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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 demorali 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. Along the way, it vividly reveals the increasing disillusionment of Soviet soldiers, how that disillusion seeped back into Soviet society, and how it contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Red Army had fought their war to a military draw but that was not enough to stave off political defeat at home. The Soviet-Afghan War helps clarify how such a surprising demise could have materialized in the backyard of the Cold War's other great superpower.


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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 demorali 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. Along the way, it vividly reveals the increasing disillusionment of Soviet soldiers, how that disillusion seeped back into Soviet society, and how it contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Red Army had fought their war to a military draw but that was not enough to stave off political defeat at home. The Soviet-Afghan War helps clarify how such a surprising demise could have materialized in the backyard of the Cold War's other great superpower.

30 review for The Soviet-Afghan War: How a Superpower Fought and Lost

  1. 5 out of 5

    Brett C

    This was a very thorough overview of the Soviet presence in Afghanistan. Contrary to popular belief, the 40th Army was ushered in by the Afghan government and there was not a strong-arm invasion. The introduction and background leading up to the war was superb in my opinion. The author presents from neither pro-/anti-Soviet but merely presents the facts. This book literally gives you a breakdown of operations, tactics (raids, ambushes, cordon and search), arms/weaponry/unit sizes, artillery, reco This was a very thorough overview of the Soviet presence in Afghanistan. Contrary to popular belief, the 40th Army was ushered in by the Afghan government and there was not a strong-arm invasion. The introduction and background leading up to the war was superb in my opinion. The author presents from neither pro-/anti-Soviet but merely presents the facts. This book literally gives you a breakdown of operations, tactics (raids, ambushes, cordon and search), arms/weaponry/unit sizes, artillery, reconnaissance, and combat support (medical, technical, uniforms, post-exchange amenities, housing, pay). The interesting part to me was the air assault/airborne operations and Army aviation operations (you know: the typical stuff you see in the movies). There is extensive information about these operations with paratroopers and helicopters! Again retired US Army Lt Col Lester Grau gives an editors commentary at the end of each chapter. This is an outstanding book. If this subject interests you also check out 'The Bear Went Over The Mountain' for further Soviet tactics and operating procedures. Thanks!

  2. 4 out of 5

    Chuck

    "The Soviet-Afghan War" by members of the Russian General Staff, and translated by Lester Grau and Michael Gross, is a summary overview of the Soviet experience in the Afghan Invasion and War of the 1980s. The book consists of separate chapters on various aspects of the war, including the experiences of various components of the Soviet Army. It is therefore more of an organizational review of lessons learned rather than a history. Each of the chapters is, in many ways, very similar to American M "The Soviet-Afghan War" by members of the Russian General Staff, and translated by Lester Grau and Michael Gross, is a summary overview of the Soviet experience in the Afghan Invasion and War of the 1980s. The book consists of separate chapters on various aspects of the war, including the experiences of various components of the Soviet Army. It is therefore more of an organizational review of lessons learned rather than a history. Each of the chapters is, in many ways, very similar to American Military Staff studies of various military aspects. Chapters cover topics such as organization, combined arms tactics, combat service branch specific tactics, combat support, and combat service support. One interesting point made through the book, in the comments, by the translators is how unprepared the Soviet Army was for the guerrilla war in Afghanistan. The Soviet Army had a long history of dealing with guerrilla conflicts. Yet, in the 1980's the Soviet Army had forgotten that history, and instead was fully oriented towards massive modern armored combat in the North German Plain. While some lessons were learned, this failure put the Soviet Army at a disadvantage during the entire conflict. I cannot sufficiently compliment the translation of this book. The translators wonderfully and accurately translated the Russian language studies into colloquial English. More than that, they mapped and Soviet military concepts into American military concepts. They also explained, in great detail, the differences and similarities between the two systems and the decisions that they made in translating the text. This is certainly the highest quality translation effort I have encountered in many years. I believe that it was the quality of the translation that made the book accessible to this reader. My highest compliments and appreciation to Mr Grau and Mr Gross! This book would appeal to those interested in the history of Afghanistan, the United States and/or the Soviet Union. It will also appeal to students of modern military tactics, logistics, and military organizational operational activities.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Spencer Willardson

