Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
August 27, 2008

Soviet 'Lessons Learned' on Road War in Afghanistan

A study on how the Soviets lost the road war in Afghanistan can help us to assess the chances of the 'western' occupation in Afghanistan.

30 is still a magic number around the Hindu Kush: This just in from Reuters:

International troops called in the air strike in which 30 Taliban fighters were killed after the militants attacked a convoy of foreign troops and Afghan forces in the Sarobi district of Paktika province near the border with Pakistan on Tuesday, the deputy provincial governor said.

If this did not happen directly within a village the bombing may have indeed, for a change, killed some combatants. But I can guarantee that the number 30 was picked from hot air.

It is interesting that the attack aimed a convoy. It was thereby part of the earlier discussed  road war that will eventually suffocate the occupation.

The foreign troops in Afghanistan live off fuel that has to be brought into the country. The fuel transports increasingly need more protection and escorts. More escorts will require more fuel. Which requires more fuel convoys ... Guess how that spiral will end.

Here is an interesting U.S. military report written in 1995 about Convoy Escort in Guerrilla Country: The Soviet Experience:

The 1979-1989 Soviet-Afghan War pitted a modern, mechanized army against a strong-willed guerrilla force fighting on some of the most inhospitable terrain on earth. The war soon devolved into a fight for control of the limited lines of communication--the road network which connected the cities of Afghanistan with each other and to Pakistan and the Soviet Union. The Afghan guerrillas learned to ambush supply convoys and cut the roads. The Soviet Army, whose ultimate survival depended on its ability to resupply itself, fought to regain use of the roads. During the war, the Soviets lost 11,389 trucks, 1314 armored personnel carriers, 147 tanks, 433 artillery pieces and 1138 command vehicles/radios during their fight with the mujahideen guerrillas. Many, if not most, of these losses occurred during the road war. The Afghan government and commercial contractors lost even more trucks to ambush during the war.

The report includes much original Soviet 'lessons learned' analysis by the Frunze Military Academy in Moscow on typical attacks on convoys (a must read for Afghanistan and/or war geeks - see the end notes for the map symbols).

The U.S. author concludes:

Too often, the Soviets tried to use fire power in the place of fire and maneuver. Soviet commanders were reluctant to dismount troops to break an ambush through close combat. The primary reason for this reluctance was that Soviet line units in Afghanistan were chronically understrength as disease, guard details and an imperfect personnel replacement system kept units at less than 66% of TO&E strength. Consequently, there were often only a few or no troops, aside from the crews, riding in the BTRs and BMPs. The Soviets lacked the available infantry to assault ambushes.

Sounds familiar?

The Soviets had some at maximum 100,000 troops in Afghanistan but there were also some 300,000 more or less reliable Afghan forces available. In total they had the 400,000 soldiers the leaving NATO commander recently said were needed in Afghanistan. They still lost the war. The 'west' now has some 70,000 troops in Afghanistan and the Afghan army has about 80,000 soldiers. That's hopeless.

Two other factors make the chances for the 'west' to win even worse. Today's 'western' troops need more fuel and 'stuff' per man per day than Soviet forces needed in the 1980s. Unlike those they do not have a direct line of communication to their home countries.

This war will be lost on the roads. It will take another three years and the 'west' will commit more forces but that will only add to targets in the road war. The only way not to lose is to retreat from Afghanistan.

Posted by b on August 27, 2008 at 18:18 UTC | Permalink


Check out the Russian film "The 9th Company" (Devyataya Rota), about the young men sent to fight in Afghanistan.

Posted by: ralphieboy | Aug 27 2008 18:57 utc | 1

Gimme a break. This ca'nt possibly be true. Anyone who's watched Rambo III knows its the USA's Stingers that defeated the Soviets.

Posted by: jony_b_cool | Aug 27 2008 19:11 utc | 2

9 рота Battlescene 2 shows a bit of road war.

Posted by: b | Aug 27 2008 19:27 utc | 3

You Tube already took down all the Rota videos.

Remember, b, "Full Spectrum Dominance" includes black ops reading MoA, and writing down everyone's domain name, then cutting off access to Google searches and any You Tube videos before they can be snooped by Al Queda.

You just got snookered by the CIA, I'm amazed they haven't taken down your US domain holder already for aiding and abetting the enemy many times now.

Posted by: Tom Terrific | Aug 27 2008 19:57 utc | 4

Wow, Bernhard, you're in fabulous form these days!

There's a book-length version of Grau's longer study of Soviet ops in Afghanistan here. The Small Wars boys have an interesting annotated bibliography on related topics, here.

Posted by: Helena | Aug 27 2008 20:04 utc | 5

@Tom - the youtube link I provided still works

@Helena - your first link is somehow screwed up - thanks for the second to the bibliography. Lester W. Grau seems to be the most learned U.S. military scholar on the Soviet loss in Afghanistan and has the most records there.

But obviously the NATO folks and the separate (why?) U.S. forces in Afghanistan didn't/don't read him.

He is optimistic in the piece I linked above, thinks U.S. ingenuity can win such a war. Zhat is stupid when you go down to the basics as every war does.

But his analysis of Soviet tactics is helpful - it shows that in certain cases, like Afghanistan, nothing works ...

