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Posted on Mar 12, 2011 in Armchair Reading

CDG 44 – Soviets in Afghanistan, 1981

By Armchair General

In this interactive You Command exercise, you take on the role of Senior Lieutenant Viktor Pavlenko, commander of the 8th Motorized Rifle Company, 70th Independent Motorized Brigade, Soviet 40th Army. It is March 1981, more than a year after the 40th Army pushed into Afghanistan with 80,000 troops, supported by aircraft and 2,000 tanks and armored fighting vehicles to shore up Afghanistan’s teetering communist government.

Ambush area. Petho Cartography.The invasion’s initially rapid success foundered as a resistance movement sprang up comprised of 20,000–100,000 full-time fighters called mujahedeen, supported by as many as 150,000 part-time insurgents. They currently control 80 percent of the rugged, mountainous countryside and are receiving weapons and other aid from foreign nations, including your primary Cold War adversary, the United States. The USSR troop presence has grown to over 100,000 and has the dubious support of 40,000 men of the Afghan Army whose loyalty is questionable. Afghanistan, "the Graveyard of Empires," is starting to be referred to as "the Soviet Union’s Vietnam."

The 70th Brigade’s commander, Lt. Col. Shatin, has devised a plan for "taking it to the enemy," a cordon-and-sweep maneuver with two of the brigade’s rifle battalions supported by Afghan army troops to eradicate the mujahedeen base at Musa Qala, about 20 kilometers from the 70th’s base in Kandahar. The operation will surround Musa Qala, seal off the town from outside assistance, and then sweep through the area to clear it of insurgents.

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As Shatin was finalizing his plan, intelligence reported the mujahedeen at Musa Qala were assembling a vehicle convoy to ship a large supply of ammunition to other insurgent bands. Shatin decided your company would support the brigade’s main attack by ambushing and destroying the convoy and its mujahedeen escort.

Your battalion commander, Major Antonov, told you to quickly devise possible courses of action for the attack: your men are to board seven Mi-8T transport helicopters within two hours.

You have three platoons of 30 men each, plus a 10-man headquarters detachment. They are armed with AK-47 assault rifles, grenades, land mines, light and heavy machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) and AGS17 rapid-fire grenade launchers. You will have no air or artillery support for the mission.

Intell expects 30–40 mujahedeen fighters will escort the convoy, and they will almost certainly carry AK-47s, RPGs and possibly light machine guns.

The target area is mountainous high desert with a few patches of vegetation scattered among its rocks. The convoy will be traveling through the hilly, rolling terrain on a narrow, meandering road of hard-packed dirt.

Before long, you are summoned to Lt. Col. Shatin’s command post to present your proposed courses of action. You explain that each option you’ve devised begins with landing the men by helicopter that evening about five kilometers northwest of the ambush site. From there, they will march under cover of darkness and take up concealed positions along the convoy’s route, from which they will attack early the next morning.

Course of Action One:
"My first plan," you begin, " is to position the platoons to create devastating crossfire at nearly point-blank range that will annihilate everything within the ambush kill zone. First Platoon will deploy along the convoy route at the base of Hill 154. On its right flank, 2d Platoon will occupy the base of Hill 341. On the opposite side of the road, 3d Platoon will deploy along the convoy route in three positions: 1st Squad at the base of Hill 219; 2d Squad in the low ground between Hill 219 and Hill 419; and 3d Squad at the base of Hill 419. We will place contact mines at the kill zone’s far end and command-detonated mines at its tail end to seal off the kill zone and prevent the enemy’s escape. When the convoy’s lead vehicle detonates one of the contact mines, the explosion will be our signal to commence the ambush, trapping the enemy in our deadly crossfire."

Shatin replies, "Senior Lieutenant Pavlenko, if executed properly, this plan should allow you to trap the entire convoy and destroy it. However, you must ensure absolute discipline so that a nervous soldier does not open fire prematurely and spoil the ambush before the convoy has moved completely into the kill zone."

Course of Action Two:
"The second option," you proceed, "is similar to the first, but the platoons will be positioned on higher ground to provide better long-range visibility, target acquisition and fields of fire for our RPGs, machine guns and rapid-fire grenade launchers. First Platoon will deploy in concealed positions high up on Hill 154, while 2d Platoon does likewise on Hill 341. Third Platoon will deploy on the upper slope of Hill 419. Again, contact mines will be placed at the far end of the kill zone, and the ambush will commence when the lead vehicle detonates one of them. Meanwhile, the command-detonated mines will seal off the tail end to prevent escape. Since we will be positioned higher up, we will not be firing from point-blank range; however, this deployment will permit us to use our heavier weapons more effectively against the vehicles."

