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How did a band of ragtag tribesmen

manage to defeat the Soviet Union in

its own backyard?

The Afghan War


Muslim rebels con- What kind of conflict was the

ceive, plot, and execute a clas-
sic guerrilla strike against Soviet-
Afghan war, really? How, in fact,
did a ragtag band of Muslim tribes-
Ahmad Shah Mas-
soud—the "Lion of
his guerrilla warfare
backed outposts in the remote Ker- man stymie one of the two military skills from the mas-
an Valley, you get a close-up look at superpowers—in its own backyard, ters. Emphasizing
how the war is being won—and at that? How was the conflict fought speed, stealth, and
lost—in Afghanistan. day-by-day on the ground? maneuver—and with
a pipeline to the en-
In the meticulously planned as- For a look at the eccentricities, emy's closest se-
sault, small units of highly moti- tactics, goals, strengths, and weak- crets—his mujahe-
vated Muslim irregulars, fortified nesses of the combatants, one need deen fighters scored
with reasonably good weapons and look no further than the planning a big success at the
Battle of the Keran
extraordinary intelligence data, sur- and execution of the October 29, Valley and kept on
prise and utterly rout the heavily 1987, battle for Keran. winning. The skill of
equipped but slow-footed and de- such local leaders as
moralized soldiers of the Afghan Planning the Offensive Massoud is the big
Army garrison. The Afghan mujahedeen had reason that Soviet
troops are marching
The Keran Valley operation, been planning this offensive for out of their Afghan
•which I witnessed during a bone- months. The objective was to cap- quagmire.
wearying, three-month journey ture seven Soviet-supported Af-
through the Hindu Kush mountains ghan Army bases in northeastern
with Afghan rebels last fall and Afghanistan. Taking the bases
winter, was only one battle. Yet it, in would dramatically reduce travel
a nutshell, sums up the war's basic time for supplies from Pakistan.
realities. What's more, it would further boost
Those realities are yielding major morale for the rebels in their eight-
consequences. Following Geneva year war against Soviet occupation
talks in April, Moscow and its client forces.
in Kabul agreed to a nine-month The rebels' long logistics tail be-
timetable for a complete Russian gan in Garam Kishmar, or "Warm
troop withdrawal. The Soviet re- Waters," a village at the tip of the
treat, the first since 1942, now ap- northwest frontier province of Paki-
pears in full swing. stan. There, the Muslim forces re-
140 AIR FORCE Magazine / September 1988
ceived Chinese guns and rockets.
They are purchased and distributed
by Pakistan with $600 million a year
in US aid. Then, the equipment had
to be trekked overland into Afghani-
The extreme dedication of the
rebels is evident in such arduous
endeavors. In a blizzard, a team of
mujahedeen was forced to stop on a
mountain path when one of its
horses dropped dead under the am-
munition load it was carrying. One
of the men took up the weight that
killed the animal, threw it on his
back, and wordlessly continued the
climb. Such a sight is not uncom-
mon—not on the guerrilla side.
On the side of the Soviet and
Afghan armies, by contrast, morale
throughout the war has remained

t An t hony Suau/B LACK STA R

low. Initially, the problem stemmed
primarily from the fact that many of
the original Soviet soldiers were raw
reserves whose units often received

Though never equipped with a preponderance of modern weaponry, the Afghan

rebels have begun to acquire more arms in recent years. Among such arms are
mortars, rocket launchers, antimine field weapons, communications gear, and—most
critical of all—Stinger antiaircraft missiles from the US.

