The Other Side of the Mountain: Mujahideen Tactics in the Soviet-Afghan War/Chapter 10
CHAPTER 10: DEFENDING AGAINST A CORDON AND SEARCH
The Soviets preferred large cordon and search operations to dealwith large zones of Mujahideen-dominated territory. They wouldcordon off the area using dominant terrain, roads and rivers asboundaries. Then they would push forces through the area lookingfor weapons, stores and Mujahideen. The Soviets often used DRAforces to do the actual searching. The DRA usually combined taxa-tion and press-gang conscription with the search. At first, theMujahideen were vulnerable to these large-scale operations but thenthey learned to build fortifications throughout the zones, coordinatetheir defense, constitute a reserve and exact a toll on the searchers. Page 242 The Other Side of the Mountain: Mujahideen Tactics in the Soviet-Afghan War VIGNETTE 1 BATTLE OF BARAKI BARAKby Commander Qazi Guijan Tayeb Baraki Barak District is a very fertile oasis and a major greenzone located between the two main highways running south andsouthwest from Kabul. One highway runs from Kabul to Gardez inPaktia Province and the other runs from Kabul to Gazhni and on toKandahar. The waters of the Wardak River and Wardak Gorge irri-gate this fertile area and wheat, corn, and rice fields intersperse withvineyards and orchards. This fertile, well-populated valley provideda natural base from which the Mujahideen could attack both of thesemain LOCS as well at Muhammad Agha District to the north andGardez in the south. In June 1982 there were several Mujahideen bases located in theBaraki Barak District. We had brought a number of heavy antiair-craft machine guns into the area, particularly the ZGU-1 14 5mmsingle-barreled machine gun. The enemy was concerned about thepresence of these air defense weapons. We received information thatthe enemy was preparing an offensive into our area with three majorobjectives: first, to seize our air defense weapons that were becominga hindrance to their air raids in our. AO; second, to capture some ofthe leading Mujahideen commanders who continuously harassed andattacked Soviet and DRA columns traveling on the two highwayswhich bordered our area; and, third, to seize control of the area andrestore the district government to the DRA. We had overthrown theDRA district government in 1979. The Soviets and DRA launched their offensive with more than20,000 troops involved directly and in support (Map 10-1 - Barak).They sent out three columns, one each from Gardez, Kabul andWardak.1 These forces moved to our area, established a cordon Commander Qazi Guijan Tayeb was a third year student in Kabul Theological College dur-ing the communist takeover in 1978. He joined Hikmatyar and later switched to the Sayeffaction in the mid-1980s. He was the Commander of Baraki Barak District of LogarProvince. [Map sheets 2784, 2785, 2884, 2885]. 1 Forces on the Gardez axis were from the Soviet 56th Air Assault Brigade and the DRA12th Infantry Division. Forces on the Kabul and Wardak axes were probably from theSoviet 103rd Airborne Division and 108th Motorized Rifle Division, while DRA forceswere probably from the 8th Infantry Division, 37th Commando Brigade and 15th TankBrigade. Page 244 The Other Side of the Mountain: Mujahideen Tactics in the Soviet-Afghan War around it, occupied the high ground and began attacking some of theMujahideen positions. The column from Kabul occupied Pul-e Alamand from there sent one detachment to the west around Mir Abdalmountain to flank the district from the northwest. The column fromGardez moved west of the road to the Alta:mur plain and covered thesoutheastern axis to the district. The column from Wardak occupiedpositions on the district's western flank. The enemy blocked practi-cally all major axes out of the area. Since we Mujahideen comman-ders knew of the upcoming offensive, we had gathered earlier to drawup a joint defensive plan. All faction commanders participated andwe constituted the southeastern and northwestern defensive sectorsand assigned defensive areas within these sectors to different fac-tions and units. We organized our forces into small groups to insureour ability to maneuver and then occupied positions in the perimetervillages of our district. We constituted mobile interior reserves andkept them available to react to enemy actions. I commanded the southeastern sector. I had approximately 800Mujahideen, armed and unarmed, under my command. Our weaponsincluded ZGU-ls, DShKs, many RPG-7s, PK machine guns, 82mmmortars, 82mm and 75mm recoilless rifles, machine guns, and anumber of .303 bolt-action Enfield rifles. These Enfields were quiteeffective against dismounted Soviets. They had a maximum effectiverange of 800 meters compared to 400 meters for the AK assault rifle.Further, the more-powerful .303 round would penetrate Soviet flakjackets while the AK round would not. The enemy deployed his artillery on the Altamur plain and atPul-e Alam. His column from Wardak occupied the line DashteDelawar—Cheltan hill—and the northern villages to the highground. The enemy initiated their attack with heavy artillery fireand air strikes on the villages and suspected Mujahideen positions.The artillery fire continued for several hours. They hit the positionsof the ZGU-ls and set the entire area on fire. The enemy advancedfrom the southwest between Cheltan and the road and entered ourvillages and searched them. They also attacked from the other direc-tions against the perimeter villages that they were facing. OurMujahideen fought them from their forward positions and fell back toback-up