Why Did the Soviet Union Lose the War in Afghanistan?

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Why Did the Soviet Union Lose the War in Afghanistan?
Roxanne C. Jones
Politics 300, Section 003016

Why Did the Soviet Union Lose the War in Afghanistan?
‘Do you think you are going to win?’
‘Yes, yes of course.’
‘What makes you think so? What makes you think you are going to win?’ ‘I believe we are going to win. It’s evident!’
(Panjshairi commander Ahmad Shah Massoud in an interview from the French prize-winning documentary film ‘Valley against an Empire’ by Jerome Bony and Christophe de Ponfilly, summer, 1981).

The Soviet Union could have won the war with Afghanistan if only they had done their homework. They would have known that the will of the Afghan people was resistant and unyielding. Perhaps their initial military planning would have accounted for the guerrilla war-fighting strategies and tactics for which the Afghan tribes were infamous. Still yet, Kremlin leadership might not have been so hasty to exclude a heightened international reaction to their offensive. For centuries, the Afghan people had battled numerous invaders of their territory, but were conquered by none. Statistically speaking, Soviet leaders entered into a war with some terrible odds for winning and it seems as though the USSR lost the war before it even began. Henry Kissinger once stated, “The guerilla wins if he does not lose. The conventional army loses if it does not win.” (Ewans, 2005). The strength of the Mujahideen’ emanated from their Islamic ideals. “They had a fervent belief in their cause and the inevitability of its triumph” (Ewans, 2005). During the Soviet-Afghan conflict, the Mujahideen accepted death as an honorable contractual feature of their Muslim obligations which stipulated unwavering loyalty and devotion to the execution of jihad. Unfortunately, “the Soviets underestimated the resilience of a resistance force intent on gaining its independence.” (Girardet, 1985). Not only was the Red Army unsuspecting of Mujahideen will; they were ill-prepared for the guerilla ambush tactics, terrain limitations, and incompetency of the Afghan army. The extent and ferocity of the resistance was not foreseen, nor was there any appreciation of the Soviet Army’s limitations.” (Ewans, 2005). Soviet High Command didn’t expect the inertia of the Afghan forces. They anticipated their involvement to be all inclusive of logistical support and containment of urban areas, imperative routes and major points. Once they realized that the Afghan Army was in shambles, they attempted to retrain and reorganize but soon realized that the internal problems were far worse than they suspected. Due to the invasion, conscripted locals and Afghan soldiers were deserting and defecting to fight with the resistance, often times taking critical weapons and artillery with them. “It did not take the Soviet military leadership long to realize that the units that they had sent into Afghanistan were ill-equipped to deal with the resistance that they were unexpectedly, meeting.” (Ewans, 2005). Their army was trained and equipped for large-scale, fast-moving warfare in environments illustrating landscapes found in Europe or Central Asia. The scabrous, jagged, and unrefined mountainous terrain in Afghanistan rendered much of their equipment strategically disadvantageous. While engaged in battle the control of their artillery fire and air strikes suffered because the support components, namely aviation and artillery, were not deployed based upon the needs of the units on the battlefield. “The LCSFA failed throughout to adjust adequately to the requirements of the war it was having the wage.” (Ewans, 2005). Cultural similarities and idealistic unity remained key components of the Afghan resistance against the Soviet offensive. The Afghan people have been recognized for their “mountaineer toughness, love of combat, and jealousy of reputation.” (Newell, 1972). Historically, Afghan clans waged battle against one another, like two brothers...
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