third-rate equipment. By the sum- contributed to widespread Soviet

mer of 1980, Soviet military leaders desertions. A few of these deserters
realized their errors, however, and have actually gone over to the mu-
began substituting conscripts for jahedeen.
the reserves. "It is hard to imagine a war in
Even then, Red Army forces who which Russia's conscript army
entered the fray had only the would be less well suited than it is in
poorest tactics and most pathetic a counterinsurgency in moun-
training. tainous Afghanistan," says Mark
What's more, the high command Urban, a British scholar of the war.
felt obliged to send home Muslim Future analysis may yet produce
soldiers from Soviet Asia for fear a complete answer as to why the
that they would sympathize with Soviet Union chose to ignore histo-
their rebel coreligionists—as many ry and invade Afghanistan, a land
of them in fact did. known throughout history as a
Primitive medical care and hy- graveyard of imperial ambition.
giene practices took their toll on Whatever their motives, however,
morale. With little water available, they clearly believed it would be a
the average Soviet soldier is said to relatively easy task to subdue a
bathe about once every other country immediately to their south,
month. Infectious hepatitis had spi- about the size of Texas.
raled out of control. And the hy- Moscow seriously miscalculated.
giene situation was worse among in- Certainly, Soviet leaders underesti-
digenous Afghan troops. mated the tenacity of the Afghan
The ordeal of Afghanistan has led resistance. But it also overesti-
to alcohol and drug abuse, not to mated the value of armor and
The Soviet Union seriously mention acts of brutality by Soviet massed firepower.
underestimated the tenacity of the soldiers that have been inflicted on
Afghan resistance. Moreover, Soviet fellow troops as well as on civilian Soviet Invasion
commanders had to cope with Soviet
troops who began to sympathize with
Afghans. Bullying of newcomers by The Soviets came in with great
their religious brethren in the "old soldiers"—those who have force, hoping to score a knockout
resistance. been in country a year or more— punch. First came a logistical
142 AIR FORCE Magazine / September 1988
0 Anthony Suau/BLACK STAR

