How the Soviets Won in Afghanistan
And how the U.S. will win
By Dr. Jack Wheeler
Won? Huh? The Soviets lost in Afghanistan, didn't they? They were humiliated and defeated in the Afghan quagmire that the US would helplessly sink into if it invaded now, right?
Nope - the Soviets won in Afghanistan. The famed Mujahaddin had slunk back to the refugee camps in Pakistan, demoralized, dejected, and defeated. I was there, I saw it. It was August, 1986, and the Mujhaddin had given up. The Soviets had won.
But then, the Stinger missiles that Ronald Reagan had promised them finally arrived. On September 26, 1986, the first three Stingers were fired by the Muj and three Soviet aircraft were shot down out of the sky. The refugee camps erupted, the Muj poured back into Afghanistan aflame with renewed passion. Over the next 28 months, Stingers would shoot down hundreds of Soviet Hind helicopter gunships and MiG fighter jets. The skies cleared, the Muj fought with fury, and on February 15, 1989, the Soviets retreated back to the Soviet Union.
Ronald Reagan's Stinger missiles defeated the Soviets in Afghanistan, not the vaunted Mujahaddin. Before the Stingers, the Soviets had won. After the Stingers, they lost. So the question for the US military, as it contemplates sending ground forces into the "Afghan quagmire," is: what tactics did the Soviets use to demoralize and defeat the Afghan guerrillas as of August 1986?
The short answer is one word: Speznaz. Speznaz were the small commando teams of Red Army Special Forces. As long as the Soviets fought the Muj with infantry tactics - tanks and lots of ground troops - the Muj picked them off and cut them up. The early years of the war in Afghanistan were heroic - guys with single shot, bolt action, World War I (or before - I saw many Lee Enfields with dates stamped on the barrel like "1909") going straight up against the Red Army of the Soviet Union. By 1985, Egyptian and Chinese copies of Soviet weapons (like the AK-47 and RPG-7) were pouring into the Mujahaddin's hands via a US covert operation, and the Muj were confident of victory. But in the spring of 1986, I noticed a change. The Soviets had gotten smart. They switched their focus from infantry fighting to parachuting Speznaz commando teams into areas where bribed informers located Muj encampments. They would then hunt the target camp down, attacking and killing in the darkness of night. For months, the Speznaz teams did this relentlessly, so by the summer the Muj were flooding out of Afghanistan and giving up.
This provides an obvious lesson instructive for any US military assault on OBL (Osama Bin Laden) forces and their Taliban supporters. Massive Gulf War-type assaults are not the way to go. Swarm the country with teams of Navy SEALs, Green Berets, and other Special Forces. The Afghan people as a whole have been tyrannized by the Taliban worse than they were by the Soviets, so legions of informers should be willing to provide accurate intelligence. It must be assumed that part of the deal Pakistan made with the US is the cooperation of the ISI, Inter-Services Intelligence, the Pak CIA. The Taliban were placed and kept in power through the support of the ISI, as a business arrangement between them to operate a billion dollar heroin smuggling operation. No folks know more about the Taliban than the ISI, who will now have to fork the info over. So the intel the Special Forces need will be available.
The country of Afghanistan is described as being one-quarter of an inch above the ground. No country in the world has been more smashed and beat up. The Afghan people have suffered unimaginably over the last quarter century. We do not need to add to their misery with some massive and massively destructive military attack. The Soviets' use of their Speznaz provide the blueprint for how to destroy OBL, his operation, the Taliban regime, and liberate Afghanistan from the hell it has been through.
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