Doomed: Why the Soviets Failed to Conquer Afghanistan

Doomed: Why the Soviets Failed to Conquer Afghanistan

Sadly enough, America itself would later repeat the same mistake.

The Ambitious “Panjshir V”

Massoud’s rebel army was a pan-Afghan force numbering more than 3,000 Tadjiks, Pashtuns, Turkmen, and Uzbek fighters. He divided the valley into 25 field commands, each defended by a small unit called a sabbet. These were supplemented by a number of moutariks, or mobile companies. Each moutarik numbered about 75 men and was subdivided into platoons of three. Moutarik fighters received extra rations and a welfare benefit for their families back home. Each unit had in its arsenal three machine guns, three RPG-7 grenade launchers, one mortar, and a ZPU-2 antiaircraft gun.

Panjshir V, as the Soviet operation was called, was ambitious. At the valley entrance, the Soviets deployed the 103rd Guards Airborne Division, the 66th Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade, one regiment from the 108th Division, one regiment from 201st Division, the 345th Parachute regiment, and elements of the 866th and 181st Separate Motorized Rifle Regiments. There were also significant DRA forces, four infantry regiments, and parts of the 37th Commando Brigade. Under the Soviet plan, heliborne troops from the 103rd Guards Airborne Division would seize villages and hilltops throughout the valley and pin down mujahideen fighters. At the same time, Soviet/Afghan motorized forces would advance along both banks of the Panjshir River. In this way, the Soviets hoped to bring Massoud’s army to battle and destroy it in detail. To mislead Massoud as to the actual target, a diversionary attack would be launched against the Ghorband district to the north.

Originally Published August 8, 2014

This article originally appeared on the Warfare History Network.

Image: Reuters