very good read, thank you!
Sorry if this is a repost, but couldn't find anywhere else in the forum
We were there to assess the Afghan fighting capability and to retrieve Soviet equipment. It was 1980, the Russians had just invaded and the Afghans were fighting a superpower with the same tactics they had used against the British before the first world war. Watching them fight was like watching an old western: the Russian cowboys would come into a valley and down would stream the Afghan Indians. My task was to teach the Afghans modern guerrilla tactics. Without them, they would be exterminated.
I tried to go without preconceptions, but it was hard. Before leaving Britain, everyone told me to be careful. The Afghans are barbaric, they'll chop you up, they said.
My boss at MI6 gave me a Flashman novel about a cowardly British officer in the first British Afghan war of 1839-42. It was full of knife-wielding maniacs who carved up British soldiers. After a few months adjusting, however, I found the Afghans to be very pleasant. We got along. I respected their bravery; they respected the way I instructed them.
I had much more difficulty coping with the terrain. When I arrived in Peshawar, an Afghan military leader warned me: "I hope you are fit, my men march very quickly." No problem, I thought, I was used to marching. But my God: up, up, up we went. We entered the Hindu Kush mountains and started climbing. Above 10,000ft the oxygen started to thin and my concentration to lapse. The Afghans were used to it. There was only one thing we had over them: most of them couldn't swim, which made crossing lakes and streams tricky.
As fighting terrain, Afghanistan is a nightmare. It's a natural fortress. You can't get far with vehicles - you get bogged down, and the passes are too steep. Laden infantry troops could take five days to reach a beleaguered outpost, a journey that would take a helicopter 20 minutes.
The Russians, consequently, had an awful time. It's one thing to put in your infantry, but you've got to keep them within range of your artillery. With difficult mountain passes, this is almost impossible.
None of this matters to the Afghans: they have it all organised, moving from one village to the next, where they have stocks of food. This is how they have fought and won wars for 200 years, with little bases all over the place and holes in the ground where everything is buried. This allows them to carry as little as possible and to cover ground much faster than a western force could.
We didn't use tents, we lived in caves or slept rough. Most of the army carried just a weapon, three magazines of ammunition and some nan bread, all wrapped in a shawl on their back. No western soldier could carry heavy equipment and keep up with them.
For a foreign army, establishing a supply route would be very difficult. To try to carry food and water up those mountains, some of which are 13,000ft high, would be madness. You have to carry bottled water and each gallon weighs 10lb. On some days, we were going through two to three gallons. A soldier in those hills is going to burn 4,000-5,000 calories a day. You need high-calorie rations and the Afghans can live on a lot less.
And, of course, there is the weather. Towards the end of this month, winter starts setting in. It begins with rain, then it freezes, then it snows. By mid-October the snow will be up to neck height. A journey that takes three days in summer will take 10 days in winter - and of course in snow you leave tracks. The freezing conditions rule out helicopter support, and the mist in the valleys invites crashes.
The Afghan fighters know the mountains as well as a Welsh farmer knows his hills. I heard someone suggest last week that the ground could be covered by putting in a series of four-man teams. That idea is ridiculous. The Hindu Kush is a vast expanse. What can a four-man team do that you can't do with a satellite? Never mind a needle in a haystack; it's like a needle in Wembley stadium.
Besides, a western taskforce will stick out like a sore thumb. Most of the Afghan fighters wear sandals soled with old car-tyre treads - the ones I was given to wear were crippling. This means a western bootprint is instantly trackable.
Once identified, the Russian soldiers were sitting targets. We trained the Afghans in "shoot and scoot"; they would lay a little ambush, let rip and disappear. They picked it up quickly. Before long, they had learnt to let the Russian convoys get halfway up a pass and then blow a hole through their middle. The lucky ones died instantly. The unlucky ones were chopped to pieces in the aftermath. In the Hindu Kush, don't expect to appeal to the Geneva convention.