positions as the enemy entered the villages. The villages andorchard provided good cover and concealment and, although theenemy had the area surrounded, we were able to move freely withinthe 10-kilometer-wide area. We began to launch small-group coun-terattacks with our scattered groups of Mujahideen. We hit the Chapter 10, Vignette 1 Page 245 enemy from many directions. We suffered casualties, but the enemy also got a bloody nose. Itwas an infantry fight at close quarters. Three Mujahideen in myimmediate group were killed during our local counterattack. Sovietforces were encircled and the Soviets launched counter-counterat-tacks to aid their encircled forces. We also reinforced our forces. Ourforces were intermingled and the Soviet artillery was unable to fireinto the area of contact for fear of hitting their own troops. Fightingcontinued until dusk. As night fell, fighting slackened and stopped. The next morning, the enemy resumed the attack, but this timefrom the east using tanks and infantry. We Mujahideen had minedthe Khalifa Saheb Ziarat2 approach. The Soviets brought dogs todetect the mines. My group in this area were in well-covered posi-tions with three RPGs. As the enemy cleared the minefield andmoved forward, we opened fire with our RPGs on their tanks stand-ing in the open cultivated areas. The enemy responded by movingoverwhelming force into the area. The Mujahideen responded bymoving out of their positions to move through gaps to attack theenemy on the flanks. Small groups of Mujahideen with RPGs alsomaneuvered through the concealing terrain folds to engage theenemy. This totally changed the situation, with the enemy stoppingand going to ground in defensive pockets. The enemy's momentumwas lost as his attack bogged down. The Soviets occupied villages,farm buildings and orchards and turned them into defensive posi-tions as the second night fell. The Soviets were scattered in five orsix pockets and the Mujahideen kept them from linking up. WeMujahideen knew the terrain and the local civilians helped us movefrom position to position. We attacked the Soviets from all sides, butsuffered casualties as well. For the next day and night, the situationcontinued. Both sides were intermingled and the whole area was onfire. We saw guns capable of firing in every direction (D30) and sawa single-barreled grenade launcher (RPG-18). This was the first timewe captured AK-74 assault rifles.3 Flak jackets protected the Sovietsfrom AK fire, but our old .303s penetrated them. After three days andnights, the enemy began to withdraw. Every column returned by thedirection it had come. 2 Ziarat means shrine. 3 The AK-74 Kalashnikov 5.56mm assault rifle was issued only to Soviet troops. DRAtroops had the older AK-47 Kalashnikov assault rifle. The Mujahideen called the AK-74 the"Kalakov". One of the Pashtun songs of the time had a line "A mother should not mourn ason killed by a Kalakov" This meant that her son died fighting Soviets. Page 246 The Other Side of the Mountain: Mujahideen Tactics in the Soviet-Afghan War None of the enemy's three objectives were achieved, but our losseswere very heavy with about 250 MA. The enemy spread rumors thatthey killed more than 2,000 of us. I don't know what the enemylosses were, but we saw blood trails and blood pools all over theformer enemy positions. The enemy had done very hateful things inthe villages they occupied. They defecated in the crockery, smashedpots and furniture, and destroyed villagers' food by cutting open sacksof wheat, flour, salt and sugar and pouring it out on the ground. Theyalso pulled down walls, broke doors and ruined houses. COMMENTARY: The Soviets and DRA throughly planned this opera-tion. The converging movement of three columns from three direc-tions was a desirable operational maneuver since it left the initiativein the Soviets' hands and kept the Mujahideen off balance. However,once the Soviet/DRA force entered the green zone, the terrain andMujahideen active defense split the communist force into a series ofisolated pockets which the Mujahideen were able to contain. TheSoviet/DRA force lost the momentum of the attack and were unableto regain it. The initiative passed to the Mujahideen. The Mujahideen planned their defense throughly. They conduct-ed an active defense which incorporated tactical maneuver. Theymaintained a central reserve and had the advantage of interior lines.Terrain, well-constructed field fortifications and an aggressivedefense enabled the Mujahideen to split the Soviet/DRA forces intoisolated groups and stop their advance. The Soviets and DRA did little to win the hearts and minds of thepopulace outside of the areas they controlled. On the other hand,Mujahideen activity often endangered the lives and property of thepopulace. During the course of the war, the Soviets never controlledBaraki Barak, but they bombed and shelled it continually. Farming wasdisrupted and most of the population migrated to Pakistan or the cities. VIGNETTE 2 DEFENDING AGAINST AN OFFENSIVE IN PAGHMANby Tsaranwal Sher Habib In August 1982, the Soviet/DRA forces launched a search anddestroy operation against Mujahideen bases in Paghman. There weretwo enemy columns The main column moved southwest from Kabuland then turned northwest onto the main highway to Paghman. Itsmission was to destroy resistance bases in the center, south and south-west of the Paghman area. The other, smaller column moved northfrom Kabul and then turned northwest. Its mission was to blockMujahideen escape routes along the northeastern edge of Paghmanthrough Ghaza and Zarshakh villages (Map 10-2 - Ghaza).4 Initially, the movement of the two columns in opposite directionsdeceived the Mujahideen as to their enemy's real intention.Nevertheless, when the Mujahideen saw the main column headingtoward the city of Paghman and its western and southern suburbs,they quickly occupied prepared defensive positions and readied them-selves for battle. However, the Mujahideen lost track of the northern-most column. It came through the town of Karez-e Mir and movedundetected to take up positions on the hills between Somochak andGhaza. From the hill positions, the enemy column commanded themain road from Paghman to the Shamali plain north of Kabul. The next morning I dispatched two escorts to take one of mywounded Mujahideen to Shamali for treatment. As they movedthrough the Somochak Valley, they were ambushed and the escortswere killed. The local Mujahideen from Somochak village went toinvestigate and discovered that Soviet troops had occupied the ridgeoverlooking the village. The Somochak Mujahideen attacked the ridge,but the Soviets were too strong to be overrun. Other Mujahideen inthe area began to discover the enemy presence. Mujahideen in thevillage bases of Qala-e Hakim and Isakhel and in the valley base ofDara-e Zargar joined together. I took some 30 or 40 Mujahideen onto Tsaranwal (Attorney) Sher Habib commanded the lbrahimkhel Front north of the city ofPaghman. His primary AO extended from Paghman east and northeast to Kabul (some 20kilometers). [Map sheet 2786, 2886]. 4 The forces on the main axis were probably from the Soviet 108th Motorized RifleDivision, while DRA forces were probably from the 8th Infantry Division, 37th CommandoBrigade and 15th Tank Brigade. The forces on the northern axis were probably from theSoviet 103rd Airborne Division. ISAKHEL •9 ■ 9 I ct■ GALA-E HAKIM / ■GHAZAMap 10-2 1012 KM ■ SOMOC TORGHONDAY HILLS A LOY BAGHAL GHAR KAREZ-E MIR vir BALA KAREZ c.T1 1 // ZARSHAKH 1 1 • PAGHMANII ■ DEH-E ARBAB EN .■'" • 111111k/ O Page 248. The Other Side of the Mountain: Mujahideen Tactics in the Soviet-Afghan War Chapter 10, Vignette 2 Page 249 the high ground at Loy Baghal Ghar. The Somochak Mujahideen rein-forced their positions near the village. The Zarshakh and .GhazaMujahideen moved to cut the LOC of the Soviet force east of theTorghonday hills. We had encircled the Soviet force in the northeastsector with about 100 Mujahideen. The fighting went on against the DRA/Soviet forces throughoutPaghman. We kept the northern Soviet blocking force pinned down,exchanging fire with the Soviet troops for two nights and three days.We commanders met and decided to attack and eliminate the Sovietforce on the afternoon of the third day. •We launched the attack fromthe west while the eastern Mujahideen contained the enemy. Ourprogress was slow, however, since we did not have enough supportweapons. We had Kalashnikovs, .303 Enfields, a few RPG-7s and some60mm mortars with a small stock of ammunition. We needed heavymachine guns, 82mm mortars and rockets. As we Mujahideen wereclosing to the Soviet positions, some 14 Soviet helicopters, includinggunships, arrived over the battlefield and began gun runs against us.We sustained heavy casualties and broke off the attack. The transporthelicopters landed and began lifting off the Soviet troops and flewthem away to Kabul. We had won the fight, but we suffered 23 KIAand many others WIA in the three-day battle. COMMENTARY: The Soviet/DRA force did an effective job initiallyin disguising their objective and managing to move their northerncolumn while eluding Mujahideen surveillance. The northern columneffectively performed a surprise approach march and quietly occupiednecessary terrain. The northern column was organized to blockMujahideen escape routes and so was lightly equipped. It wasbattalion-sized or smaller. It seized and occupied its initial position,but made no effort to expand that position so that it could achieveits objective of completely blocking Mujahideen escape routes.Further, once it disclosed its presence by firing on the litter party, itmade no attempt to seize the initiative, but remained passively in thedefense. Coordination between the northern column and the maincolumn was lacking since the main column seemed unable or unin-terested in aiding the northern column despite their close proximity. The Mujahideen reaction was excellent. They quickly took up posi-tions on commanding high ground overlooking the Soviet positions andsealed the area, trapping the Soviet force. However, the Mujahideenlacked long-range heavy weapons, so they could not exploit the advan-tage that their dominant terrain gave them. The Soviets were in range Page 250 The Other Side of the Mountain: Mujahideen Tactics in the Soviet-Afghan War of the bulk of Mujahideen weapons only during the Mujahideenassault. The Soviet helicopter strike effectively countered this assault.Soviet helicopter gunships were not as effective at night. Perhaps theMujahideen assault would have had a better chance if the attack werelaunched at dusk or before dawn. Mujahideen use of battlefield maneuver was commendable. Theyoffset much of their disadvantage in fire power, took dominant terrainand attack positions, seized the initiative from the Soviets by trappingthem and forced the Soviets to stage a rescue by hazarding helicopters.All of this was due to effective Mujahideen maneuver. If theMujahideen had some anti-aircraft weapons, they could have bloodiedthe Soviet force badly. As it was, Mujahideen maneuver prevented thesuccess of the Soviet/DRA offensive and decided the outcome of thebattle in the Mujahideen's