Soviet-Afghan War and Falklands War Lsn 37 id & sig

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Soviet-Afghan War and Falklands War

  • Lsn 37


  • Argentina, Falklands War, Goose Green, Karmal, maritime exclusion zone, mujahideen, Port Stanley, Soviet-Afghan War, Stinger missiles

Soviet-Afghan War

  • Afghanistan’s strategic location has made it a historic location of international conflict and intrigue

  • Underdeveloped country with divided, quarrelsome tribes

Soviet-Afghan War

  • In Apr 1978 the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan overthrew the government of Mahammed Daoud

    • Armed resistance to the new Marxist government broke out and the ruling government split into factions
    • The Soviets were concerned about this instability on their southern border and in Dec 1979 they supported a coup

Soviet-Afghan War

  • Soviet units already in Kabul seized control of key sites and additional units crossed the border into Afghanistan and seized important cities

  • The Soviets installed Babrak Karmal as president

Soviet-Afghan War

  • The Soviets anticipated a quick collapse of any resistance

    • Afghanistan had just 15 million people compared to the USSR’s 265 million
    • Afghan tribes had little unity
    • The Afghans had only obsolete rifles and equipment left over from World War II

Soviet-Afghan War

  • During the first four years of the war, the Soviets held the major urban areas and launched attacks against the mujahideen, the Afghan guerrillas, in remote and often mountainous areas

  • The resistance grew as more than half of the 80,000 soldiers in the Afghan army deserted or joined the mujahideen

    • Many brought their weapons with them

Soviet-Afghan War

  • The mujahideen used classic guerrilla tactics conducting small-scale attacks and ambushing Soviet and government convoys along the roads

  • The mujahideen also benefited from sanctuaries in Pakistan and Iran as bases of support and training

Soviet-Afghan War

  • Initially the Soviets employed traditional mechanized tactics including division-sized offensives against mujahideen sanctuaries

  • Soon, however, the Soviets realized that the rugged terrain gave the guerrillas numerous advantages

    • The guerrillas had plenty of places to hide and were not confined to using the roads

Soviet-Afghan War

  • Within months the Soviets began changing the structure of their units and their tactics, shifting to decentralized, mobile operations conducted at the battalion task force level

  • Increasingly the Soviets relied on air-transported infantry and their airmobile tactics came to resemble those of the US in Vietnam

Soviet-Afghan War

  • The mujahideen began receiving weapons from the West including mines, recoilless rifles, and small antiaircraft guns

  • Using their small unit tactics and cross border sanctuaries they attacked with little strategic or tactical purpose other than to kill Soviet soldiers

  • The Soviet responded with rocket attacks into Kabul and other important cities and “scorched earth” tactics designed to starve and terrorize the guerrillas into submission

  • The Soviets also used chemicals

  • Still the mujahideen resisted

Soviet-Afghan War

  • By 1984 the Soviets had to choose between a massive increase in forces or a different strategy

  • Reluctant to increase their strength beyond 125,000 to 140,000 soldiers, the Soviets instead shifted their strategy from destroying guerrillas to destroying the infrastructure the guerrillas needed for support

Soviet-Afghan War

  • The Soviets attacked the supply lines from Pakistan, the border areas that provided sanctuary, and villages suspected of sheltering guerrillas

  • They destroyed livestock and crops

  • Attacks on population centers became routine

Soviet-Afghan War

  • The new tactics created a massive amount of refugees

  • 30-50% of the population was estimated to have fled Afghanistan by 1986

  • Still the Soviets had little control outside the urban centers

Soviet-Afghan War

Soviet-Afghan War

  • In Feb 1986 the US decided to send high-technology weapons to Afghanistan, including the Stinger air defense missile

  • The guerrillas’ success in shooting down Soviet aircraft caused the Soviets to limit helicopter assaults, and in 1987 and 1988 most operations reverted to reliance on mechanized infantry formations

Soviet-Afghan War

  • As the mobility of the Soviets was reduced, they were forced to withdraw from the more remote areas and sought to secure the urban areas

  • This development turned the tide of the battle in favor of the mujahideen who then began using trucks instead of pack animals and roads instead of trails

Soviet-Afghan War

  • In Nov 1986 Mohammed Najibullah replaced Karmal as president

    • Najibullah adopted a more Islamic public image in an attempt to sway the mujahideen and changed the country’s name from the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan to the Republic of Afghanistan in an attempt to appear less Marxist
  • Militarily the Soviets launched air raids against mujahideen bases in Pakistan, dropped thousands of mines along supply routes, and stepped up their attacks on villages

Soviet-Afghan War

  • These last ditch efforts could not change the strategic situation

  • In early 1988 the mujahideen estimated that they controlled 80% of the countryside

  • Fighting a losing war in Afghanistan and facing economic difficulties at home, the Soviets decided to cut their losses

