Great Soviet COIN in Afghanistan!


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Mar 21, 2009
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this was intresting presentation given to US forces Lt-Col Lester Grau during the COIN Symposium at Fort Leavenworth's US Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Center

Lt.-Col. Grau is the author of "Bear Went Over the Mountain", a definitive text on Soviet operations during the Afghan War, so he's no PowerPoint Ranger and he knows his stuff. The book, by the way, is available in Google (here) and is a MUST READ for anyone who wants to know about platoon/company-level COIN tactics in Afghanistan.

Lessons Learned

Guerrilla war is a contest of endurance and national will. The side with the highest moral commitment will hold the ground at conflict's end. For the guerrilla, battle field victory is almost irrelevant.
Air domination is irrelevant unless precisely targeted
Secure logistics and LOC essential
Conventional tactics, equipment and weapons require major adjustment or replacement
Conventional war force structure inappropriate
Tanks of limited value. Light infantry and engineers at a premium
Medical support paramount
Logistics determines the scope of activity and force size either side can field
Information battle essential to maintaining external support
What the Soviets did right
Realized that they were in a mountain war and expanded mountain training facilities from one to seven and sent all combat soldiers through mountain training prior to deployment.
Fought in the deep mountains with lengthy ambushes.
Effective use of agent nets.
Built a large support base among 1000s sent to USSR for training
Effective withdrawal operation

What the Soviets did wrong

Overreliance on aviation and technology
Conscript NCO corps
Bulk of force in security, not contesting control in districts and villages
Sporadic hearts and minds campaign
Imposed Soviet-appropriate training on DRA armed forces rather than adapting to Afghan culture
Took over the fight from the DRA
MRDs roadbound
The Soviets were not defeated and driven out of Afghanistan

Soviet withdrawal was a Soviet political decision
Soviets 1988-1989 withdrawal was coordinated, deliberate and professional
Soviets left behind a functioning government, an improved military and an advisory and economic effort insuring the continued viability of the government.
The withdrawal was based on a coordinated diplomatic, economic and military plan permitting Soviet forces to withdraw in good order and the Afghan government to survive.
The Democratic Republic of Afghanistan (DRA) held on despite the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Only then, with the loss of Soviet support and the increased efforts by the Mujahideen and Pakistan, did the DRA slide toward defeat in April 1992.
From 1979-1989, the Soviet 40th Army conducted 220 independent operations and over 400 combined operations. Many large-scale operations accomplished little, since this was primarily a tactical commanders' war. Three large-scale operations, the initial incursion into Afghanistan, Operation Magistral and the final withdrawal, were the most effective operations of the war--the force and supporting measures employed were appropriate to the mission.
The Soviet effort to withdraw in good order was well executed and is a model for other disengagements.
Counterinsurgency 101

Deny sanctuary. Pakistan is one issue but why won't we go into the mountains?
Curb close air support. We are creating opposition through airpower.
It's their country. Give them more of the lead. Encourage competent, representative leadership.
Work in the context of their culture, not ours.

The Taliban is not our chief problem
It's bad governance
The Karzai government has lost the confidence of much of the people. It must regain this confidence without looking as if it is the pocket of the United States
The solution is political and economic, with military support
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Mar 21, 2009
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The Soviet withdrawal from afghan

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