favor. VIGNETTE 3 BATTLE FOR KAMAby Abdul Baqi Balots The Kama area, located northeast of Jalalabad, is approximately87 square kilometers in area. It is bordered in the west by the KunarRiver, in the south by the Kabul River and in the north and east bymountains. It is a large, well-irrigated green zone which was denselypopulated before the war. The Mujahideen in the area were all localsdefending their home turf. In February 1983, I commanded a group of35 men in my village of Sama Garay (one kilometer east of the town ofKama). We had Enfield and G35 bolt-action rifles and a fewKalashnikovs. We lacked the capability to launch major attacks, butconducted hit and run actions. We did not have a base in the moun-tains, but lived in the village. There were similar units in the othervillages in the area. The Kama District Mujahideen were very frag-mented and we had no contact with many groups in the area and sowe couldn't help each other. The Soviets could deal with us piecemeal.We Mujahideen did not have a common contingency plan to deal withthe Soviets when they came in force to kill us all. And even if we hadsuch a plan, at that time our communications were primitive and mostcommunications were done with messengers. The Soviets were close at hand. The Soviet "Thunder" unit6 wasstationed in Samarkhel to the east of Jalalabad. They crossed theKunar River and established a base south of the Tirana Ghashe onthe plain (Map 10-3 - Kama). Then at dawn on 15 February 1983, 20to 25 of their helicopters landed troops in the mountains north andnortheast of Kama. The helicopters landed at Mashingan Ghar, Spinki Abdul Baqi Balots was a Hezb-e Islami (HIH) commander in the Kama area east ofJalalabad. Before the communist takeover, he was a student in the tenth grade of highschool. School authorities were forcing him to join the Communist Youth Organization. Hisfather advised him not to join but to fight. He left school and joined the Mujahideen andfought through to the end. [Map sheets 3085 and 3185]. 5 The US M1917 Springfield Rifle which Springfield Armory produced for the British Armyin World War I. The Mujahideen called them the G3 rifle. 6 The 'Thunder" unit was the 66th Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade. The Mujahideencalled it the Thunder unit because it was a reinforced unit designed for counterinsurgency.It had three motorized rifle battalions, an air assault battalion, a tank battalion, an artilleryhowitzer battalion, a MRL battalion, a material support battalion, a reconnaissance com-pany and support troops. 1:1COCD CDCD 0 CD CD CD 0 CDCD O sa. 5 CDCD C) C)c). C/) CD CD C./3 0 CDCOD sv Chapter 10, Vignette 3 Page 253 Ghar, Dergi Ghar, Wut Ghar, Cokay Baba Ghar, Kacay Ghar, andTirana Ghashe. The troops on the high ground sealed off our escapeinto the mountains. At the same time, a detachment from the Sovietbase at Samarkhel crossed the Kabul River to establish the southernpart of the cordon. The main Soviet ground sweep started from TiranaGhar moving to the east. We woke up to the sounds of helicopters and the lights of flares. Wewere facing a large force—possibly bigger than a regiment. I wassaying my morning prayers when my guard approached and said"Commander, things look different this morning." I told him, "Don'tworry, our lives are in the hand of God, not the Russians. We aredestined to die on the day that is destined for us. It will not be pushedbackward or forward." The helicopters continued to fly over, waveafter wave. I saw a group of Mujahideen from the village of Mastali runningaway between Wut Ghar and Dergi Ghar. As they moved along theroad, the Soviets on the high ground began shooting at them. I sawtwo of them go down. Gulrang was one and the son of GhulamSarwar the driver, was the other. Both were killed. The rest escapedinto the mountains. We were close to the river, so we moved to the south of Kamawhere there is a bushy area and a mosque. We took refuge and hidourselves there. Everything was quiet in our area for hours. MyMujahideen came to me and asked what was happening. It was now1100 hours. I said that the Russians would come when they wouldcome, but we were hungry now. I approached a village for food.Someone came out and told me not leave the hideout since enemytanks were five minutes from the village. I returned to the hideout.Around 1400 hours, another villager came and told me to leavethe bushy area since the Russians were going to set it on fire toflush us out. He said eight tanks and APCs were approaching thearea. We moved to the edge of the wooded area where there is anatural berm and took up positions there. We had one RPG-7 withthree rounds, two Kalashnikovs, and some Marko Chinese bolt-actionrifles.? The wooded area was also full of civilians who were hidingfrom the Soviets, so we felt an obligation to defend them and thewooded area and prevent the Soviets from setting it on fire. I sawBMPs moving toward us. They stopped short of and bypassed thewooded area and turned toward Kama. It was now 1500 hours. 