- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 20, 2002

Spring in Afghanistan brings a new challenge to American and British troops: green vegetation zones and agricultural lands.
As fresh leaves and sprouts grow with warming weather, they provide cover from observation, concealment and freedom to maneuver.
During the Soviet-Afghan war of the 1980s, severe fighting was going on in such agricultural-land zones in Charikar Valley, a huge green basin in Parwan province, Arghandab, Daman and Panjwai counties of Kandahar province and the Muhammad Raki area in Logar province.
Abandoned orchards, grape vineyards, dense poplar groves, thickets of thorny acacia and bushes stretch for hundreds of yards and, in some cases, for miles.
They are surrounded by dividing packed-mud walls, which are easily turned into firing positions.
Irrigation ditches cross such areas in all directions, making it less accessible for combat vehicles.
By directing the flow of water and flooding roads and passable routes, the enemy can block them entirely.
Such pockets of agricultural land are also porous with karezes, underground irrigation tunnels. During the Soviet-Afghan war, karezes were developed into a sophisticated web of underground warfare.
Existing tunnels have been widened and fortified by concrete and bricks, and spacious underground pockets have been dug to provide room for weapons and ammunition dumps.
Additional concealed entrances have been added from houses in nearby villages, usually from a water well in the yard or hidden under a floor.
Very often, karezes located close to the roads used by military convoys have been used by snipers: after firing several rounds, they would disappear in dark tunnels.
Underground combat in karezes is dangerous, and only occasionally Soviet Spetsnaz (Special Forces) units took their chances if they had information about enemy headquarters or a weapons depot underground.
At the initial stage of war, Spetsnaz units didn't have sufficient experience for such missions, and next Special Forces teams used sewerage systems near their training centers in Russia before going to Afghanistan.
Their experience can be compared with the one of the U.S. "Tunnel Rats" soldiers fighting the Viet Cong in Vietnam.
Soviet troops had their own tactics to challenge the invisible enemy underground. After securing the area around a karez, a fuel tanker would be brought to the surface opening and pump fuel into it.
The water flow at the bottom would carry fuel downstream along the tunnel. The fuel was then ignited by firing a flare or throwing a hand grenade.
The result was quite spectacular: Huge tongues of fire would shoot out of the openings like erupting volcanoes, killing everyone trapped inside.
After that, the surface openings would reek for weeks of burnt fuel and charred decomposing bodies buried in narrow underground tunnels.
Often, ammunition and explosives in underground depots were detonated by heat, tearing the earth's surface into a new gaping crater.
While in the mountains, Afghan fighters rely on caves and fortified defenses; their tactics in green vegetation zones are based on ambushes, concealment, maneuverability, and outflanking and cutting off the enemy.
U.S. and British troops are now searching the mountains east of the main battlefield of Operation Anaconda for al Qaeda and Taliban fighters.
The main city in the region is Khost, the largest trade and contraband center in southeast Afghanistan.
Traditionally a part of Paktia province, Khost during the years of the Afghan-Soviet war was designated "Special District Khost" owing to its strategic importance.
Contrary to common belief and "Rambo" movies, Soviet troops were never based in Khost. Instead, they relied on native Afghan fighters. The Soviets' feared that their presence there would cause an all-out uprising of local tribes.
The strategic point near Khost is Torigharighar (Black Mountain). Control over that mountain allowed mujahideen to keep the Khost airfield under directed artillery fire.
In southeast Afghanistan just as during Operation Anaconda the enemy will try to organize resistance using fortified bases and cave complexes in the mountains.
In the area of Khost, such known bases include Shahvali-Dukan, Wuchubi and Pastakatza. The infamous Zhawar Kili base located in this area was destroyed by American troops during the current campaign.
There are three major supply routes in the area, which were used by mujahideen during the war with the Soviets.
There is only a limited number of accessible passes in the mountains, and there is no doubt that the same routes will be used again by the Taliban and al Qaeda.
To understand the nature of resistance, one needs to understand the nature of Pashtun tribes.
Wars have been their way of life for centuries: they fought Mongols, Alexander the Great, the British, the Soviets, and everybody else who invaded their lands.
During relatively peaceful times, when there wasn't any foreign invader to join efforts against, they battled each other. The tradition of "badal," or blood feuds, is very much alive among Pashtun tribes.
On the other hand, the rule of "milmastia" (hospitality) of the Pashtun code of honor, requires the tribe to protect those seeking shelter on their territory.
This rule can be easily used by al Qaeda and Taliban fighters seeking refuge with some tribes.
Pashtun tribes of southeast Afghanistan, mostly belonging to the Karani tribal branch, typically lose key positions in government to Pashtuns from the Durrani tribal branch. Such is the case with the current interim government of Hamid Karzai.
Pashtun tribes living in the Northwest Frontier Province of Pakistan have their own reasons to support al Qaeda and the Taliban. They may not like either, but they are traditionally in strong opposition to the Pakistani government, which more then once used military force, including tanks and artillery, to suppress their uprisings.
Spring inevitably increases the risk of civilian casualties. During winter, people usually stay in their villages surviving winter hardship.
But Afghan nomads ("kuchi") freely begin moving in spring with their camels, cattle and families, often crossing back and forth across the Pakistani-Afghan border.
Anti-Soviet mujahideen fighters frequently hired "kuchi" to transport weapons and ammunition, and they carried such supplies among their belongings.
There are only a limited number of passes in the mountains and nomad caravans and mujahideen convoys use the same routes.
Kuchi caravans often moved at dawn to avoid the heat of the day, when it was still dark in canyons and mountains.
The usual tactic used by Soviet special forces was to attack a convoy with grenades first, and then finish off those who survived the deadly rain of automatic weapons and sniper fire.
A trained Spetsnaz officer could throw up to four grenades before the first one exploded, preparing them for action by pulling out the safety pins in advance.
If a convoy was mistakenly identified as carrying weapons, the shrieks of wounded and dying women and children announced that a civilian target had been hit.
Considering this, the most likely battles this spring will be fought in the areas populated by hard-core and strongly nationalist Pashtun tribes in southeast Afghanistan.
Timothy Gusinov served two tours of duty in Afghanistan as an area specialist and military interpreter with Russian Spetsnaz and other military units. Currently, he lives in the United States and can be contacted by e-mail at [email protected]

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