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U.S. Military Can Learn From Russia's Afghan Disaster

Subject: U.S. Military Can Learn From Russia's Afghan Disaster
Date: Mon, 01 Oct 2001 20:02:01 -0400
From: Miroslav Visic <>
Organization: Infinite Justice
To: Direct Action <>
"For fair use only"

Washington, Oct. 1 (Bloomberg) -- The Soviet Union spent 10 years at war in Afghanistan before it withdrew in defeat.

It lost at least 118 jets, 333 helicopters and 147 tanks,  according to U.S. Army records. Roughly 1,314 personnel carriers,  433 artillery pieces and 11,370 trucks were destroyed. More than 15,000 soldiers were killed; another 470,000 got sick or wounded.

That record hasn't been lost on U.S. military planners -- or President George W. Bush -- as the U.S. shapes its response to terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.

``I am fully aware of the difficulties the Russians had in Afghanistan,'' Bush said Friday, adding: ``There have been lessons learned.''

Military analysts say those lessons address how to fight an enemy entrenched in Afghanistan's mountains. The U.S. must think in terms of annihilating rather than disabling, cutting off escape routes and other tactics that prevent small bands of battle- hardened guerrilla fighters from reassembling.

``We're going to have to go in and dig these people out,'' said military historian Frederick Kagan. ``How to technically go about fighting these guys is one of the most important things we can take away from the Soviet experience.''

Analysts note the Soviets had a different objective: They invaded Afghanistan with the intent to control it. The stated U.S. goal is to destroy the terrorist network of Osama bin Laden, the alleged sponsor of the Sept. 11 attacks.

  It's Not Czechoslovakia

  Retired Lieutenant Colonel Lester Grau, working at the Army's Foreign Military Studies Office at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, dissected the Soviet invasion in a study written in 1996. He collaborated with former Afghan Army General Mohammed Nawroz.

The Soviet Army's tactics were the same used in its 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia, Grau wrote: Disable the military, seize airfields and transportation, occupy the capital and government buildings, and jail or kill its leaders.

In the Czech invasion -- against minimal resistance and on more forgiving terrain -- only 96 Soviets were killed.

In Afghanistan, the Red Army encountered a guerrilla force that choked off its supply and communications lines, fought at night to incapacitate Soviet helicopters and grew only more effective and better armed as it obtained weapons from the U.S. and other countries who opposed the Soviets during the Cold War.

More than 1.3 million Afghan guerrillas were killed, according to Grau -- more suffering on a percentage basis than Germany inflicted on the Soviet Union during World War II. Yet the Afghans prevailed over a demoralized Soviet army.

``They had lost the willingness to combat a rugged enemy that would not quit,'' Grau wrote. ``The pressure of an unpopular, lengthy, expensive war had transformed many tough, stubborn and ruthless Soviet soldiers into liabilities whose sole hope was to survive and go home.''

  `Light Infantry War'

  Analysts say U.S. strategy mustn't rely on the heavy armor  and artillery used by the Soviet army but on weapons and tactics  that allow the mobility and flexibility called for in guerrilla  warfare.

``It comes down to a light infantry war,'' Kagan said. ``The Soviets weren't equipped for that. Our force is designed better to do this than the Soviets, but we are still a conventional army.''

The U.S. first must find the guerrillas, then destroy them -- not simply disable their firepower. That means cutting off escape routes so they cannot disburse and regroup.

``You have to make absolutely certain you destroy the guerilla group in front of you,'' Kagan said.

 `Talking About Caves'

  Analysts say Afghanistan is so devastated by two decades of war and its military so mobile that there are few fixed targets for air attack.

``It's difficult to go after their technology when they don't have any,'' said Frank Cilluffo, a senior policy analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. ``You are talking about more rudimentary modes of command and control. Literally, you are talking about caves.''

Military experts say that the U.S. will likely use special forces for operations such as nighttime ambushes and personnel snatches.'' The U.S also forecast use of missiles and bombs programmed to be guided by satellites or lasers against targets that may be hiding in a cave or underground bunker or moving and not visible from the air.

Bush today said the U.S. has deployed 29,000 military personnel as well as several hundred military aircraft. ``Slowly but surely we're going to move them out of their holes and what they think is safe havens and get them on the move,'' he said.

Still, there are no guarantees. The U.S. has tried without success to catch bin Laden since his indictment in connection with the bombing of U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998.

In 1993, a mission to capture several top aides to Somalian warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid resulted in 18 U.S. soldiers killed, 73 wounded and the loss of two Blackhawk helicopters.

  The Stinger

There are also defensive concerns in Afghanistan. In 1986, the Soviet forces were close to winning, thanks to intelligence that allowed their special forces to mount helicopter attacks  against key leaders of the ``Mujahideen,'' as the Islamic guerrilla resistance fighters were called.

``The resistance was on the ropes when the Stingers arrived,'' said Andrew Eiva, a U.S. defense analyst who organized aid to the rebels in the 1980s.

Shoulder-launched, heat-seeking Stinger missiles, first produced in 1982 by General Dynamics Corp., were provided to the resistance by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. They gave the Mujahideen a defense against Soviet helicopter gunships.

A 1989 U.S. Army review concluded that the Stinger ``was the war's decisive weapon -- it changed the nature of combat.''

Roughly 200 Stingers weren't recovered by the CIA after the war. Though they shouldn't be discounted, the U.S. should be able to blunt the roughly 20-year-old missiles with advanced counter measures and an intimate knowledge of how they were built and perform, analysts said.

Psychological Advantage  

``A guerrilla war is not a war of technology versus peasantry,'' Grau wrote. ``Rather, it is a contest of endurance and national will.''

``Battlefield victory,'' he wrote, ``can be almost irrelevant.''

In the Soviet conflict, the Mujahideen held the psychological advantage. Young men from dozens of countries came to fight after a ``Jihad,'' or Holy War, was declared against the Soviets.

Some analysts say that unity of spirit is now lacking in the military ranks of the ruling Taliban government, which has been fighting the rebel Northern Alliance in a civil war since 1996. The alliance controls roughly 10 percent of the country and some analysts say the U.S. may be able to capitalize on discontent among the Afghan people.

``I get a sense that it may be the Taliban that crumbles, in terms of morale,'' Cilluffo said.

Ali Jalali, a former colonel in the Afghan military who now lives in the U.S. and works for Voice of America, agrees.

``The Taliban controls about 90 percent of the country, however that doesn't mean that people in this 90 percent all approve of the Taliban,'' he said.

Others say the U.S. will enjoy no such advantage.

``It's a mistake to think we'll be any more loved on the ground than the Soviets were,'' said Judith Kipper, director of the Middle East Forum at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. ``We're foreign invaders.''  


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