Semantron 23 Summer 2023

Soviet intervention in Afghanistan

foreign infidels to go home, dead or alive. Soviet soldiers, raised as atheists, could not understand the entrenched religious conservatism within Afghan society and were therefore puzzled by the unpopularity of various Soviet- inspired PDPA projects, such as developing women’s rights. As a result, there remained a major social divide between Afghan civilians and Soviet troops, both incapable of comprehending the other’s value systems. Guerilla warfare meant that attacks on patrolling Soviet soldiers could come from anywhere. Farmers, seemingly working their fields, could suddenly start shooting at passing soldiers. An apparently friendly group of villagers could direct a Soviet convoy into an ambush. 14 Soviet troops, already estranged from the people of Afghanistan, became incredibly suspicious of Afghan civilians, with feelings often descending into paranoia. This, compounded with the brutality that the mujahedin often inflicted on Soviet prisoners, 15 contributed to a mental state that accepted violence against a ‘reactionary’ populace as justified. 16 The 40 th Army also found itself unable to rely on Afghan government forces. On paper, these were well- equipped. 17 Many Afghan officers had been trained in the Soviet Union and spoke Russian. 18 Their hardware was composed of some of the most modern equipment that the USSR could offer. However, some 70 percent were conscripts, with volunteers ending up in the officer corps. This meant that a majority of the forces were often unwilling to fight, especially if they lacked Soviet military backing. Afghan officers had been continuously purged by the PDPA for questionable loyalties, which had the counterproductive effect of causing many of them to desert to the mujahedin . Soldiers too would desert, in some cases simply going home to their villages to see their family, in others, joining the mujahedin . This was a result of the process of conscription, which consisted of blockading a village, rounding up those deemed capable of fighting (and some who were not), providing them with basic training and a weapon and then pressing them into active service. The unpopularity of conscription was evident by the fact that the Afghan military was only able to produce 65 percent of the predicted conscripts. This process produced poorly motivated soldiers for the Afghan government and unreliable allies for the Soviets. Within six months, some two thirds of the conscripts (1,200-1,500 every month) had deserted with their weapons, some to the mujahedin . 19 Many Soviet soldiers despised their allies, questioning both their resolve and why they fought so badly for the government but so well for the mujahedin . 20 Clearly, the notion of fighting the government infidels and Russian invaders proved a more passionate cause for the Afghan regular. 14 Braithwaite (2011), p.200. 15 Rumors and reports of mutilation and torture of Soviet prisoners of war were effective in scaring Soviet soldiers. For example, an ambush of a company of the 22 nd Special Forces Brigade in April 1985 resulted in the deaths of 31 Soviet soldiers. Troops inspecting the scene after the ambush soon understood that seven of the soldiers had killed themselves instead of surrendering. Braithwaite (2011), p.227. 16 Some 714 cases involving Soviet soldiers accused of committing murder against in Afghanistan were documented, with 200 more serving prison sentences for premeditated murder after the war. Braithwaite (2011), p.227. 17 Afghan government forces comprised of twelve divisions, 30 fighter jets, over 70 fighter bombers, 50 bombers,

76 helicopters and 40 transport aircraft. Braithwaite (2011), p.136. 18 Mark Galleoti, Afghanistan: The Soviet Union’s Last War , 1995, p.7. 19 Grau and Gress (2002), p.50-51. 20 Braithwaite (2011), p.138.


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