buildup of Soviet troops north of the

Amu Darya, the "Oxus River,"
which separates the two countries.
A reinforced Air Assault Division at
the Soviet Union's 105th Guard
Headquarters was primed to seize
key military and political targets in
The operation itself went smooth-
ly. On December 6, 1979, a regiment
of the task force was flown to
Bagram, a principal Afghan fighter
base north of Kabul. From there,
troops fanned out to the Salang
Pass, the road route from the Soviet
Union to Kabul. For four days be-
ginning December 22, the Soviets
flew some 350 transport sorties into
Kabul and Bagram, carrying men
and supplies in Antonov and Il-
yushin airlifters. Shortly before
midnight on December 24, the Sovi-
ets began airlifting more troops into
Shindand, a key air base in the far
west of the country, and others went
to Kandahar in the south.
Finally, on December 27, the de-
cisive phase was launched. Para-
Afghan resistance leaders have been able to rely on a widespread network of
troopers moved into downtown Ka- informants among Afghan government forces and the populace at large. Such inside
bul, and KGB commandos stormed information has been crucial to the rebels in planning their raids from high in the
the Darulaman Palace south of Ka- rugged mountain country that dominates much of the nation.
bul. There, they executed Hafizul-
lah Amin, leader of the inept Afghan dreds of them—most of whom round tumbles on impact, causing
regime, and replaced him with should have known better than to dreadful wounds. The mujahedeen
handpicked Babrak Karmal. try to control the country centrally. refer to AK-74 projectiles as "poi-
All was accomplished in days, But that's what they did." It was, in son bullets."
with only one and a half air assault fact, a guiding military principle.
divisions and four motor rifle divi- In the first six months, the Sovi- Exploiting Airpower
sions totaling between 15,000 and ets pursued tactics that observers The biggest and most successful
20,000 men. Reinforcing troops deemed better suited to a land war innovation was the introduction,
brought the total to 100,000 by Janu- in the European theater. It was a within a year, of helicopters to the
ary 5, 1980. centrally controlled, high-intensity, war in massive numbers. In June
The relatively small size of the mechanized operation totally un- 1980, for example, it is estimated
invading force suggests the Kremlin suited to the harsh terrain, climate, that there were only forty-five to
pursued only limited objectives—to and lack of infrastructure in Afghan- sixty Soviet helicopters in Afghani-
take key cities and the roads that istan—not to mention the elusive stan. A short time later, Western ob-
linked them. foe. servers began reporting Soviet use
Moscow could not have known it, They even brought along an SA-4 of as many as eighteen attack heli-
but this was the high-water mark of antiaircraft missile brigade, the im- copters in attacks on single villages.
Soviet occupation. Nearly nine portance of which was not exactly Their best weapon became the
years of trouble were to follow. paramount in a war against guer- Hind helicopter gunship, a kind of
Divided on ethnic, linguistic, and rillas carrying on their fight without flying tank, which was used to rain
tribal lines, Afghanistan has always a single plane. indiscriminate terror on the Afghan
been a decentralized country—with Throughout the war, notes Ur- people and to soften up rebel posi-
a vengeance. For that reason, con- ban, Soviet infantry firepower was tions in advance of a ground assault.
trol of Kabul and major cities does "massively increased" in Afghani- It did, at least, until US-supplied
not mean control of the nation. stan, particularly with respect to the Stinger antiair missiles came into
Quite the contrary. individual infantryman. Soviet widespread use.
The Soviets seemed to willfully troops now carry the AGS-17 auto- All the effects of this massive fire-
ignore this reality. The US ambas- matic grenade launcher and the power were on display in the dozens
sador to Afghanistan from 1966 to RPO flamethrower—a weapon that of burned-out villages in the tac-
1973, Robert G. Neumann, watched provides the foot soldier with a por- tical-assembly areas that the
an enormous buildup of Soviet ad- table napalm weapon. Also in use is Afghan rebels used in preparing for
visors in Kabul. "They had hun- the new AK-74 automatic rifle. Its Keran.
AIR FORCE Magazine / September 1988 145
A short walk up the Anjuman Riv- Afghan men began arriving, walk- Shah Massoud. He was one of Mas-
er from the barren, rocky spot of its ing silently through the darkness. soud's Stinger operators, trained in
confluence with the Kokcha River Some had trekked for more than a Pakistan in the use of the surface-to-
in the desolate northeast of Afghani- week through the rugged, over- air missile. He explained that he was
stan, perched atop a hill more than whelming mountains of the Hindu the first in the corps to use a Stinger
9,000 feet above sea level, sat the Kush range. On the second floor of to down a Soviet plane, a MiG-21.
ruin of what was once a town called a ruined house, Mohammad Karim The increasing firepower of the
Escarza. Most of the stone and Jalili, a handsome, soft-spoken, guerrillas themselves was only too
packed-mud houses lay in rubble. twenty-two-year-old man with dark apparent at numerous stops on the
Bomb craters marked the spots eyes, sat wrapped in an Afghan journey to Keran. The small squad
where other buildings once stood. blanket, explaining his role in the of men with whom I traveled moved
Most of the residents were long war. down the Anjuman River to where it
gone. Dozens were killed in a series The young fighter epitomized the meets the Kokcha. After another
of Soviet air raids on the area. Sev- eclectic ingredients that have gone five hours—and two stops for
eral hundred more fled to neighbor- into the war. Born in Kama, near the prayers—they reached another
ing Pakistan, joining more than city ofJalalabad, the son of a district bombed-out village that, in the
3,000,000 other refugees from court judge in Badakshan Province, darkness, at first seemed deserted.
across their country. This day, a educated in commerce at a college Inside a mosque, some forty other
few old women and children left in in Pakistan, he was now a member young guerrillas pushed closer to-
Escarza were hauling water in of the mujahedeen fighting in a gether to make way for the new-
buckets up the long hill from the primitive war of liberation. comers. Every rebel sported a So-
river. There never has been elec- Karim was part of the Central viet Kalashnikov assault rifle.
tricity, running water, or conve- Corps of the most renowned and ef- Stacked in an adjoining stable were
niences in this forsaken place. fective resistance commander in the a dozen or so recoilless rifles and
But as night fell, dozens of young war, thirty-five-year-old Ahmad fifty or so Chinese-made rockets.
Across Afghanistan, the story is
much the same. The US has report-
CHINA edly stepped up supplies of ba-
zookas, heavy mortars, grenade
launchers, and recoilless rifles to
the mujahedeen. Especially wel-
come is the arrival of new anti-
USSR minefield rockets used to clear
Kokcha River obstacles placed by the Soviet
Army. Some authorities report that
the mujahedeen even possess short-
Northwest Frontier
River Province
range surface-to-surface rockets
4 ` ‘ with which to hold Soviet strong-
Kunar River holds at risk.
Khyber Pass Growing Professionalism
Bagram • •
Secretly, silently, over the ensu-
• Peshawar ing days, 530 mujahedeen gathered
Kabul in half a dozen villages throughout
the area, preparing for an assault on
the seven bases of Keran.
That the guerrillas could put to-
Herat gether such an operation, getting
• tactical orders across hundreds of
miles to dozens of their troop sites
Shindand while maintaining security, was evi-
• dence of what is plainly the growing