Other training procedures we put them through included marksmanship, tactical movement, training with weapons, anti-tank weapons and anti-aircraft missiles. The Americans had been keen we teach them urban terrorism tactics too - car bombing and so on - so that they could strike at Russians in major towns. Personally, I wasn't prepared to do that, although I realised that eventually they would find someone who was.
The Taliban don't have much in the way of weapons. When I arrived, all they had were old 303s, sniper rifles, and some bolt-action guns. They weren't used to semi-automatics, very few had Kalashnikovs, only those they had captured from the Soviets or that had been presented to them by the many deserters from the Afghan puppet regime's conscript army.
Now, of course, they are more sophisticated, but a lot of weapons won't have been upgraded since the Russian war. They might have a few Stingers left - one of the best shoulder-held surface-to-air missiles. But whether they're serviceable is debatable: weapons maintenance is virtually zero, many left to lie around in the heat and dust so they were rusting beyond use.
They do have a lot of old ZSU-23s, one of Saddam Hussein's favourite weapons. It's a three-barrel, 50-calibre machinegun, usually arranged in groups of two, three or four. It has a range of about 4,000 yards, so if you're coming in on a helicopter and have four of these blasting away at you from the back of Toyota pick-ups, it's devastating.
Then there are the landmines. In the early 1980s the Afghans cleared a buffer zone between Pakistan and Afghanistan - an area equal to four days' walk - then put in observation posts on the high ground and mined it all. Everything that entered the area was obliterated and it is possible that the ground is still mined.
As for the composition of the army, back in the 1980s most of the men were 17-24 years old. In some ways, the Afghan soldiers were no different from young men everywhere and there was great camaraderie. One thing that struck me, though, was their discipline and motivation: they never complained, they got on with it.
As time went by I began to realise that this stemmed from their respect for their commander: there was no officer-soldier gap, they all mucked in together, but their respect was absolute. Their discipline was hardly ever relaxed - they might occasionally smoke opium (much of which was being cultivated and smuggled to fund the war), but for religious reasons they wouldn't drink. They would get up at first light for prayers and cover some distance before the sun came up. They would stop five times a day for prayer, although never during battle - fortunately the Koran says that in combat you are excused prayers. But they always prayed afterwards.
They were devout Muslims, but not fanatics. At night sentries would call out every 30 minutes "Allahu Akbar" (God is great) - this would give away our position, but then I imagine the Soviets had the same problem with their Afghan soldiers.
In terms of their efficiency as an army, their biggest problem was the mullah influence. Because of the doctrine that it is a great honour to die in a holy war - that from the moment you enrol as a soldier you are in fact dead, that every day is borrowed time until you die in glory and take your seat at Allah's right hand - they were fearless and took risks that western soldiers perhaps would not.
It is, in my opinion, extremely unlikely that Bin Laden is hiding in the mountains. He must have a base from where he can communicate. He can't communicate from inside the Hindu Kush. He is more likely to be on the northwest frontier of Pakistan, a heavily populated area that the West will be loath to attack. Besides, he will want to be somewhere where he can see CNN coverage of the attack on America. Most of the Afghan military leaders I encountered operated from the comfort of Peshawar in Pakistan. They didn't take part in any fighting, because they wanted to be around when it was over to reap the benefits.
If it comes to a ground war, I believe the western forces will have a very slim chance of victory. The last army to win in Afghanistan was Alexander the Great's.
The Afghans are a formidable enemy and one of the legacies of the war with Russia was their need to increase the production of opium to pay for it. Afghanistan is now one of the most important sources of raw material for the narcotics trade, and the money has been going into somebody's pocket. I should know: I saw it being grown, smoked and transported.
The other terrible legacy of that war was the military knowhow we gave them: we in the West pointed them in the right direction and, with a little bit of training, they went a long way.