7 Marko is the Chinese copy of the German M-88 Mauser. Page 254 The Other Side of the Mountain: Mujahideen Tactics in the Soviet-Afghan War When we were scattered throughout the wooded area, I received amessage from the rest of my men who described their location andasked me to join them since the air assault troops were moving toMashingan village. I took my 12 men with me and we moved to jointhe rest of my men. The Tawdo Obo highway bridge was close to ourvillage. I joined the rest of my men at that bridge which was near thevillage. We decided that the Soviets coming from the high groundwould cross over this bridge, so we took positions on both sides of theroad leading to this bridge. As we were taking our positions, a groupof Soviets moving toward us opened fire on us. A bullet hit the butt of the rifle of my cousin, the son of my mater-nal uncle, and smashed it. "What will I do now?" he asked. "I willfind you another," I stated. As I approached the road, I saw my friendHabib Noor some 30 meters to my right shooting at something. I hitthe ground and saw that he was shooting at two Soviets. He killedthem both. "Get their Kalashnikovs, Commander" he yelled at me. Isprinted across the road and grabbed a Kalashnikov, but the rifle'scarrying strap was around the corpse's body and I couldn't get itloose. I saw a lot of Soviets coming at me and they were all firing(they put ten bullet holes through my baggy trousers). Bullets wereflying all around me. I kept tugging, but the rifles wouldn't budge, soI abandoned trying to get the Kalashnikovs. I had an RPK-3 anti-tank hand grenade. I wanted to use it, even though there was notank, to make some noise to distract their attention so I could getaway. I threw the grenade. After four seconds, it exploded and madea big noise and I got away to where my friend Habib Noor was. HabibNoor told me that, unless we crossed the stream to the north, wewould not be able to engage the Soviets. He told me that since I amshort and he is tall, I had a better chance of making it across unob-served and I should cross. I told him " I am your commander, but Iam under your command now." I ran across and jumped but landeddirectly into the stream. "Oh Allah," I cried "you have killed me with-out dignity." Then I made a big jump, I don't know 'how since even atank can't clear it, but I did and got out of the stream. Even today,when I pass that spot, I measure it. I took up a position and fired myKalashnikov. I killed the Soviet facing Habib Noor. Habib shoutedthat Soviets were still in the nearby houses of Shna Kala village. Imoved down the path from the bridge to get at the Soviets. Iapproached that position, threw hand grenades at it and fired myKalashnikov. Everything was quiet after that. I looked back acrossthe road. Habib Noor was standing. I told him to get down. He Chapter 10, Vignette 3 Page 255 remained standing, cursing the Soviets and demanding their surren-der in Pashtu. At that moment, I saw a light in his stomach. He washit and fell down. I recrossed the road to get his body. I could see thebodies of Soviets in the stream. When I reached Habib, he died. Hehad only five rounds left. He was my good friend and was not evenfrom our village. He was from the Ahmadzai 'tribe, which live awayfrom this area. Fighting went on all around us. I heard shooting from every-where, but I only knew what was going on around me. ShaykhBombar from my unit came up to help. He had the only otherKalashnikov in my group. He had given his Kalashnikov to anotherguy and taken the RPG and one rocket and moved to my position.As he came, I saw tanks moving toward us through the fieldsfrom the Shna Kala village. The sun was setting. The air assaulttroops had come down from the mountains and were advancing.Tanks were coming from the west. We wanted to carry Habib Noor'sbody to Rangin Kala village and from there it would be easier totake his body out of the area. I took the RPG and rocket from ShaykhBombar. We wrapped Habib Noor's body in my tsadar—the all-purpose cloth that we all carry and wear. Then I shot the RPG at atank. The tanks were out of range and so the rocket landed amongthe infantry. The tanks and infantry promptly stopped, realizing thatwe had antitank weapons. Their halt enabled us to break contact andtake Habib Noor's body out of the area to Gerdab village—about sixkilometers further to the east. There, I rented a camel and we tookHabib's body to his family at a refugee camp in Pakistan. We buriedhim in the refugee cemetery in Peshawar, even though his home wasin Paktia Province. His family is doing okay now since one of his sonshas a job in Saudi Arabia. COMMENTARY: At this point, the Mujahideen effort was uncoordinatedand put the villagers at direct risk. The Mujahideen were poorlytrained and their lack of cooperation put the area at risk. Theirpersonal bravery and motivation, however, turned the entire area intoa defensive zone that slowed the Soviet effort. Later, as theMujahideen were better armed, had better communications and beganto coordinate their actions, they were more effective against the Sovietand DRA forces. However, by that time most of the civilians werekilled or had left the area for refugee camps in Pakistan. The Soviet effort was well planned and used air assault forces effec-tively to seal the area. However, their cordon enclosed a large area Page 256 The Other Side of the Mountain: Mujahideen Tactics in the Soviet-Afghan War which they were unable to effectively sweep. They needed to break thecordoned area into manageable segments and sweep those in turn.Instead, their sweep was uncoordinated and large sectors of the greenzone were never checked. This green zone is full of villages and fieldsand requires several days to clear. The Soviets were reluctant to main-tain a cordon at night, so they hurried through the sweep and missedthe bulk of the disorganized Mujahideen. VIGNETTE 4DEFENDING AGAINST A CORDON AND SEARCH OPERATION IN PARWANby Commander Haji Abdul Qader In late January 1984, Soviet forces launched a multi-divisional8cordon and search operation in Parwan and Kapisa Provinces. Theaim of the operation was to destroy the Mujahideen forces acrossa wide