professionalism of the fighters and
Kandahar greater local military coordination.
Part of this is due to the emer-
gence of young, well-educated lead-
ers who have taken over from many
of the older, more suspicious tribal
chieftains who have tended to fight
IRAN in clan organizations and defend
specific pieces of territory—even
against fellow rebels.
In the northeast quadrant of Af-
ghanistan, this impressive network
146 AIR FORCE Magazine / September 1988
of fighters is the handiwork of 1984 when the Soviet planes came.
Ahmad Shah Massoud—known as He grabbed his four-year-old sister
"the Lion of Panjshir." in his arms and started to run. A
When the war began, Massoud, bomb struck nearby, and he spun
then twenty-seven, began to emerge around, cradling the little girl to his
as the commander of resistance ef- chest to protect her. He was hit in
forts in the strategic Panjshir River the face, shoulders, back, and legs
valley, which runs for 100 miles by shrapnel. He saved the child, but
from Kabul to the northeast. A son lost nine brothers, his father, and
of an Afghan Army general, Mas- two uncles.
soud adopted his third name, which After a week of such bombard-
means victory, as a nom de guerre. ment in May 1982, the raids
A brilliant leader, quite serious in stopped, and a regiment of air as-
demeanor but not without a sense of sault troops landed in helicopters,
humor, Massoud has learned the all from the 103d Air Assault Divi-
skills and tactics of the best guerrilla sion. They showed little experience
fighters, having long studied the of the terrain, failing to dig in or
methods of Mao, Guevara, and Ho conceal themselves, exposing
Chi Minh. themselves to constant ambushes
He was only fifteen in 1967 when by the mujahedeen, who escaped
© Phi lippe Fie nd!'In /BLACKSTAR

the Arab-Israeli Six-Day War broke unscathed into the hills.

