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The Soviet-Afghan War

How a Superpower Fought and Lost

The Russian General Staff

Translated and edited by Lester W. Grau and Michael A. Gress

Foreword by Theodore C. Mataxis

February 2002
392 pages, 19 photographs, 32 maps, 6 x 9
Modern War Studies
Paper ISBN 978-0-7006-1186-7, $19.95


Contents [html format] or [pdf format]

Foreword [html format] or [pdf format]

Editors' Preface [html format] or [pdf format]

General Staff Introduction
[html format] or [pdf format]

The War in Afghanistan (1979-1989) has been called "the Soviet Union's Vietnam War," a conflict that pitted Soviet regulars against a relentless, elusive, and ultimately unbeatable Afghan guerrilla force (the mujahideen). The hit-and-run bloodletting across the war's decade tallied more than 25,000 dead Soviet soldiers plus a great many more casualties and further demoralized a USSR on the verge of disintegration.

In The Soviet-Afghan War the Russian general staff takes a close critical look at the Soviet military's disappointing performance in that war in an effort to better understand what happened and why and what lessons should be taken from it. Lester Grau and Michael Gress's expert English translation of the general staff's study offers the very first publication in
any language of this important and illuminating work.

Surprisingly, this was a study the general staff never intended to write, initially viewing the war in Afghanistan as a dismal aberration in Russian military history. The history of the 1990s has, of course, completely demolished that belief, as evidenced by the Russian Army's subsequent engagements with guerrilla forces in Chechnya, Azerbaijan, Tadjikistan, Turkmenistan, and elsewhere. As a result, Russian officers decided to take a much closer look at the Red Army's experiences in the Afghan War.

Their study presents the Russian view of how the war started, how it progressed, and how it ended; shows how a modern mechanized army organized and conducted a counter-guerrilla war; chronicles the major battles and operations; and provides valuable insights into Soviet tactics, strategy, doctrine, and organization across a wide array of military branches. The editors' incisive preface and commentary help contextualize the Russian view and alert the reader to blind spots in the general staff's thinking about the war.

This one-of-a-kind document provides a powerful case study on how yet another modern mechanized army imprudently relied upon the false promise of technology to defeat a determined guerrilla foe. The Red Army had fought their war to a military draw but that was not enough to stave off political defeat at home.

"This superb translation will generate widespread and unprecedented interest in the subject. Offering a candid view of a war that played a significant role in the ultimate demise of the Soviet Union, this book presents analysis absolutely vital to Western policymakers, as well as to political, diplomatic, and military historians, and anyone interested in Russian and Soviet history. It also provides insights regarding current and future Russian struggles in ethnic conflicts both at and within their borders, struggles that could potentially destroy the Russian Federation."--David M. Glantz, coauthor of The Battle of Kursk

"Provides a treasure trove of information and analysis."--William E. Odom, author of The Collapse of the Soviet Military and On Internal War

LESTER W. GRAU, a Vietnam War veteran and retired lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army, is an analyst for the Foreign Military Studies Office at the Army's Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth. He is also the editor and translator of <I>The Bear Went Over the Mountain: Soviet Combat Tactics in Afghanistan</I> and <I>The Other Side of the Mountain: Mujahideen Tactics in the Soviet-Afghan War</I>.

MICHAEL A. GRESS is a native of Siberia and a former soldier in the motorized rifle forces of the Soviet Army.


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