Document Number (FOIA) /ESDN (CREST): 
Document Page Count: 
Document Release Date: 
July 30, 2014
Case Number: 
Publication Date: 
September 1, 1985
PDF icon DOC_0000620564.pdf278.98 KB
TITLE:AUTHOR:VOLUME:Approved for Release: 2014/07/29 000620564Soviet Counterinsurgency Capabilities(b)(3)(c)29 ISSUE: Fall YEAR: 1985Approved for Release: 2014/07/29 000620564 fitproved for Release: 2014/07/29 000620564STUDIES ININTELLIGENCEA collection of articles on the historical, operational, doctrinal, and theoretical aspects of intelligence.All statements of fact, opinion or analysis expressed in Studies in Intelligence are those ofthe authors. They do not necessarily reflect official positions or views of the CentralIntelligence Agency or any other US Government entity, past or present. Nothing in thecontents should be construed as asserting or implying US Government endorsement of anarticle's factual statements and interpretations.Approved for Release: 2014/07/29 000620564 Approved for Release: 2014/07/29 000620564(b)(3)(n)-Lessons" of AfghanistanSOVIET COUNTERINSURGENCY CAPABILITIES(b)(3)(c)Has the experience in Afghanistan enhanced Soviet capabilities to conductcounterinsurgency operations elsewhere in support of. client states? Oneapproach in attempting to answer this Question is to examine the "requirements"inherentin any capability for undertaking a counterinsurgency effort in afriendly nation. These can be defined in terms of a doctrine or strategy, anappropriate military force and supporting instruments, and, the political will toemploy the force when required.'StrategyA major difficulty for Soviet strategists and ideologists has been the attemptto reconcile the insurgency in Afghanistan?or in other friendly Marxist-oriented states?with their conceptions of the nature of local wars and wars ofnational liberation. Soviet military doctrine has held in the past that local warsand military conflicts in the Third World are an outgrowth of Western impe-rialism and its reactionary policy. Communist ideologists have long viewed the-national liberation process- as a positive and historically ordained trend andone in which the Soviet role is to champion peoples oppressed by colonial orforeign-dominated regimes. Over the years, the Soviets have gained muchexpertise in, trained thousands of foreign students for, and provided significantmaterial, advisory, and political assistance to insurgent movements in Africa,Asia, and Latin America.On the other hand, the Soviets have had relatively little experience insupporting friendly Marxist governments threatened by insurgencies. TheSoviets do not appear to have developed either a clear-headed analysis of thevulnerabilities of their Marxist client states like Angola, Ethiopia, Nicaragua, andAfghanistan to an insurgency or any significant new approaches to dealing withsuch insurgencies.Militarily, the Soviet approach in Afghanistan has been a mixture of strat-egies employed by other nations in conducting counterinsurgency campaigns.These include -enclave,- -attrition,- and -consolidation- aspects. "Enclaves"have been a significant feature of Soviet military strategy since the intervention,as Soviet forces have sought to secure government control in Kabul and othermajor cities and along the main lines of communication. The Soviets have alsoregularly conducted joint and combined operations to search out and destroyinsurgent groups, to disrupt insurgent base areas, and to hinder resupply of? It should be clear at the outset that the point under discussion is the Soviets' capablity to conductcounterinsurgency operations with their own forces. Soviet advisory efforts and use of surrogate forces havelong been the normal Soviet approach to such situations. The focus of the present article is whether the Sovietcombat experience in Afghanistan suggests itself as a model for a new level of Soviet assistance to clientregimes in the Third World?i.e., a willingness to employ Soviet ground forces.(b)(3)(n)Approved for Release: 2014/07/29 00062056449 Approved for Release: 2014/07/29 000620564(b)(3)(n)Counterinsurgencyinsurgent forces. Finally, the Soviets have made efforts toward expanding andconsolidating Afghan Government control in the countryside, but these havebeen constrained by the limited number of Soviet troops available and theunreliabilty of Afghan forces.There is little evidence to suggest that the Soviets view these kinds ofoperations as distinctive or requiring a specialized -counterinsurgencydoctrine.- We do not have any evidence, for example, that such a discrete courseis taught in Soviet military schools, nor have the Soviets published any booksaddressing the subject from their perspective.This is not to say that the Soviets are failing to derive military benefit fromthe war or to -learn lessons- which might have applicability elsewhere. Theopportunity for testing, evaluating, and modifying equipment under combatconditions in Afghanistan is, for example, relevant to Soviet war-fighting capa-bilities elsewhere. Moreover, the Soviet military press has published numerousaccounts of tactical -lessons learned- from -training- activities in Afghanistan.Most of these -lessons- are not new, and most would appear to have a broadapplicability not limited to the Afghan war or to counterinsurgency in general.Perhaps most notably, tactical experience being gained in