out. Classmates recall how he In Panjshir 5, the destruction was
pinned a map on the wall to give particularly brutal. In that 1982 ac-
daily briefings on the movements of tion, Soviet attacks into tributary
the opposing forces, explaining to valleys were so successful that Mas-
friends why the Israelis were so ef- soud reluctantly ordered a tempo-
fective in battle. rary evacuation of the Panjshir in-
Though he is young, Massoud's Mobility in the forbidding terrain of habitants. He also worked out a
experience is extensive. Long be- Afghanistan is imperative for the Afghan temporary truce between his forces
fore the 1979 Soviet invasion, he resistance. Rebels often lug artillery by and the enemy. This was a contro-
had been involved in resistance ef- hand over dozens of miles. versial move that brought Massoud
forts against the Soviet-backed great criticism from other mujahe-
Communist regime in Kabul, mov- The Panishir Offensives deen groups. It proved to be a stra-
ing back and forth between resis- The first Soviet offensive, later tegic masterstroke that allowed his
tance bases in Pakistan, where he known to the Afghan war analysts fighters to regroup and, probably, to
was given some basic military train- as "Panjshir 1," was launched in late survive to continue the war.
ing, and the anti-Communist under- 1980. Panjshir 9 was unleashed in In any case, by April 1984, Mas-
ground in Kabul. 1985. There has been none since. soud was back, again on the attack
Massoud's personality has drawn The Soviet Army is apparently re- against the critical Salang Highway.
in some impressive young intellec- signed to the reality of Massoud's His success in this endeavor led di-
tual fighters. In a nation of almost iron grip. rectly to the Soviets' Panjshir 7,
total illiteracy, many of his troops The Panjshir operations provide a again performed by 15,000 Soviet-
are college graduates. He has also kind of microcosm of the Soviet mil- led troops, and this time with little
developed an intelligence-gathering itary fate in Afghanistan: the ability result. After trying two more of
operation that reaches into the heart to win tactical victories at will while their Panjshir operations, the Sovi-
of Kabul. strategic gains remain elusive. ets pulled back.
Like other young Muslim com- Of the nine Soviet offensives,
manders, Massoud's approach to Panjshirs 5, 6 (1982), and 7 (1984) Why the Soviet Failures?
war has matured greatly. In the ear- were the biggest. In each case, some Why do these gigantic Soviet op-
ly years, he says, his attacks were 15,000 Soviet and Afghan Army erations turn out poorly, not just
sporadic, consisting mainly of inef- troops pushed up the valley. More against Massoud, but nearly every-
fective hit-and-run ambushes along Soviet troops came down from the where in Afghanistan?
the Salang Highway between Kabul north in a pincer action. Once the One principal reason, say many,
and the Soviet border. ground troops had sealed off the val- is that these sweeps are almost al-
As time passed and Massoud's ley, Soviet fighter-bombers began ways conducted using large num-
tactics became more sophisticated, bombing from Bagram and bases bers of nervous, frightened, and in-
he became a far greater concern to across the Soviet border. Soviet experienced recruits. They rarely
Soviet military men in Afghanistan. Su-25s, Su-17s, and MiG-21s were dismount from their fighting vehi-
Indeed, the perceived power and used, blasting many villages into cles. Because they seldom leave the
prestige of Massoud engendered oblivion. roads, they do not pursue fleeing
nine major Soviet invasions aimed Rakhman Beg, a twenty-seven- Afghan forces.
at driving him from his home turf in year-old Panjshiri who grew up in "The mountains," observed one
the lush Panjshir Valley—though Jishta, a small village in the north of of Massoud's guerrillas, "are our
with notable lack of success. the valley, recalls the black day in best friends."
AIR FORCE Magazine / September 1988 149
These Soviet units, mostly mo- in the countryside. Soviet helicop- er valley, which I witnessed late last
torized rifle infantry forces, have ters, on occasion, have swooped year, were all conducted from al-
scant knowledge of their Afghan en- into gatherings of unsuspecting reb- titudes of at least 20,000 feet. This
emy. What's more, most have no els, as commandos would blaze put the raiding jets far out of Stinger
idea how to handle their own equip- away. range. It also made the Soviet
ment. Yet the elite forces tended to bombing inaccurate and ineffective.
It is true, say experts, that por- function only in short-term opera- Many believe that the dwindling
tions of the Red Army improved in tions. Even the isolated commando of direct Soviet air support has been
performance over time. Analysts operations have tailed off signifi- a severely demoralizing factor for
note that the Soviets developed a cantly in recent years. One possible Soviet and Afghan Army troops.
substructure of the Red Army in Af- reason: high casualty rates. The So- With its air arm constrained, the
ghanistan, a kind of antiguerrilla or viet garrison army, rarely leaving its Soviets began to rely more on artil-
quasicounterinsurgency force. bunkers, loses few troops. The lery than on airpower, with predict-
With units once totaling an esti- counterguerrilla forces, however, able results. Mujahedeen simply
mated 20,000 to 25,000 crack took extremely high casualties, with moved to heavily fortified strong-
troops, the force was filled with air- some units losing up to two-thirds of holds high in the Afghan mountain
borne or air assault soldiers, but their fighters within a year. gorges, impervious to artillery fire.
long-range patrol and intelligence As he labored to prepare his Even so, Massoud left no possi-
forces were included. The emphasis forces for the attack on the Keran bility untended during the time that
was on speed and stealth rather than forts, Massoud betrayed little con- he prepared in a little village called
brute force and mass. Members of cern about attack from the Soviet Jangal for the battle of Keran. In the
the units got special training in com- units. He had divided his several days before he gave his major brief-
bat skills peculiar to Afghan condi- thousand men into three groups. ing on the battle, his intelligence of-
tions. They are his Central Corps, other ficers and cartographers painstak-
In their heyday, the units con- mobile units, and stationary de- ingly built a giant sandlot replica of
ducted imaginative, even daring, fense forces in the villages of his the entire Keran Valley to give a
operations—including dangerous region. All were relatively well pro- vivid, three-dimensional view of the
and unheard-of nighttime ambushes tected. battlefield.
Their biggest concern, said one Starting with a grid almost the
Massoud fighter, was the possibility size of a football field end zone, they
that Soviet MiG aircraft would be built up the hills and the surround-
dispatched from Kabul or from in- ing mountains, putting in every
side the Soviet Union, scramble, ridge and craggy tip. They created
and be on the scene of the battle in the river that ran down the middle,
quicktime. The young man was phil- put in cardboard replicas of every
osophical. "Inshallah," he said. If house, hut, and barrack. They also
God is willing. made replicas of their weapons and
When it comes to combating So- the enemy's from cigarette packets.
viet air operations, it's now clear His advance intelligence was phe-
that the turning point came in 1985 nomenal, in part because the sec-
when the United States began sup- ond in command of the Army base
plying Stingers to the resistance. at Keran had been a Massoud spy,
Massoud Khalili, a political officer working inside for him for two
in the Jamiat-e-Islami Afghanistan years. Some days before, four of
party, agrees that Stingers changed Massoud's officers met with the
the face of the war. He says the im- man, Abdul Rias, a thirty-two-year-
pact of the weapon became appar- old Afghan army captain. For al-
ent within one year. Whereas up un- most two hours, he helped Mas-
til 1985 the Soviets used the skies soud's intelligence officer come up
over Afghanistan with impunity, to speed, pointing to weapons
Soviet helicopters and low-flying caches and troop concentrations.
bombers were rarely seen by late The results were startling. The
1987. They remain absent. day before the attack was to take
ol Ant hony Suau/ BLACKSTAR

