During its ten-year war in Afghanistan (1979-1989), the Soviet Union lost 14,453 soldiers dead (Source: “Soviet Casualties and Combat Losses” by G.F. Krivosheyev) and hundreds of units of military hardware, including tanks and armored personnel carriers (APCs), which still litter the former battlegrounds.
A car ride along the Panjsher Valley makes one wonder how many years will pass before the picturesque mountainous area with a bubbling river below acquires its original look. The rusting remains of Soviet tanks, APCs, and heavy military trucks, many with their license plates or identification numbers intact, are scattered all over – often in groups as they advanced.
Mujahed veterans, who fought against the Soviets, like to describe how they stopped columns of tanks and trucks in the valley by hitting the front vehicle, using a bazooka from a hiding place in the mountains or simply rolling boulders on the road from above.
The Panjshir Valley has but a narrow unpaved road following the turns of the river, sometimes very sharp, and going up and down the mountain slopes. It is clear even to a non-military person that Soviet commanders sent one convoy after another to certain death. The remains of those hapless convoys now serve as monuments to the stupidity of those commanders. But was is merely stupidity?
According to another school of thought, to which many mujahedeen subscribe, the Soviet military leaders were in collusion with their Afghan adversaries. The supply convoys were meant to be stopped for the goods and armaments they carried, while the Soviet logistics bosses got their dough. It’s hard to believe these tales, but, on second thought, they are not that implausible when you read in the press today about Russian officers selling weapons and ammunition to Chechen rebels.
When the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan, it left behind hundreds of operational tanks and APCs, which the country’s warlords used to fight each other. Many abandoned armored vehicles were repaired by the Taliban and the Northern Alliance, and the two arch-rivals for many years used Soviet hardware in their fight for control of the much-suffering country.
Northern Alliance fighters, opposed to the Taliban regime, dry clothes on their tank’s barrel near the town of Jabal os-Saraj. October 2001.