combined-arms oper-ations at company and battalion levels is helping to reinforce the developmentof the Soviet officer into a true -all-arms- commander.Apart from such general military benefits, the Soviets do not appear to havegained new insights into the problems associated with combating an insurgencywith conventional military forces. The Soviets have written extensively aboutproblems that other nations have encountered in counterinsurgency efforts, butin Afghanistan have found themselves facing similar weaknesses and vulnera-bilities. Their experience has probably been more significant in bringing homethe reality of such problems than in helping to develop new solutions or to copemore effectively.ForcesAn effective military force for counterinsurgency operations should belight, specialized, and highly mobile; this does not describe Soviet forces ingeneral nor the army which the Soviets have deployed in Afghanistan. TheSoviets have, of course, attempted to -tailor- their units in Afghanistan to pursuethe war more effectively. Divisional rocket battalions, for example, werereturned to the USSR early in the war, and two of the three motorized rifledivisions in Afghanistan have eliminated their tank regiments as basically irrel-evant forces for counterinsurgent operations. Additional helicopters have beencommitted to the war in order to improve mobility and fire support in difficultterrain and, more recently, further special purpose forces (Spetznaz) units havebeen deployed to conduct small-unit operations against the insurgents.Other changes have been more creative, such as the formation of twoindependent motorized rifle brigades, each composed of a motorized rifle reg-iment, an air assault battalion, and a multiple rocket launcher battery. This moveenhanced both the mobility and firepower of these units, making them morecapable of conducting independent operations. Soviet forces in Afghanistan havealso implemented organizational changes being adopted by front-line Soviet50Approved for Release: 2014/07/29 000620564(b)(3)(n) Approved for Release: 2014/07/29 000620564Counterinsurgency SECRE(b)(3)(n)units in other areas; these include increasing the numbers of armored vehiclesin motorized rifle regiments and assigning tanks to the divisional reconnaissancebattalions.While such measures show a degree of adaptability on the part of theSoviets, the overall impact has probably been to make the force heavier ratherthan lighter. The presence of tanks in reconnaissance battalions, for example, isprobably a good example of an inappropriate -heavying of the force in acounterinsurgency environment, as is the attachment of a tank battalion to theairborne division in Kabul. Even Spetznaz units in Afghanistan are more heavilyequipped than their counterparts in the USSR and Eastern Europe. Moreover,the general trend throughout the Soviet ground forces is toward creating aheavier rather than a lighter force. More tanks, more combat vehicles, and moreartillery are being added to Soviet divisions and even the -lighter- elements ofthe force?the airborne divisions?have received a considerable amount ofadditional equipment over the past several years which makes them moredifficult to deploy and more dependent on a larger logistic support structure.Besides an appropriate organization, an effective counterinsurgent forcerequires specialized training. Training for Soviet forces in Afghanistan hasemphasized the preparation of troops to fight in a mountainous environmentwithout apparent reference to the type of enemy being faced. -Mountaintraining centers- have been established in Afghanistan and the Soviet Union toprovide areas in which units can prepare for mountain warfare. The Soviets areconcerned with overcoming the technical problems of handling equipment andoperating weapons in the mountains and even more so with the physical andpsychological conditioning of personnel for this kind of warfare.None of this training appears to address specifics of counterinsurgencyoperations. Tactics taught reflect standard approaches to basic situations inmountain combat (e.g., conducting route marches, seizing passes, attackingenemy strong points) and do not appear to be -tailored- to a guerrilla war. Sovietdefectors and prisoners of war from Afghanistan have reported that theyreceived no specialized training prior to being deployed there. Moreover, theSoviets devote no effort?theoretically or practically?to training their forces forcombat in jungle terrain and sub-tropical climates that would be applicable tothe counterinsurgency environment in much of the Third World.In addition to preparing their own forces, Soviet counterinsurgency effortsin Afghanistan and elsewhere require the Soviets to collaborate effectively withan indigenous regime's military force. A major feature of the Soviet approachto the war has been the attempt to keep the Afghan military involved in thefighting and to build up the capability and effectiveness of the Afghan Army.An estimated 3,500 Soviet military advisers operate with the Afghan Army downto battalion level, and some 2,000 Afghan military men receive training annuallyin the Soviet Union. Most operations against the insurgents are combined Soviet-Afghan efforts but are under control of a Soviet commander.Despite these measures, the Soviets have been unable to create an effectiveAfghan