They say that this was Russia's `Vietnam' but that's not a particularly good comparison. The Vietnam War went on for twice as long (18 years) and the fighting forces on both sides were vastly larger and so consequently were the losses. Like most wars there were atrocities from both sides and allies with a vested interest, especially so to aid the insurgents. It is also claimed that this war caused the demise of Russia as a world force? That's not strictly true either, as Gorbachev came to power in 1985 and knew at that time that the Russian economy was in ruins and that the whole political structure had to change for his country to survive politically and economically. He'd already made up his mind that Russia had to pull out of the war. Yes, the war disaffected many Russians against the communist way of life and rule, as it saw the war as a total mismanagement by its leaders, a failure and a waste of precious resources for the country, however, it was the resulting restructuring and reforms that led to the eastern bloc's revolt and eventual collapse. It was similar to Vietnam in that it was fought as a guerrilla war. Russia rued the day they ever entered this war and whilst they suffered relatively few killed in action over the period, (14,000), they did suffer enormously with the wounded,(54,000), and those taken sick due to appalling sanitation conditions, (400,000), which the Mujahedeen were of course hardened to. However,it was the civilians who suffered the most, with an estimated 1,000,000+ killed and 5,000,000 refugees left homeless and exiled after the war. This is definitely one of the better `histories' with excellent photographs & maps and some first class demographics and detail. Anyone who likes history /wars should look at this series as it really is first class at giving you the basics of any conflict.
The format - namely 96 pages to cover one of Soviet Union's major events of the 20th century - was always going to be a challenge. Packing 10 years of war, as well as the preparatory history (roughly the 10 years preceding it) into such a short book successfully has to be counted a superb achievement. Fremont-Barnes manages to portray the major influences that led to the final result and to explain the concept and difficulties of a modern guerilla war here, as well as cover the specific Soviet and Afghan twists along the way.
The book is perhaps light on the major operations and is certainly not at all detailed when it comes to the military side of things. One can say it is written primarily for the reader interested in the events leading to the conflict and in what major shortcomings in how the conflict was waged led to the eventual withdrawal of the Soviets and not for the military buffs, looking to further their understanding of the minutiae of Afghan / counterinsurgency warfare.
Furthermore some of the finer details on the military equipment and especially the picture captions would warrant reworking - here one can clearly see the author's civilian / journalist background.
Nevertheless, one has to admit that a reader only vaguely familiar with the conflict is going to get a solid understanding of it from the book, and that the writing flows easily and that the author presents his points succinctly. And while the book focuses on the Soviet Afghan conflict exclusively, there are many points that apply equally well to the current one - so the book makes for an enlightening reading on how not to go about it.
I found this book rather good and very informative. In all honnesty, I have not read many books about this conflict but found it quite well balanced, interesting and decenly written. I think the force of this book is that the author is probably a journalist consequently it is relatively well written and reading is relatively pleasant unlike some other Osprey books.
But the book may fail with the following: - Poor military coverage and very little information on the operation themselves. Dont get me wrong, the conflict is really well covered but is perhaps not a military book as per se. - Photographs captions which are very dull, repetitive and pointless most of the time. One wonder if the author was just filling space. - The book is perhaps a bit too pro-afghan. I found "afgantsy" from Braithwaite dealing a bit more with the point of view of the soviet soldier (different of book size apart)
Overall, some traditional Osprey readers may find a bit light in terms of military context but it will be a very good book for the general reader.
This is a small concise account of a brutal war conducted without any form of restraint.I thought I knew the essential features of this 10year war but the author shows very well how guerilla type soldiers badly equipped but fighting in their own country were able to defeat Russians with almost unlimited fire power but with a badly trained and led conscript army.This is a very useful introduction to what has become a rather chaotic NATO war which has still not reached its end.