Support

-Logistics Support

-Post Exchange, Housing, and Pay

-Medical Support

9. Conclusion




Appendix 1: 40th Army Order of Battle

Appendix 2: Soviet Artillery Planning



Key to Map Symbols

About the Editors


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  • Posted April 20, 2009

    Soviet-Afghan War

    Written by the Soviet General Staff, this is a particularly candid work. The writers are very open to the mistakes made by the Soviet forces and the efforts to correct them. They admit the the forces deployed to fight the Mujahideen were the wrong forces (tanks, BMPs and BTRs), and noted the difficulty of fighting in mountainous terrain, against men who could easily disappear into the crowd. They also openly discuss the decision and rationale for pulling out of Afghanistan, without victory. This is a 'must read' for scholars of irregular warfare, the Soviet armed forces, and military operational art.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 28, 2010

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