area stretching from the Charikar-Salang highway in thewest, to Mahmoud-e Raqi in the east and Bagram in the south(Map 10-4 - Parwan). This area is covered with villages and cut byirrigation canals to the orchards, vineyards and farms of this fertilearea. There were dozens of Mujahideen bases in this area that wereaffiliated with major resistance factions. Most of the Mujahideenwere not in their bases but split up into hundreds of small unitsliving in the villages during the winter. On 24 January columns of Soviet and DRA tank and motorizedrifle forces moved from Kabul, Bagram, Jabal-e Seraj andGulbahar (at the mouth of the Punjsher Valley) to establish a widecordon around the green zone on both sides of the Panjsher River.The cordon and sweep operation was backed with extensive airsupport. The Soviets and DRA hoped to trap the thousands ofMujahideen in this area and to destroy their base camps. TheMujahideen reinforced their defenses along the major roads inthe area. The Mujahideen expected enemy advances along theseaxes of advance and decided to block them to gain time to breakout from encirclement. During the first day, the Soviet/DRA forces deployed and estab-lished blocking positions reinforced by tanks, APCs and artillery. Atdawn on 25 January, they mounted attacks from several points,including Charikar, Jabal-e Seraj, Gulbahar, Mahrnoud-e Raqi, Qala-e Naw and Bagram. Haji Abdul Qader was a commander in the Bagram area. The authors have consultedother documents to add detail to his account. A former teacher, Abdul Qader hails from theSayghani village just six kilometers northeast of the Bagram air base. His group was ini-tially affiliated with the HIK faction. He later joined Sayyaf's IUA faction. [Map sheets 2886and 2887]. 8 Most probably the Soviet 103rd Airborne Division and the 108th Motorized Rifle Diyisionand the DRA 8th Infanfantry Division and 37th Commando Brigade. BAGRAMAIRBASE KABU4. QALA-E NAW f SALANG TUNNEL PANJSHIRRIVER CHARIIKAR QALA-EBELAND ABDULLAH-EBURJPARWAN Map 10-4 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 KMIIIIIII Page 258 The Other Side of the Mountain: Mujahideen Tactics in the Soviet-Afghan War Chapter 10, Vignette 4 Page 259 The Action Near Bagram At that time, Haji Abdul Qader commanded some 200 Mujahideenin the Bagram District. His permanent base was co-located with a JIAbase under Commander Shahin at Deh Babi near Abdullah-e Burj. Hisother base was at Ashrafi near Charikar. His group was a mobilegroup and spent most of its time fighting around Bagram or combinedwith other Mujahideen units in Parwan and Kapisa Provinces. During the Soviet cordon and search operation in Parwan andKapisa Provinces, Haji Abdul Qader's unit, along with a 150 strongunit under Commander Sher Mohammad, was to defend a linenorth of the main Bagram-Mahmoud-e Raqi road between Abdullah-e Burj and Qala-e Beland. To the west, HIH faction Mujahideen wereblocking the Bagram-Charikar axis, and on the east flank, JIAunits were covering the area on the left bank of Panjsher River(Map 10-4 - Parwan). The night before the attack, Soviet and DRA artillery poundedMujahideen positions from fire bases that they established around thearea. They attacked swiftly and engaged the Mujahideen on all axeswith infantry and armor or pinned them down with heavy artillery andair strikes. Their air force intensified the pressure on the second dayas ground attack aircraft and helicopter gunships supported the attack-ing columns. Mujahideen communications were seriously disruptedand their tactical coordination dropped off dramatically. Haji Qader ordered his men to occupy prepared blocking positions.They were armed with Kalashnikovs, some 15 RPG-7 anti-tankgrenade launchers, three 82mm and one 75mm recoilless rifles, three82mm mortars, two DShK machine guns and one ZGU-1 heavymachine gun. They also had a few 107mm surface-to-surface rockets.Haji Qader deployed all his anti-tank weapons forward and emplacedhis heavy machine guns on the high ground behind the front line. HajiQader split his force and rotated them in the defensive positions. TheMujahideen who were not manning the positions constituted thereserve and concentrated in Baltukhel and Sayadan, some two to threekilometers to the northwest. Qader's supplies and aid station werealso located in this area. At dawn on January 25, opposing artillery pounded Mujahideenpositions for about two hours. The intensity of fire kept the resistancefighters down inside their bunkers. Some Mujahideen took cover inthe ruins and terrain folds and ditches. The artillery fire was accom-panied by air strikes and gun runs by helicopter gunships. TheMujahideen did not expose themselves during the fire strikes. A little Page 260 The Other Side of the Mountain: Mujahideen Tactics in the Soviet-Afghan War after sunrise, opposing infantry, backed by tanks and BMPs, launchedthe attack. The attacking columns moved confidently, assuming thatthe artillery fire and air strikes had destroyed the Mujahideen resis-tance. However, as they came within range, Mujahideen anti-tankweapons and machine guns opened up. They caught the attackers bysurprise and forced the infantry and tanks to fall back. The attackerswere not very aggressive, probably as a result of their fear of minesand anti-tank weapons. During the first two days, the Soviets repeated their attack sever-al times following the same scenario: artillery fire and air strikeswould hammer Mujahideen positions. Then the infantry and tankswould advance until they were stopped with withering fire at closequarter. They would then fall back. The tanks