military force, and we estimate that the Soviets are unlikely to succeedin this endeavor over the next five years or so. Afghan (and other Third World)military students returning from training in the USSR are of ten disenchanted(b)(3)(n)Approved for Release: 2014/07/29 00062056451 SECRETApproved for Release: 2014/07/29 000620564(b)(3)(n)Counterinsurgencywith the Soviet system and are not eager to cooperate with or emulate the Soviets.In combat, Afghan units have frequently performed poorly despite the presenceof Soviet advisers and support.Finally, a capability to conduct a successful counterinsurgency campaignimplies more than just a military effort; -security assistance- is only part of thegame. Also required are appropriate levels and types of technical, economic, andpolitical assistance to create and implement developmental programs in supportof the friendly government. Soviet capabilities in this respect are quite limited,and Soviet assistance efforts in the past have concentrated heavily on militaryas opposed to economic programs. The overall Soviet experience in the ThirdWorld to date does not suggest that the Soviets are adept in applying non-military aid.WillLittle direct information is available concerning the Soviet decision to sendtroops into Afghanistan, but evidence continues to accumulate that the decisionwas a difficult one for the leadership to make and one which continues to provokefrustration-at least among some middle level civilian and military officials.Then-General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev indicated in a Pravda interview asearly as January 1980 that the decision to intervene had not been an easy onefor the Soviet leadership to make. Several reports have suggested that someMinistry of Foreign Affairs officials disagreed with the decision to intervene, andthere have also been reports of discontent within the KGB over the intervention.In the past two years, there have been reports of frustration among some militaryofficers concerning the war?even to the point of questioning why the SovietArmy should be fighting in Afghanistan.Against such a background of reporting, but given the continuing and evenincreasing Soviet military commitment, it is difficult to assess the impact of theAfghan experience on the national policymaking level. On one hand, the costs?domestic, economic, and political?have not been unbearable, although neitherhave they been inconsequential. On the other hand, the problems and short-comings which have been revealed in attempting to wage a counterinsurgencycampaign in an adjacent country can hardly have inspired the Soviet leadershipin their capabilities to undertake similar operations in areas remote from theUSSR?or even next door in Iran. Indeed, while some Soviet officials spoke inearly 1980 about a new era of -no more Chiles- (i.e., implying a Soviet will-ingness to send forces abroad in support of friendly governments), this languagequickly dropped from the Soviet lexicon as the difficulties in Afghanistanmounted.For the Soviet military, Afghanistan is probably seen as a -mixed blessing"at best. The -positive- aspects of the war as a testing ground for equipment anda training environment for personnel are probably balanced by the necessity toallocate resources and the added stress placed on the ,military as they struggleto contend with a different type of war. Considering that the emphasis for Sovietmilitary leaders is on central Europe and China, it is likely that the militarybureaucracy would not necessarily be eager to undertake counterinsurgencyoperations in other Third World countries. Senior Soviet military leaders in the52 ?StekApproved for Release: 2014/07/29 000620564(b)(3)(n) Approved for Release: 2014/07/29 000620564Counterinsurgency ---teCITEr(b)(3)(n)past, for example, have even been unenthusiastic about providing materielsupport for major Soviet clients in the Middle East, and anecdotal evidenceportrays this disinclination as a general perception among the Soviet military.ImplicationsDespite its experience in Afghanistan, the USSR does not appear any betterprepared to undertake counterinsurgency operations in a client state than it wasin 1979. This is not to deny a somewhat improved Soviet capability to projectpower abroad, but to focus on the Soviet failure to develop specialized doctrine,forces, or training to conduct counterinsurgency operations.Any political -lessons- are less apparent and will undoubtedly be influencedby the eventual outcome of the Soviet intervention. Even a complete-pacification- of Afghanistan?a prospect which appears to be remote?wouldbe an outcome that Soviet leaders would probably be reluctant to generalizeupon. The Soviet political stake in Afghanistan is much higher than it would bein a non-contiguous Third World country and, as noted previously, the militaryproblems would be significantly greater.In sum, Afghanistan does not suggest itself as a model for a new level ofSoviet assistance to client regimes in the Third World, nor has the war there kidto significant improvements in Soviet capabilities to implement an expandedcounterinsurgency effort. Such -lessons- as the Soviets have learned appearto be militarily generic, and the counterinsurgency -trickle-down- potentialmarginal.This article is classified-sEeitt-r(b)(3)(n)(b)(3)(n)Approved for Release: 2014/07/29 00062056453