The Canadian Forces currently in Afghanistan as part of a NATO coalition are playing a major role in a counter-insurgency campaign directed against a resurgent Taliban threat. Dealing with this menace will not be easy as the Taliban, realizing they cannot defeat NATO’s superior military strength, have resorted to asymmetric actions that strike at the coalition’s will through the cumulative effects of terror and small-scale “hit and run” military operations. Although NATO must contend with these tactics, concentrating solely on the military aspects of the problem will not address the real danger.

The true nature of the Taliban’s threat rests in its political strength and not in its military capability. In order to destroy the Taliban’s influence in the region a combination of political, social, economic, and military means are necessary. The complexities of dealing with these issues in a coherent manner are significant, but in the case of Afghanistan there is no precedent. Interestingly, the Soviets faced many of these same challenges while fighting a counter-insurgency campaign against the Mujahideen through much of the 1980s.1

The Soviet experience should be of interest to coalition members as it provides a contemporary example of the challenges of conducting counter-insurgency operations within that country. Contrary to popular belief, the Soviets followed a logical and multifaceted, if somewhat brutal, counter-insurgency strategy in Afghanistan. A critical examination of the Soviet performance reveals that many of their failings can be directly attributed to a lack of resources and in this respect, there are a surprising number of similarities between the operational environment the Soviets faced and the situation that now confronts NATO. This paper will explore aspects of Soviet counterinsurgency operations during their occupation of Afghanistan, and assess strengths and weaknesses relevant to current operations in that country.2