that were following theinfantry were very slow to advance, particularly when some tankswere hit and the infantry suffered casualties. At the same time, theinfantry would lose heart after being hit by withering defensive fireand would fall back to take cover behind the tanks. As the operation continued, two factors worked against theMujahideen. First, the enemy penetrated Mujahideen positions to con-siderable depth on some axes. This raised the fear of being encircledby flanking units. Second, as the Mujahideen began to understand thescope and intent of the enemy operation, they began to escape out ofthe enemy cordon. This weakened the Mujahideen positions and aidedthe attacker. Some adjacent units left their forward positions at theQala-e Belend sector and fell back. This forced Haji Abdul Qader towithdraw his force on the third day to his planned second line ofdefense on high ground about one kilometer north of the forwarddefensive positions. For the next three days, the Soviets tried to breakthrough Qader's positions on the high ground. It was even toughergoing for them. They used the same method of assault with theinfantry leading and the tanks following—and with the same results. Toward the end of the week, hundreds of Mujahideen used theQala-e Beland sector as an escape route to their mountain bases inKoh-e Safi in the south. The Mujahideen used a covered irrigationcanal to sneak out of the area. Just north of the road near the Qala-eNaw bazaar, there is an east-west irrigation canal. Several north-south feeder canals intersect this main canal. At several points, thecanal is bridged and covered to allow vehicles to cross. At these points,the main and feeder canals are covered. In winter, the irrigation sys-tem is dry and provided suitable escape passages. During the lastnights of the operation, hundreds of Mujahideen escaped through the Chapter 10, Vignette 4 Page 261 canals to Koh-e Safi. The attackers detected this exodus only towardthe end of the operation and opened fire on some escapees. Haji AbdulQader's men provided the rear guard and were the last to move out ofthe area after blocking the Qala-e Beland sector for one week. When the Soviets and DRA finally entered the area, thousands ofMujahideen had escaped. Haji Qader claims that the Soviets only cap-tured about 20 armed Mujahideen and that the Soviet commander incharge of the operation was reprimanded for his failure. He states thatthe Soviets used several divisions, made elaborate plans and firedthousands of artillery shells and flew hundreds of combat missionswithout achieving much. Haji Abdul Qader's group destroyed 11 tanksand APCs and inflicted dozens of casualties on the enemy. His lossesincluded seven KIA and 18 WIA. Most of his casualties came from heli-copter gunships. COMMENTARY: Although the Soviet/DRA forces overran manyMujahideen bases in Parwan and Kapisa Provinces, they failed todestroy the Mujahideen forces which slipped out of the cordon or wentunderground. The Mujahideen enjoyed freedom of movement andmaneuver in a large area until the Soviets and DRA finally penetrat-ed. The Soviet/DRA encirclement was very porous—as was the casewith so many large-scale cordon and search operations of the war—making it impossible to trap Mujahideen forces. The poor performanceby the Soviet infantry and tanks against a determined enemy costthem dearly. Instead of mounting coordinated infantry-tank assaults,the Soviet forces seemed to use each element separately. While a com-bined action could minimize the vulnerabilities of each element, a dis-jointed action maximized the vulnerability of both elements in the faceof a resolute defense. The Mujahideen built a series of covered bunkers near their pre-pared fighting positions and these bunkers enabled them to survive airstrikes and intense artillery barrages. Most of this massive Soviet firedestroyed civilians, houses and the agricultural system. Lack of operational coordination among the Mujahideen groupscost the resistance some major operational achievements. While theSoviets failed to capture large numbers of Mujahideen or to destroy amajor Mujahideen grouping, the resistance missed a major opportuni-ty to inflict heavy losses on the Soviets. The Mujahideen focused onescape, when they had many chances to bloody their enemy by resist-ing on consecutive defensive positions in the area and by cutting theSoviet withdrawal routes once they were inside Mujahideen territory. Page 262 The Other Side of the Mountain: Mujahideen Tactics in the Soviet-Afghan War However, this was not the first nor the last battle for the resistance.They were fighting a war of attrition and refused to become decisivelyengaged in their home area where the civilians and villages would bearthe brunt of the damage. In this area, the civilian population remainedin their homes throughout the.war. Tactically, the Mujahideen massed the fires of their light anti-tankweapons at close range. Several anti-tank gunners would fire at thesame target simultaneously. This greatly increased their probability ofhit, prevented effective counter fires, demoralized vehicle crews, creat-ed confusion among their enemy's tank and motorized columns andprevented the employment of accurate, Soviet indirect artillery fireinto the area. Heavy machine guns usually backed up the anti-tankgunners to separate the dismounted infantry from the armored vehi-cles, keep the vehicle crews buttoned up so that their vision wasobscured, and provided covering fire should the anti-tank gunnersneed to leave their positions. VIGNETTE 5 LAST STAND ON THE ISLANDS OPPOSITE GERDI