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Thread: The Soviet experience in and leaving Afghanistan

  1. #21
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    Default New Paper on Soviet Advisory Effort in Afghanistan

    I just found this recent report from the Cold War International History Project “The Blind leading the Blind: Soviet Advisors, Counter-Insurgency and Nation-Building in Afghanistan.” As described in the paper, this addresses a less discussed aspect of the Soviet experience there. While I believe that we should be careful in taking direct lessons from the Soviet experience, some of the issues raised are worth considering in light of our own efforts.

    http://www.wilsoncenter.org/topics/p..._Web_Final.pdf

    "It [this paper] will show that Soviet leaders believed that they needed to undertake a nation-building project in order to stabilize the country and bring their troops home. Nation building in this context involved developing a successful governing party, extending the reach of the party and the government into rural zones throughout the country, and providing material incentives to help the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan (PDPA) gain legitimacy. Building socialism was not a goal in itself—Soviet leaders believed the country was not ripe for socialism and urged their tutees in the PDPA to move away from a revolutionary agenda. The goal was political stabilization, with nation-building as its major tool. That this often looked like socialism stemmed from two factors: one, that the PDPA leaders thought of themselves as revolutionary Marxists and shed this coat only reluctantly, and two, that the advisers sent by Moscow, particularly the party and agricultural advisers, only knew how to replicate their experience in the USSR and likewise could not (or would not) shed the ideological approach that was natural to them."
    How much difficulty do we have in shedding our own ideological approach, if that is what is necessary?

    Phil Ridderhof USMC
    Last edited by davidbfpo; 01-30-2010 at 09:57 PM. Reason: Quote marks

  2. #22
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    Default Based on watching

    Quote Originally Posted by PhilR View Post
    How much difficulty do we have in shedding our own ideological approach, if that is what is necessary?
    for many years, what I read and see today -- and from comments from many on this Board over the last few years -- I'd say most folks can drop it and look it as everything from an impediment to not a particular problem -- but there are a few who tend to be quite zealous who cannot or will not drop 'the American way.' Due to their almost fanatic approach, they can and sometimes do carry most others along with them. They also frequently seem to be well up in the hierarchy.

    Form of Political Correctness, I think...

    Distinctly unhelpful in any event. I am again reminded of the concrete pads for dwellings built for the Montagnards in Viet Nam -- which got rapidly converted to pig pens while the 'Yards' continued to build their dwellings on stilts. I won't even go into the religious conflicts I've seen in several nations or the debacles of trying to "get rid of corruption" in societies that have been operating for thousands of years. Or the female issues in Muslim nations. In fairness, much of all that foolishness in our case is Congressionally driven *.

    The good news is that with theater experience, most in the Armed Forces adapt quite well. My sensing is that most US Government civilians, due to fewer rotations into an area, do not let go of 'the way to do it' as quickly (with a few notable exceptions I have known). It seems that might mirror the USSR experience to a degree...

    * Unless and until some powerful and smart (not always coincidental) Congroids spend some time in the theater. Then they get smarter and realize that 'our' way may not be a good idea for nation X and tend to allow the folks on the ground to work it out.

  3. #23
    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default SWJ article

    This link:http://smallwarsjournal.com/blog/201...nment-control/goes to an overview of the Soviet exit strategy and is based upon:
    ..a description of how Mikhail Gorbachev extracted Soviet forces from Afghanistan between 1986 and 1989, in a study written by four U.S. military officers for the U.S. Naval Institute’s Proceedings journal.
    USNIP link:http://www.usni.org/magazines/procee...?STORY_ID=2193

    Placed here as relevant to this thread; for comments please use SWJ Blog.
    davidbfpo

  4. #24
    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default Afgansty: The russians in afghanistan, 1979-89

    A book review of 'AFGANSTY: THE RUSSIANS IN AFGHANISTAN, 1979-89' by Roderic Braithwaite, a former UK Ambassador in the USSR, who IIRC can take a decidedly unorthodox viewpoint on affairs:http://www.spectator.co.uk/books/676...ifferent.thtml