  • In Apr 1988 they signed a peace accord

  • The last Soviet soldier departed Afghanistan on Feb 15, 1989

Soviet-Afghan War

  • Legacy of the war

    • The Najibullah government remained faithful to the Soviets and the Afghanis fought a civil war among themselves until Apr 1992 when Najibullah gave up power
    • Rival factions clamored for power leaving Afghanistan politically fractured
    • For the Soviets, the Afghan experience became a defeat akin to the American experience in Vietnam
    • The mujahideen, supported by the US during the war, would later become the enemies of the US

Osama bin Laden

  • Osama bin Laden helped found the Maktab al-Khadamāt (MAK) which recruited and funded mujahideen to fight the Soviets

  • In 1988, bin Laden split from the MAK and formed a new group comprised of some of the most militant mujahideen that would become the al-Qaeda terrorist group

  • With the US involvement in Desert Storm and its subsequent continued presence in Saudi Arabia, home of the Muslim holy sites of Mecca and Medina, bin Laden became irreconcilably infuriated by the Western influence

The Falklands War

  • The Falklands War occurred during the Cold War period but did not have ties to the Cold War

  • The issue at stake was control of the Falkland Islands, some 600 km off the eastern shore of Argentina and some 12,000 km away from Britain

    • Britain claimed sovereignty over the islands based on having occupied them for over 150 years and the fact that most of the 2,000 residents were of British origin
    • Argentina argued that when it became independent in 1816 it gained control of nearby former Spanish territories including the Falklands

The Falklands War

  • On Apr 2, 1982 the Argentines landed about 1,000 men on East Falkland and quickly overcame the small Royal Marine detachment there

  • The next day they seized South Georgia, an island 1,300 km east-southeast of the Falklands and a direct dependency of Britain

  • Then they transported about 13,000 troops to the Falklands

The Falklands War

  • This left Britain with an awkward situation:

    • Accept the Argentine action or go to war nearly 12,000 km away
  • The British decided to fight

  • The key to making this possible would be the use of sea power

The Falklands War

  • On Apr 5 the British dispatched a “retrieval force” that eventually included a landing force of some 8,000 soldiers and marines and a naval force of more than 100 ships

The Falklands War

  • The British strategy first sought to isolate the Argentine force on the Falklands

    • On Apr 12 the British established a 370 km radius “maritime” exclusion zone around the Falklands
    • On Apr 30 this became a “total” exclusion zone
  • On May 1 the British began air and sea bombardment of Port Stanley and Goose Green

The Falklands War

  • On May 2 a British nuclear-powered submarine sank the Argentine cruiser General Belgrano well outside of the exclusion zone

  • The British established a staging base on Ascension Island, halfway between Britain and the Falklands, and began building up their forces

The Falklands War

  • On Apr 26 British special operating forces seized South Georgia and on May 15 they struck an airfield on Pebble Island, just off the north end of West Falkland, and destroyed eleven propeller-driven aircraft

  • The Argentines fought back with air attacks but their decision to keep their most advanced aircraft at bases on the continent limited their effectiveness

The Falklands War

  • Still on May 4, the Argentines sunk the HMS Sheffield, a destroyer, with an Exocet missile fired from about 35 km away

  • On May 25 the Argentines sunk the HMS Coventry and the Atlantic Conveyor; the latter with another Exocet

  • In all, Argentine pilots sunk six British ships and damaged 18 others

    • Had the Argentines increased the potential loiter times by using forward bases and more than just five Exocet missiles, the damage might have been even greater

The Falklands War

  • On May 21 the British launched a diversion to the south and then a main landing at Port San Carlos and San Carlos on the northwest corner of East Falkland

  • From there the British advanced to Darwin and Goose Green which they captured on May 28

    • A single British battalion defeated an Argentine force of triple its strength

The Falklands War

  • After Goose Green, the British attacked Port Stanley on the opposite side of East Falkland

  • The Argentine force there had low morale, poor training, and no air or sea support so their commander, Brigadier General Mario Menendez, opted for a passive defense in strong mountain positions

The Falklands War

  • The loss of the Atlantic Conveyor had foiled the British plan to assault by helicopter so instead many soldiers had to walk some 80 km across cold, wet, difficult terrain

  • The British advanced on a northern and a southern route, and used helicopters to land soldiers on key terrain on June 1 where the foot soldiers joined them a few days later

  • On June 5 and 7, additional troops landed on the southern coast

  • In the end the British accumulated a two brigade force for the final assault on Port Stanley

The Falklands War

  • The British began their attack on the night of June 11-12 with lead units seizing key terrain and follow-on units then passing through them

  • The British broke through and the Argentines began fleeing in panic toward Port Stanley

  • On June 14 Menendez surrendered

The Falklands War

  • Legacy

    • Provides a very interesting case study of why countries go to war
    • Showed the importance of power projection
    • Showed the importance of high tech weapons like the Exocet missile
    • Showed the superiority of the well-trained British volunteer force over the Argentine conscripts
    • Showed the superiority of the joint British operations compared to the Argentine problems with service cooperation


  • Iran-Iraq War and Operation Desert Storm

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