place, Massoud called his key offi-

Stinging the Bear cers together, placing each in the
It is clear that the ubiquity of the position around the model where he
Stinger has had a major impact on would lead his men. For two hours
Soviet air combat operations. Sovi- he paced back and forth, repeating
et pilots clearly fear its effective- again and again every significant de-
Though many of the weapons used by ness and have been careful to avoid tail.
the Afghan rebels would be considered most low-level engagements that
museum pieces in Western armies, more
Massoud was able to tell his men
modern weapons, such as this recoilless
could leave them prey to the weap- not only which buildings to attack
rifle, have filtered into the country from on. and when but also which windows
border bases in Pakistan. Bombing raids on the Kunar Riv- to fire into. He knew how many
150 AIR FORCE Magazine / September 1988
weapons the enemy possessed. He
knew where each of the 300 Army
soldiers and the hated Khad secret
police agents slept. Also, Massoud
knew the exact locations of mines
on the valley surrounding the target.
"The first company is in the gar-
rison," says Massoud. "It has three
officers and thirty-seven soldiers."
He lists the number of rounds of
ammunition. There are 340 Ka-
lashnikovs. He also knows that they
have 200 bags of flour and one barrel
of oil. "Understand?" Massoud
asked. "Any questions?"
In retrospect, the outcome of the
battle at that point was foreor-
dained. Throughout the night, reb-
els gathered their weapons, hauling