    The review opens with
    There used to be two rules of successful imperialism. First, don’t invade Russia. Second, don’t invade Afghanistan. As Rodric Braithwaite points out, invading the latter country itself offers no real difficulties. The Afghans abandon their strongholds and take to the hills, allowing the invader to enjoy the illusion of power in Kabul, with a puppet leader installed in the Bala Hissar, the old palace fortress. The problems come later, as a long war of attrition achieves little and finally obliges the invader to cut his losses and run.
    Ends with:
    His book has the great merit of treating the episode as a unique and horrific experience, while allowing the reader to draw his own parallels with the British involvement in Afghanistan in the 19th century, and indeed the present day.
    davidbfpo

  5. #25
    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default Afghansty: serialised

    Part 1 about the early Soviet action, which I found quite interesting:http://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russ...anistan-part-i
    davidbfpo

  6. #26
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    Default Afghansty: serialised (2 0f 2)

    Part 2:http://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russ...nistan-part-ii

    On a very different aspect of the war, the impact on the veterans and their families. Some echoes here of the USA and Vietnam.

    Near the end is this:
    And indeed the failures were not military. Neither the Soviet army in Afghanistan nor the American army in Vietnam was defeated: they held the ground and eventually withdrew in good order. The failures in both cases were failures of intelligence, of judgement, and of assessment. Both the Americans and the Russians set themselves unattainable strategic goals. Neither were able to achieve their main political objective: a friendly, stable regime which would share their ideological and political goals.
    davidbfpo

  7. #27
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    Default

    Quote Originally Posted by davidbfpo View Post
    Part 2:http://www.opendemocracy.net/od-russ...nistan-part-ii

    On a very different aspect of the war, the impact on the veterans and their families. Some echoes here of the USA and Vietnam.

    Near the end is this:
    David, that quote is far too soft on the politicians who were behind both those interventions from the beginning to the end. The impact on both the US and Russian militaries was huge while the politicians seem to have got off lightly. I just don't know how these (and other) politicians could sleep at night.

  8. #28
    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    JMA,

    For the politicians in the USSR my limited understanding was that the Afghan War was one factor that enabled Gorbachev to push for reforms. Yes, the failing economy was a bigger factor. Hopefully further extracts from the cited book will cover the political impact.
    davidbfpo

  9. #29
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    Quote Originally Posted by davidbfpo View Post
    JMA,

    For the politicians in the USSR my limited understanding was that the Afghan War was one factor that enabled Gorbachev to push for reforms. Yes, the failing economy was a bigger factor. Hopefully further extracts from the cited book will cover the political impact.
    David, the Soviets at least had the excuse that their Central Committee was increasingly geriatric, ailing and out of touch with reality while the US politicians had no such excuse then as they have none now.

  10. #30
    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default Soviet SOF veteran on the Muj

    Thanks to Kings of War (KoW) for this:
    ...He had quite a lot of such photos of fierce looking Mujahids because for the most part what his work had involved was walking around Afghanistan with a bag full of money and favours, living on his wits, and hiring one band of Mujahideen to go kill some other band one month and vice versa the next.
    Link:http://kingsofwar.org.uk/2011/07/eph...nd-desiderata/

    There is a b&w photo of three tribesmen from a Russian website and this text which explains a lot about the locals: Using a Google translation
    Baluchi nomads who inhabited the southern provinces were mostly are friendly, but still had a warlike reputation and never parted with their weapons. Sometimes act as agents agreed, taking a service fee by the same weapon. Beluji Nomads, found in the southern Provinces, Were the Most Part for Friendly, BUT due to fierce warrior Their Reputation They Were Never met When Carrying Weapons.
    Link:http://afgan.ru/39/mfoto20.htm
    davidbfpo

  11. #31
    Council Member davidbfpo's Avatar
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    Default Building Afghanistan’s Security Forces in wartime The Soviet Experience

    A RAND report 'Building Afghanistan’s Security Forces in wartime The Soviet
    Experience' that has appeared and not picked up before; hat tip to an Indian magazine.