Major Antonov says, "Viktor, I agree this is a better placement of your machine guns and grenade launchers—the weapons most likely to destroy the vehicles—but you must ensure that your infantrymen aim carefully. Soldiers firing from elevated positions tend to aim high, and since they undoubtedly will be concentrating on the convoy’s escorts while the heavier weapons focus on the vehicles, they may miss many of the mujahedeen fighters in the opening volley. If that happens, the insurgents will scatter like rabbits and disappear into the hills in the blink of an eye."

Course of Action Three:
"The third course of action," you explain, "is to use 3d Platoon to create an impenetrable roadblock between Hill 219 and Hill 154—the kill zone’s exit—while 1st Platoon and 2d Platoon deploy side by side on Hill 154 and Hill 341 to form the main engaging force along the length of the convoy, where they can pour devastating fire into the kill zone. We will plant command-detonated mines both in front of the roadblock and at the tail end of the kill zone to trap the convoy and prevent the vehicles and insurgents from escaping. We will also place contact mines all along the opposite side of the road from our ambush force to kill any mujahedeen who try to run away in that direction. When the first vehicle reaches the roadblock, 3d Platoon’s leader will trigger the command-detonated mines. The explosion will be the signal for the entire company to commence firing to annihilate the convoy and its escorts."

Any further discussion is cut off by Shatin: "We have no more time for discussion. Pavlenko, return to your men and prepare them for the helicopter movement. Major Antonov will inform me of which course of action you have chosen. But consider your options carefully—this ambush is an important part of the overall operation and must be successful if the brigade is to accomplish its goals. We have chased these mujahedeen around the countryside for far too long; if we are to win the war, we must trap and annihilate them."

Senior Lieutenant Pavlenko, which of these options will you choose—or has another possible course of action occurred to you?

Click here to download the pdf of Command Decision Game # 44, Soviets in Afghanistan, 1981. Submit your answer and you might win apparel from Armchair General!

This text is an abridged version of Command Decision Game #44, written by Andrew H. Hershey, which appears in the May 2011 edition of Armchair General magazine.


  1. From the map it looks like we were supposed to ambush the convoy just 500 meters or so outside their main base Musa Quala. Would it not be better to let them get further away? If you attack them this close to their main base the main base is bound to be warned of your presence before Shatin has started the main attack -thus costing us the advantage of surprise. Also it exposes the ambush party to a possible counter-attack from the base Musa Quala.


  2. In order to make the ambush more effective, i would say COA three would give the best results. Trapped in a more confined space by a roadblock with mines strewn everywhere, the convoy of vehicles and insurgents would be hard pressed to escape the kill zone. The ambush force will also be positioned further away from Musa Qala, thus delaying the arrival of insurgent reinforcements a little more. This will also make the ambush force’s defensive and exit strategy easier.

  3. COA 3 is the way we should implement this ambush. It reduces the real possibility of friendly fire in COA 1, and reduces the chance of rebel escape in COA 2. With the intelligent use of mines and our heavy weapons the insurgents don’t stand a chance. Also, our more concentrated disposition of forces will make extraction to the south or southeast far easier.

  4. I do not believe there is much friendly fire risk in COA1 and particularly not in 2. There is a height difference between the Soviets and the insurgents. They would have to overshoot very badly to risk hitting each other.


  5. I tend to lean towards a roadblock, but I also would break the two remaining platoons down into three squads each and place them atop the hills on both sides of the road. The squads would be in a better position for target acquisition and to use their RPG’s, heavy machine guns, and rapid-fire grenade launchers to take out the vehicles. If any Mujahadeen fighters try to escape between the hills, they’ll be caught in a deadly crossfire. The roadblock platoon would be close for a point-blank range firing upon any fighters jumping out of the trucks and be out of the way of friendly fire from above. Of course mines on both ends of the convoy would seal off the kill zone.

    • Sure Kevin, the Soviets could be on each side of the convoy, but your chances of friendly fire would be greater compared to being based on just one flank. You also need to consider if you place mines on each side of the convoy this will extremely difficult to capture the mujahadeen that surrendered for later interrogation, without getting casualties from your own mines. If you focus you mines on one flank and your soldiers on the other the mujahadeen will realize they are retreating in a mine field and thus the majority will surrender and their escape would be close to impossible. You also wouldn’t have your command split up as far apart making the Soviets unit easier to command, and the plan also would give you easy access routes to the enemy convoy.

      • I greatly appreciate your analysis, it’s nice to get another’s perspective on my plan of attack. I like how you think (lol).


  1. CDG Command Center » Armchair General - [...] May 2011 Soviets in Afghanistan, 1981 PDF Pullout [...]

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