Posted by: b | Aug 27 2008 20:26 utc | 6

first link for helena =

Posted by: b real | Aug 27 2008 20:38 utc | 7

I cannot add to the specific analysis in re Afghanistan being posted here, but I would like to offer an idea as to this "magic number" 30, inasmuch as I recall the posting from about a week ago referencing "30" and having a nascent realization at the time that, in formal statistics and probability, sample sizes of 30 are rigorously considered to be of sufficient size to guarantee a high coefficient of correlation in the generation of inferences as to the nature of the entire population set. Thirty insurgents or terrorists, or what have you, ensures that all population collateral casualties can safely, or at least statistically, be assumed to be of similar stripe. All casualties reported or unreported then assume the status of enemy. Whether or not this is true is an entirely different matter. A preemptive posture requires an enemy and will find such no matter where its eye falls.

Posted by: stumblewire | Aug 27 2008 21:33 utc | 8

@jony - If the book "Charlie Wilsons War" can be believed stingers were an important factor in the Soviet loss. They seriously diminished their ability to protect their convoys with helicopter gun ships. With all the people in the world we're pissing off, I wonder how long it will be before our adversaries start turning up with high tech ground to air missiles.

Posted by: Sgt Dan | Aug 27 2008 22:15 utc | 9

Current Asia Times has extensive footage of Taliban vs Pakistan army in northern frontier. Wrning: video #3, midway, includes gruesome footage of beheading.

Posted by: Thrasyboulos | Aug 27 2008 22:23 utc | 10

However, what Tom Terrific, describes in #4 is a legitimate concern for me and I suspect others, that I have brought up before to try to get some discussion going on ways to deal if MOA should ever be attacked or taken offline.

That's partly why I have offered to but a copy of the archives here, to no avail. I once again ask, b, can you burn a copy of all MOA archives and offer them for sale?

Posted by: Uncle $cam | Aug 27 2008 23:00 utc | 11

Fact of the matter is, I don't think these guys care one way or the other how these things look or play out, as long as they cost the American people much blood sweat and tears, in other words, we are still under Grover Norquist's 'drown em in the bathtub' analogy...

And any and all means to destroy the new deal and America in general is part of the plan. They want their children 'to sing great songs' about them... the revolutionaries they are..

Posted by: Uncle $cam | Aug 27 2008 23:26 utc | 12

Grover Norquist would have to find Afghanistan a fine example: its central government is so weak you could drown it in a teacup if the US and NATO weren't there to keep it afloat.

Posted by: ralphieboy | Aug 28 2008 7:28 utc | 13

Rockets, guile and the lessons of history: the Taleban besiege Kabul

The lorry drivers who bring the Pepsi and petrol for Nato troops in Kabul have their own way of calculating the Taleban's progress towards the Afghan capital: they simply count the lorries destroyed on the main roads.

By that measure, and many others, this looks increasingly like a city under siege as the Taleban start to disrupt supply routes, mimicking tactics used against the British in 1841 and the Soviets two decades ago.

Abdul Hamid, 35, was ferrying Nato supplies from the Pakistani border last month when Taleban fighters appeared on the rocks above and aimed their rocket-launchers at him, 40miles (65km) east of Kabul. “They just missed me but hit the two trucks behind,” he said. “This road used to be safe, but in the last month they've been attacking more and more.”

The road from Kabul to Kandahar is even more treacherous, according to other drivers. “If the Afghan Army isn't there, a fly cannot pass,” said Bashir, a lorry owner, pointing to the scorched shells of three vehicles he retrieved from a Taleban raid on the Kandahar road last week. Of 60 lorries, 13 were destroyed, he said. “Why can't the Americans stop this?”

Posted by: b | Aug 28 2008 13:13 utc | 14

Taliban ambushes threaten Nato's vital logistics route into Afghanistan

A prominent, independent tribesman from the Khyber region, who cannot be named for his own safety, told The Sunday Telegraph that the Pakistani army was close to losing control of the pass.

"You see vehicles destroyed by rockets on the side of the road," he said. "The wreckage isn't there for long, the army soon removes it to make it look as if they are still in control of the road. But they are on the verge of losing it."

The number of attacks on supply convoys is a military secret, but the tribesman claimed they were occurring almost daily. Earlier this year 42 oil tankers were destroyed in one attack.

Drivers are paid high wages to risk their lives. One driver, Momin Khan Darwish, said: "If there is a more dangerous job in Pakistan, I would like to know what it is." Others describe finding threatening letters from the Taliban pinned to their lorries.

About 70 per cent of the fuel, clothes and food needed by Nato's mission is transported in civilian Pakistani trucks through the Khyber Pass, a vulnerable point in a long route to Kabul which begins in the Pakistani port of Karachi.
The Taliban's tactics are similar to those used by Mujahideen guerrillas in the 1980s who crippled the Soviet Army by attacking supply convoys.

The militants carrying out the attacks are a rag-tag bunch of heavily-armed warlords waiting outside Peshawar's city gates. Most have only recently begun calling themselves Taliban.

Pakistani journalists in Peshawar say the private armies are well-financed and armed, and will receive a fresh infusion of money next month when donations rise during Ramadan.

Posted by: b | Aug 31 2008 9:43 utc | 15

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