    This book was quite dry on the one hand, and on the other was a pretty candid look at the Soviet efforts in Afghanistan. The level of detail about how raids were conducted to what kind of canned rations were provided the soldiers offers a pretty realistic look at the way wars are. I think that anyone who has served in the military, and especially in a combat situation (either in Iraq or Afghanistan) will recognize many of the elements that the Soviet Army logistics, tactics, and everyday reality This book was quite dry on the one hand, and on the other was a pretty candid look at the Soviet efforts in Afghanistan. The level of detail about how raids were conducted to what kind of canned rations were provided the soldiers offers a pretty realistic look at the way wars are. I think that anyone who has served in the military, and especially in a combat situation (either in Iraq or Afghanistan) will recognize many of the elements that the Soviet Army logistics, tactics, and everyday reality. If you are interested in the military, Soviet history, Afghanistan, or the reality of war, this book is a good choice.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Glen

    This was a very interesting read. Packed with technical details, it's the assessment of the Soviet generals of their actions in Afghanistan. The editing team did well to supplement and illuminate some exaggerations of shortfalls in the generals assessments. This book isn't for everyone, but it is an interesting read if you are interested in war history, the Soviet Union military, or military action in Afghanistan.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Raymond Thomas

    Written by Russian staff officers who fought the war, this book goes into great detail on the tactics and inner workings of the Soviet military in Afghanistan. Covers everything from small unit tactics to logistics and base exchanges. Editors provide helpful critical commentary when the self reflection of the Soviets comes up short.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Odhran

    Excellent review of the Soviet war in Afghanistan. Provides a wonderful explanation of what running a war entails, which is something I don't think I've really come across before. Especially interesting in terms of the lesser-covered stuff, like combat support and services.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Kim

    A bit dry to read but it has many interesting tidbits. If one really wants to get the most out of it though one should first read "Bear Went over the Mountain" (Soviet vignettes) and "Other Side of the Mountain" (Mujahideen vignettes) before reading this. The Russian General Staff frequently reference the same stories that Grau has already translated and covered in-depth in the two aforementioned books.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Steve

    Some good points. Not narrative at all.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Nick

    A very highly detailed book on the soviet logistical and combat tactics during the Soviet-Afghan war

  10. 5 out of 5

    Antxon Maguregui

    Un análisis sobre la guerra afgano-soviética escrito por el estado mayor del ejército ruso, traducido (al inglés), y comentado por un oficial norteamerciano especialista en la URSS. Como puede esperarse, el libro es ante todo un análisis militar, donde la descripción de los fenómenos políticos es tangencial. Incluye: 1-Descripción de Aghanistán, geografía física y política. 2-Descripción del entremaniento y organización de los soviéticos y ejército popular afgano. 3-Descripción de las facciones de mu Un análisis sobre la guerra afgano-soviética escrito por el estado mayor del ejército ruso, traducido (al inglés), y comentado por un oficial norteamerciano especialista en la URSS. Como puede esperarse, el libro es ante todo un análisis militar, donde la descripción de los fenómenos políticos es tangencial. Incluye: 1-Descripción de Aghanistán, geografía física y política. 2-Descripción del entremaniento y organización de los soviéticos y ejército popular afgano. 3-Descripción de las facciones de muyaidines a las que se enfrentaron los soviéticos, incluyendo las potencias que los financiaban. 4-Descripción de las diversas armas del ejército soviético, o al menos las que componían el 40° ejército. Incluye vehículos , armamento, etc. 5-Descripción de las tácticas más usadas, con algunos ejemplos concretos (incluyendo algún croquis). 6-Conclusión, listas y cronologías. El libro es una excelente fuente de información de la tecnología militar soviética de los años 80. Destacan las excelentes notas a pie de página y el contraste de opiniones entre lps generales rusos y el oficial norteamericano.

