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Now, the Soviets faced not just the popular resistance, but a guerrilla army equipped with the latest in military hardware. And when America started supplying Stinger later and other anti-aircraft missiles to the Mujahideen, they started bringing down Soviet helicopters. But it was the mines, or what we would call today IEDs, that the Soviets remember. And Afghans had become the specialists in mines they still are today. General Muslim lead the Afghan resistance in this part of the Panjshir Valley.

Soviet Weapons destoyrd by General Muslim
Soviet Weapons

General Muslim “This area has witnessed many years of fighting between 1981 and 1987. And our job was to plant the mines during the night covering the few kilometres long road from Bazarak to Astana.”

And this is the only way to cross the area?

Panjshir Valley
Panjshir Valley

General Muslim “Yes this is the only way through, and this helps when it comes to fighting. We always had these mountains covered and you see that white stone over there? That was our observation point, which is about 600 m from here. So when the enemies would attack, we would get ourselves in there, close to the road.”

General Muslim

The bulk of Soviet supplies came by roads like these. And the Mujahideen attacks began to kill thousands of Soviet soldiers and cut off their supply routes. The Russians began to call this conflict a war of mines.

General Muslim
General Muslim

General Muslim “We would always plant the mine in the middle of the road and its switch would be on the side of the road. That way its destructive power was maximised. Since this was a very good place for ambush we had very few casualties while enemies would endure heavy losses. Most of the tanks that you see here, the stronger ones, were hit by mines. And their trip-carrying trucks have been destroyed by rockets or hand grenades thrown under the trucks. More than about 100 tanks and 400 trucks carrying their weaponries have been destroyed. I think there are numbers of deaths that would have exceeded 1000. “

The Soviet army brought in helicopters, and experimented with new tactics. And took the most brutal revenge against villages, but they were never able to defeat the insurgents

Russian Special Forces

The Russian Special Forces that landed from helicopters on these ridgelines. Were some of the toughest most courageous, best trained troops in the world. And yet, they never really saw their enemy. They were attacked with mines, people shot into their tents at night, they were suddenly ambushed with rockets. And when they wanted to put all their military training, all their courage, all their energy into action, they felt they were fighting an army of ghosts.

And so, if the Soviet tactics hadn’t worked, weren’t working, and weren’t going to work, why did they continue? A British ambassador once said to me that the US and its allies could not leave Afghanistan because they had lost too much blood and treasure. And the same thought has been in the minds of people for centuries here.

Russian Helicopter
Russian Helicopter

Because when empires begin to lose, begin to spend, begin to have soldiers killed, begin to make promises, begin to produce justifications, it becomes more and more difficult for them to leave. And they end up simply piling more corpses on top of their soldier’s bodies in the hope that this can somehow justify their loss.

In very blunt terms, those soldiers are dead and gone, and they’re never coming back, and you can never honour soldiers by piling more corpses on top of their head. but no general feels this, no politician can say this and slowly killing and the occupation continues for longer than it ever should.

At home, the Soviets tried to conceal the failures and brutality of this occupation. The public was told the Soviets were popular, were helping the Afghan people and that the rebels were only a small minority of terrorists.

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General Muslim and the fight for Panjshir Valley