Tom Carew served in 16 Parachute Brigade and 22 SAS Regiment. Since leaving the army he has worked for the US Defence Intelligence Agency and the US Drug Enforcement Administration. He is also the author of Jihad
The author seems to be unfamiliar with the history of that particular region.f it comes to a ground war, I believe the western forces will have a very slim chance of victory. The last army to win in Afghanistan was Alexander the Great's
There are multiple people and nations who achieved military vistories in Afghanistan but failed to "conquer" it. Why no one was "able" to conquer Afghanistan - what is there to conquer in the rocky mountaneous country populated by tribal society living in caves?
Here some of those who came and left:
Babur - after he was attacked by Sheibani-han, he wiped out almost entire population of Afghanistan and left for India, where he started Mongol dynasty.
Of course Afghanis credited him leaving to their "fighting skills"...
British - in 1978 UK didn't like Afghanistans pro Russian position, which is interesting fact in itself, and after Sherali (Afghan ruler of that time) completely ignored Britains concernes, authors ancestors administered several major "ass kickings" to the locals and left after seeing that their is nothing else left to do overthere. Of course Afghanis credited their skills and fighting spirit again.
Russia - 1885, came, achieved its goals and left.
SU - 1989, came, installed puppet government, attemted to civilize the locals, decided it is not worth it and left.
Besides mentioned there were several other local wars where Afghanis were proven less than "competetive" on the batlefield.
Afghanistan is like uncatchable cowboy Joe.
Two old men are sitting in front of saloon in some old Texas town and drinking whiskey. Suddenly there is a horseman riding thru the town at full speed, firing of his revolvers, yelling and leaving huge trail of dust behind as he dissapears into the sunset.
One old man asks another: "Do you know who it was?"
-It was an "uncatchable Joe"
-Why is he uncatchable?
-Because nobody gives a **** about him...
The only reason why no one ever conquered Afghanistan is because no one ever wanted to annex a country with no natural resources and less than civilized population.
Militarily Afghanis were beat every time, but what does the victorious team does after the battle/game/achieving its goals - it leaves.
Afghanis (looser) stay on the field and yell: "Look, they left, we won"...
Funny how history can come back to bite you. (well actually more tragic than funny but you get the gist).Other training procedures we put them through included marksmanship, tactical movement, training with weapons, anti-tank weapons and anti-aircraft missiles. The Americans had been keen we teach them urban terrorism tactics too - car bombing and so on - so that they could strike at Russians in major towns.
Interesting read. But is it possible (probable) that they guy's analysis is off? Maybe I'm way off here, but it doesn't seem like the situation there is anything like it was in the 80's.
This guy's cover as an former SAS soldier was blown a couple of years ago, some British journo busted him in front of running cameras. Wether he really was in Afghanistan or if he's just a genuine Walther Mitty I don't know.
The time of him going public, was just before the US entered Afghanistan after 911 and him being busted as a makebelieve-SAS was less than a year after that.
Did anybody else pick this up in the article:
You think an SAS soldier (which, apparently, he isn't) would be able to tell the difference between a ZSU-23 and a .50cal machinegun. One clue, one of them is bigger than the other.They do have a lot of old ZSU-23s, one of Saddam Hussein's favourite weapons. It's a three-barrel, 50-calibre machinegun, usually arranged in groups of two, three or four. It has a range of about 4,000 yards, so if you're coming in on a helicopter and have four of these blasting away at you from the back of Toyota pick-ups, it's devastating.
Originally Posted by kutter
A ZSU-23 is a self-propelled (ZSU=Zenitnaya Samokhodnaya Ustanovka - Anti-aircraft Self-Propelled Gun) usually tracked, 23mm AAA piece, not a 50 cal so you wont find it on a Toyota pick-ups
BTW how on earth do i post picture on this new board????
Same as the old board.Originally Posted by Luno
[img]Link to the picture[/img]
Using your picture as an example.
I always think of one question, did the western country realize there's a potential danger which the afghan will attack themselves before they supported afghan to fight against the Soviet Union to supress its growth?
Anyway, nice read.