  11. 5 out of 5

    James

    Fascinating book. But a bit dry and technical. Took me a year to read it. Basically looks at the Soviet Army organization, strategy, tactics and logistics in their nearly 10 year war in Afghanistan. I read it because of our escalation there and it does have some value for Americans wondering about the war. This is a staff study, written by Soviet Officers and translated by an American and a Russian with their notes and commentary (maybe a total of 20 pages, so they tend to let the Soviets speak Fascinating book. But a bit dry and technical. Took me a year to read it. Basically looks at the Soviet Army organization, strategy, tactics and logistics in their nearly 10 year war in Afghanistan. I read it because of our escalation there and it does have some value for Americans wondering about the war. This is a staff study, written by Soviet Officers and translated by an American and a Russian with their notes and commentary (maybe a total of 20 pages, so they tend to let the Soviets speak for themselves.). So, if you are interested, read the intro and conclusion and some of the translators comments. If you are in the military and maybe might be headed there, you should think about reading the whole thing. On a side note, if you chop off the end and the beginning, you would maybe think the Soviets had won, as they tend to focus on what worked..

  12. 4 out of 5

    Aaron Crofut

    This book is a difficult read, due to its dry subject, but the lessons are very important considering events in Afghanistan today. The Russian General Staff does a decent job of pointing out what went right for them (though they overestimate their own effectiveness often) and see some of the problems that defeated them, but fail to offer any ideas as to how the U.S.S.R. could have won the conflict. Certainly worth reading to clearly identify the problems we face, though you will not get the answ This book is a difficult read, due to its dry subject, but the lessons are very important considering events in Afghanistan today. The Russian General Staff does a decent job of pointing out what went right for them (though they overestimate their own effectiveness often) and see some of the problems that defeated them, but fail to offer any ideas as to how the U.S.S.R. could have won the conflict. Certainly worth reading to clearly identify the problems we face, though you will not get the answers to those problems in this book.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Christopher

    An excellent read that builds on the tactical vignettes of the Bear Went Over the Mountain and The Other Side of the Mountain. Unfortunately, it is a tactical book that focuses only on how Soviet units fought engagements. There is little to describe the overall Soviet strategy in Afghanistan although some of this can be distiller from the text. Overall it is worth the time to read for those interested in Afghanistan or military tactics.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan

    Sadly abit dry, to be expected though since its simply the direct translation of the Soviet High Commands write up of their participation and the break down of support structures during the Soviet Afghan War. Will stick to authored books on the subject from here on out, high command reports are not my reading style in the slightest.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Brian

    I mostly read this book because of my interest in the Soviet military and in particular, its involvement in Afghanistan. Other reviews are correct in their assessment that it is too technical. It is clearly meant for field officers to study from. However, it is a good read for the armchair strategist as well, and anyone studying the military history of Afghanistan should read this.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Sam Jung

    As others say, this book really is matter-of-fact kind of book. That is to be expected from a "study" written by military strategists. Other than a bit monotonous narrative, it is really an informative read, and as the editor of the book states, it is "relatively free of political...bias."

  17. 5 out of 5

    wally

    economics, one...tank turrets can't rise as required...among other things.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Balaji

    Afghan war

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan

    A General Staff study. The Soviet military definitely wasn't ready for such a conflict.

  20. 4 out of 5

    John Dickerson

  21. 4 out of 5

    John

  22. 5 out of 5

    KD

  23. 5 out of 5

    John Wimmer

  24. 4 out of 5

    Talha

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jack

  26. 4 out of 5

    John

  27. 5 out of 5

    Gregory McDaniel

  28. 4 out of 5

    Nicole DeLucca

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jake Walko

  30. 5 out of 5

    Rocky

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