How powerful was the Soviet Union when they began war with Afghanistan?
They were a leading World power at the time. The Problem with the russian military in Afghanistan is that they relied too much on using tanks which was not suitable for the terrain they were fighting in. they also used Helicoptor gunships which in the mountains made an easy target for rocket propelled rifles as they could not spot the Afghans hidden in the mountains crevices.The russian campaign ended when the war became too costly for them in lives and Military hardware. There is a very good film I saw a couple of years ago about the war between the Afghans and the Russians called “The Tank”. Very good it was too. if you ever get the chance to see , don’t miss it.
At that time the Red Army consisted of some 124 Divisions,a Division being about 18,000 strong.21,000 tanks,62,000 personnel carriers supported by some 36,000 aircraft.Problem was the people operating it all were basically useless.Conscripts with no interest,no motivation and little training.A little known fact,from the early 70s NATO was of the mindset that it would cream the Red Army in a conventional war.
They are a long way behind America right now, although oil money is now being used to modernise the Russian armed forces. Notwithstanding the world in the 1980s was a very different place. The soviet union at that time had the second biggest economy in the world. And it had some military hardware such as the SU27 flanker, Hind helicopter gunship, and the awesome Kirov class battle cruisers, which at least equalled and in some cases surpassed the best American hardware. It is difficult to give a comparison between the soviet and American military in the early 1980s because in some areas the American military was better in others the soviets. However it was in the late seventies/ early eighties that the soviets began to lag behind in the arms race.
The Soviet Union was sufficiently powerful to mount a war against the Afghans, in terms of sufficiency of troops, armoured vehicles, artillery, helicopters and tanks. It failed because of bad generalship. Fighting guerrillas, who are ideologically motivated, is difficult using a largely conscript army. Firepower, whatever the American say, does not defeat guile. The nearest that we ever got in recent times to the defeat of a highly ideologically motivated guerrilla force was in South Armagh. The SAS, 14 Int Unit and the RUC had their backs up against their own “sniper at work” signs until political coardice in the UK government foxed their efforts.
Russia was as powerful back then as they are today. Russia lost the war in Afghanistan because there heart was not in it, and a lot of the soldiers didn’t know what they were fighting for and most of them just wanted to go back home just the same as our troops desire. You have got to look up in your history that the enemy we fight today is the same people that the West backed to fight Russia, also people like Saddam Husein and General Penoshie also backed by the West and now look at the mess that we are in..!