The War in Afghanistan

"Train like you fight, and fight like you train," said a senior soldier who oversaw troops as they practiced raiding an abandoned qalat (fortified home or building) in eastern Afghanistan. These simulated raids lasted long into the night, and were in preparation for an upcoming raid on a suspected insurgent's facility. Robert Cunningham

Since the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in December 1979, it has failed to consolidate the rule of its Marxist client in Kabul. Although there are occasional reports that the government of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan (DRA) has increased its control, events over the last year confirm an overall lack of progress and the growing strength of the Afghan resistance. The Soviet-sponsored regime has made few political gains and its administrative and combat performance has not greatly improved—a record that led to the abrupt resignation of Afghan leader Babrak Karmal on May 4, 1986. The mujahedeen resistance, on the other hand, is more capable than ever, boosted by increasing firepower, operational and political cooperation and international support. It is slowly but steadily evolving into a powerful military force.

The Soviets, however, are looking to the long haul. Facing increasing losses in the field, as well as the beginnings of dissent at home, Moscow has responded with marginal military adjustments and hints of diplomatic flexibility. Nevertheless, the costs to the Soviet Union seem manageable, and there is no evidence that it is willing to withdraw until its proxies are confirmed in power. Afghan tenacity and international pressure could someday force Moscow to change its calculations. But, at best, this will take years.


Two years ago, Soviet forces failed in a massive assault to eliminate the resistance in the Panjsher Valley. Since then the resistance has increasingly taken the military initiative. The overall level of combat has steadily intensified, even during the customary winter lull, when the focus of combat shifts to the south and west. Every summer the pace of fighting escalates as the mujahedeen take the offensive. The Soviet and DRA militaries have been forced to respond to these attacks with increasing force in order to stave off major losses. Were Soviet troops to withdraw from Afghanistan, the Kabul regime could not long hold off the mujahedeen.

Early in the conflict the Soviets concentrated their operations in "strategic" areas of Afghanistan—the

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