KATSby Mawlawi Shukur Yasini On 24 March 1984, the Soviets sent a large force into KamaDistrict. I was in Peshawar, Pakistan at that time. The Soviet forcewas not just the 66th Brigade, but also included a force which camefrom fighting in Laghman Province. The entire force had some 200-300 tanks and APCs in it. I had two groups of. Mujahideen in thevillage of Merzakhel. One group was commanded by Baz Mohammadand the 'other by my nephew Shapur. Baz Mohammad's groupmanaged to get out of Merzakhel before the Soviets arrived butShapur's group of 25 was trapped. The Soviets landed troops on thehigh ground overlooking Merzakhel and their tanks were moving infrom the west (Map10-5 - Gerdi). Across the river, Soviet tanks weremoving through Gerdi Kats. The Mujahideen moved south fromMerzakhel to the low, flat islands of the Kabul River between GerdiKats and Merzakhel. These islands are covered with a low-scrubwhich offers some concealment but not cover. As they reached theislands, the Soviet infantry in Gerdi Kats began to cross the riverwith inflatable rubber rafts. The Soviets also moved a tank into theriver to cross over, but it quickly became stuck. Fairoz, a Mujahideenmachine gunner, sunk the rafts with PK machine gun fire. TheSoviet infantry sunk into the river and several drowned. The Sovietsalso had two dogs on the rafts. The dogs swam back to Gerdi Kats.Mujahideen fire from the islands pinned down the Soviets and defeat-ed their crossing attempt. However, at the same time, the enemy brought pressure on mygroup from both sides and only a few of my men managed to slipaway. They were exposed on the low-scrub islands and I lost 11 MA,two WIA and two captured. The two captured were Awozubellah and Mawlawi Shukur Yasini is a prominent religious leader in Nangrahar Province. He is fromthe village of Gerdab in Kama District northeast of Jalalabad. During the war, he was amajor commander of the Khalis group (HIK). Later, he joined NIFA. During the war, hetook television journalist Dan Rather to his base in Afghanistan. He also accompaniedCongressman Charles Wilson of Texas into Afghanistan several times. During most of thewar he was active in his own area fighting the DRA in Jalalabad and the Soviet 66thSeparate Motorized Rifle Brigade at Samarkhel. He became a member of the Nangrahargoverning council after collapse of the communist regime--a position he held until theTaliban advance in September 1996. [Map sheet 3185]. Page 264 The Other Side of the Mountain: Mujahideen Tactics in the Soviet-Afghan War Chapter 10, Vignette 5 Page 265 Nazar Mohammad. The Soviets tortured them, but they did notbreak. They continually claimed that crazy Mawlawi Shukur forcedthem to fight. Eventually, they were released. Shapur and Fairoz•were wounded. Villagers took them to safe houses and kept movingthem to hide them from the Soviets, who searched the area forsix days. We could not retrieve our Mujahideen dead due to enemypressure. Many of their remains were torn apart by foxes and jack-als. After a week or so, we buried what remains we could find. TheSoviets paid a 20,000 Afghanis reward for recovering their dead fromthe river. When I saw the condition of my dead, I banned Afghansfrom helping the Soviets recover their dead. "Let the crows of thiscountry have their fair share." COMMENTARY: The Kama Mujahideen usually tried to avoid theSoviet cordon and search of their district by fleeing into the moun-tains, but the Soviets habitually used heliborne forces to block theirescape routes. This meant that the Kama Mujahideen fought theSoviets within the green zone. However, the Kama green zone had aroad network within it and the Soviets could bring their combat vehi-cles into the green zone where their firepower gave the Soviets atremendous advantage. The Soviets used the same mountain LZsover and over again, but the Mujahideen made no attempt to minethe LZs or post antiaircraft weapons overlooking these sites on apermanent basis. In this action, the Mujahideen were surprised andunable to escape into the mountains and forced to fight an unevenbattle. If they had contested the known LZs, the outcome shouldhave been less costly for the Mujahideen. Crossing shallow desert rivers looks fairly safe, but can be treach-erous. On the 31st of March 1879, the British Army lost 47 men,effectively a squadron of the 10th Hussars, crossing the Kabul Riversome 35 kilometers to the west of this Soviet crossing attempt. TheKabul River looks shallow and slow-moving, but it has fast, strongundercurrents that can quickly overpower the unwary soldier. 9 Colonel H. B. Hanna, The Second Afghan War, 1878-79-80, Its Causes, Its Conduct,and Its Consequences, Volume II, Westminister: Archibald Constable and Co., Ltd., 1904,282-287. Page 266 The Other Side of the Mountain: Mujahideen Tactics in the Soviet-Afghan WarCHAPTER COMMENTARY The Soviet/DRA cordon and search usually involved a number offorces in a combined arms battle or operation. The Mujahideen whohad the best success surviving these did so because their actionswere centrally coordinated, they had developed contingency plans todeal with them and they had built redundant field fortifications toslow the Soviet/DRA advance and fragment their efforts. The better-prepared Mujahideen always retained a central reserve and wereadept at counterattacking the flanks of the attacker. The Mujahi-deen who had the most difficulty with cordon and search operationswere usually separate groups who had little or no ties to a centralMujahideen planning authority, had worked out no contingencyplans and had taken no steps to fortify the area.