—Photo by RichardMackenz ie
some onto their backs and strapping
others onto the few horses and don-
keys they had on hand, heading for
A Clear Victory
The battle was scheduled to begin
shortly after 6:00 a.m., but half an Rebel leader Ahmad Shah Massoud, gesturing at right, briefs his troops minutes
hour before that, an enemy soldier before the battle at Keran. In a scant forty minutes, his rebels overran the Afghan
army base, capturing more than 300 government soldiers and inflicting twenty-nine
walked out of his barracks and casualties. Massoud's careful preparations held his losses to fourteen mujahedeen
headed toward an open area used as killed and eleven injured. Other government bases up the valley were later taken
a lavatory. When he unexpectedly without firing a shot.
came upon a squad of mujahedeen
who had slipped into a garden at the pected, were prepared to fight to the eleven others injured. But the Sovi-
edge of the perimeter, he sounded last man. Above all, they feared et-backed forces got the worst of
an alarm, and the battle com- what would happen to them if they things by far. For their part, govern-
menced. were captured alive. They are so ment troops lost twenty-nine killed,
Above, on a mountainside, Mas- hated by Afghans at large for their with more than 300 taken captive.
soud's heavy-weapons men were atrocities and torture that they knew The attack was supposed to be
still struggling as they tried to haul what kind of end they could expect only the first of a series of assaults
guns into the prearranged spots. to meet. "They fight to the last bul- on Soviet-supported forces in the
Even so, reluctant to sacrifice the let," says one guerrilla, "and keep area. But other bases operated by
tactical initiative, Massoud gave the that for themselves." Afghan militia further up the valley
order to attack—though he realized Help in the form of Soviet air- were less of a challenge. To take
that fewer than half the heavy weap- power never came. Toward the close them, Massoud sent an elderly local
ons were where they should be. of the fighting, two MiGs roared resident with a letter, offering to
"God is great!" he cried into a high overhead, obscured in part by treat them well if they surrendered.
two-way radio, and the valley ex- thick clouds. The guerrillas glanced About half did. The remainder fled.
ploded with bullets, rockets, and up nervously and waited. The Today, Soviet fortunes have
tracer shells. sounds continued for a some sec- come full circle in the war in Af-
The Army base fell in forty min- onds before they passed on by, their ghanistan. They began by establish-
utes. As mujahedeen raced across pilots apparently oblivious to the ing a static defense around key
the valley floor, following paths they defeat being administered below. bases and important roads. When
had been told were clear of mines, Mohammad Karim Jalili, the Sting- that didn't work, they began to ven-
only a few of the Afghan conscripts er operator, simply shrugged, disap- ture out, as in the attacks on the
inside the main base put up any sort pointed at the missed opportunity. Panjshir. But by 1987, they were
of a fight. Bedraggled, shocked, Despite some shortcomings, the figuratively back in their bunkers
without spirit, and with no fight in operation represented a clear victo- again, looking for a way out.
them, most threw down their weap- ry for the partisans. A total of four- The Battle of Keran helps to ex-
ons. In the midst of what battle teen mujahedeen were killed and plain why. •
there was, the commander of the
base fled. Richard Mackenzie, a native of Australia, has been a senior writer for Insight
Gunfire continued around the magazine since 1985. Mr. Mackenzie spent three and one-half months in
area held by the Khad men. These Afghanistan in late 1987. He returned to the Afghan camps on the Pakistan
armed intelligence forces, as ex- border this spring.

AIR FORCE Magazine / September 1988 153