    RAND's summary:
    Security force assistance, specifically the development of Afghanistan's security forces, is a central pillar of the counterinsurgency campaign being waged by U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan. The outcome of the campaign hinges, in large measure, on the effectiveness of the assistance provided to the Afghan National Army, Afghan National Police, and other security forces. This report provides an overview of Soviet efforts to improve and facilitate the training and development of Afghan security forces, specifically, the Afghan military, police, and intelligence services. It covers the time period from 1920–1989, with specific focus on the period of the Soviet military presence in Afghanistan, from 1979–1989. To do so, it draws on Western, Soviet, and Russian historical sources and interviews in Kabul and Moscow with individuals involved on the Soviet side and on the Afghan side. It concludes with comparisons with and lessons for ongoing security force assistance in Afghanistan.
    Link:http://www.rand.org/pubs/monographs/MG1078.html

    For those who have little time maybe the final chapter is what you seek:
    Conclusion: Parallels, Disconnects, and What the International Security Assistance Force Can Learn from the Soviet Experience
    Or the Indian magazine's review, pg.17:
    She concludes that the ISAF could learn some lessons from the Soviet experience in terms of a greater Soviet willingness to deploy large numbers of police advisors, well-matched in rank and age to Afghan counterparts, better retention in volunteer Sarandoy force as well as the dangers of relying on militia
    Link:http://zenpundit.com/wp-content/uplo...ommunityed.pdf
    davidbfpo

  12. #32
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    Default Soviet Experience in Afghanistan: Book Review Twofer

    Soviet Experience in Afghanistan: Book Review Twofer

    Entry Excerpt:



    --------
    Read the full post and make any comments at the SWJ Blog.
    This forum is a feed only and is closed to user comments.

  13. #33
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  14. #34
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    Default Parallel frontlines: ten years of Soviet and American occupation compared

    Cross refer Post 4, entitled 'Parallel frontlines: ten years of Soviet and American occupation compared' on the Ten myths about Afghanistan thread:http://council.smallwarsjournal.com/...ad.php?t=14262
    davidbfpo

  15. #35
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    Default RAF learning lessons paper

    Came across this short article whilst looking for something else: 'What are the enduring lessons of the Soviet campaign in Afghanistan 1979-1988 and what can the RAF learn from the Soviet experience?' by a RAF officer, Squadron Leader Fowler on a course and published in the UK Defence Academy Yearbook 2009.

    Link and go to Pg.190:www.da.mod.uk/.../424148-Defence-Academy-Yearbook-2009.pdf
    davidbfpo

  16. #36
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    Default KGB veteran: a small glimpse into his ways

    An intriguing semi-obituary of a Soviet era KGB senior officer who committed suicide in March 2012, added here as the comments on the Soviet role in Afghanistan fit better:http://www.foreignpolicy.com/article..._spy?page=full

    Shebarshin's Afghan years convinced him of the futility of any occupation of that unruly, martial land and revealed the depth of the cooked intelligence that launched the Red Army's intervention and doggedly supported the failed military adventure for nine long years.
    Even better is the tale of the crashed SU-25, which has a quirky end:
    The Pakistanis, on America's behalf, made the colonel the usual offer: a condo in Phoenix, a Ford F-150 pickup truck, a good dog, and a good life.
    davidbfpo

  17. #37
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    Default Leaving Afghanistan: is the USA following the USSR strategy?

    A fascinating Parameters article, hat tip to SWJ Blog, entitled 'Leaving the Graveyard: The Soviet Union’s Withdrawal From Afghanistan':http://www.carlisle.army.mil/USAWC/P...r/Fivecoat.pdf

    The Soviet military strategy combined control of the cities and population, security of the major roads, an aggressive train and equip program for the Afghan military, and focused military operations to eliminate insurgent strongholds. From 1985 to 1989, the Soviet Union helped the DRA forces grow from 252,900 troops to 329,000 troops in a joint force comprised of KhAD,
    ministry of interior, and army forces
    The United States’ military strategy in Afghanistan in 2012 is similar to the 40th Army’s: control the population, secure the roads, fight the insurgency in the south and east, and train and equip the Afghan forces. Like the Soviet Union, the United States has struggled to secure the population (an estimated 36 percent of key terrain districts were under government control in September 2010) with significantly less combat power—11.2 security forces per 1,000 citizens. With a projected decline in coalition and Afghan combat power, the United States and its Afghan allies are at a security high watermark. As the number of forces decline, tough decisions will have to be made
    The author is optimistic that a political strategy, with deadlines that are kept, with a stronger air force and intelligence service (for intell and para-military arm) will be enough for a Kabul regime to fulfil Western and Afghan needs.

    I wonder if the ANSF realise that after 2014, if they fight, their chances of being KIA / wounded will greatly increase. With less air support, logistic support (inc. medical treatment) and more.

    Worth a read, although the information ops aspect will need a lot of work in Afghanistan.
    Last edited by davidbfpo; 10-30-2012 at 09:33 PM.
    davidbfpo

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    Default

    David,

    This article is a great find, thanks for posting.

    I have been making the same argument for months, all you have to do is read the first paragraph since it challenges our historical narrative. Unfortunately that would create cognitive dissonance with many of our readers who have bought into a very inaccurate historical narrative our media with state support spun.
    Last edited by Bill Moore; 10-31-2012 at 06:23 AM.

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    Unable to obtain a military solution, Gorbachev described the war in Afghanistan as a “bleeding wound.”14 He called for Soviet forces to return home quickly and switched to a strategy that utilized military and diplomatic instruments.15 His decision was a de facto acknowledgement of Afghanistan’s unsuitability for communism, the Soviet Union’s unwillingness to make a long-term commitment, and his aversion to widening the war to stop the flow of arms, money, and fighters from Pakistan.
    Sound familiar? Replace communism with democracy and the USSR with the US it looks pretty darn close to the same conclusion we came to.

    The Soviet Union began to “Afghanize” the war by turning most of the responsibility for combat operations over to the DRA. It continued to support operations with aviation, artillery, and engineers; worked to bring units up to full strength; and focused on professionalizing the DRA staffs.
    Sort of kind of where we're at now.

    Afghanistan has taught harsh lessons on the limits of power to a series of powerful nations. The Soviet Union’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, however, was not one of these lessons. As author Lester Grau stated, the Soviet Union left Afghanistan in a “coordinated, deliberate, professional manner . . . . 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 decent interval argument in play.

  20. #40
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    A flyer from the publishers, Hurst landed today for 'Aiding Afghanistan: A History of Soviet Assistance to a Developing Country' by Paul Robinson and Jay Dixon:http://www.hurstpublishers.com/book/aiding-afghanistan/

    From the flyer:
    For close to sixty years Afghanistan was one of the largest recipients of foreign development aid and yet it remains one of the poorest countries on the planet. The Soviet Union provided Afghanistan with large-scale economic and technical assistance for nearly twenty-five years before invading in 1979, only to increase the volume of assistance even further during the 1980s. None of this aid made any lasting difference to Afghan poverty.

    Using unexplored Russian sources, this book describes and analyses the economic and technical assistance programs run by the Soviet Union from the mid-1950s through to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, and places them in the context of both Soviet-era development theories and more recent ideas about the role of institutions in fostering economic growth. In some respects Soviet development theorists were actually ahead of their contemporary Western counterparts in realising the centrality of institution-building, but they proved unable to translate their theories into practical solutions. The reasons why their assistance programs failed so completely in Afghanistan remain compellingly relevant today.
    davidbfpo

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