Life on Soviet outposts during the Soviet-Afghan war
Logistics is the blood of war. The Soviet Army, which historically relied on railroad, could not use trains in Afghanistan. The reason was pretty simple - no railroad infrastructure in Afghan. The air supply was limited and so the 40th army was left with the oldest means of transportation - the road.
Of course, convoys and especially single trucks were a subject of an attack from the mujahadeen resistance. One way to fight them was to put some guns and armor on the tracks. But that was not all. Alongside the supply roads numerous outposts were placed. Apart from actually helping out the convoys, they also created the vision of the territory being controlled by the Soviet forces.
How soldiers were assigned to the outposts
The military service on the outposts was not different to any other type of conscription based military service. Soldiers from ground troops, mainly infantry and airborne regiments, were assigned to the outposts upon their arrival to Afghanistan.
There was no official instructions of how to choose among the fresh recruits and separate those who were to serve on the outposts from those who were to work on operations. As most other things in the Soviet Army, like assignation to the branch of service, it was done by chance. An officer responsible for outposts would come to meet the new recruits and would choose among them.
However, some regiments had better management and had more adequate commanding officers. In this case, notes were taken during the quarantine time, while recruits were adapting to the new conditions. Recruits with better stamina were then assigned to the reconnaissance or rifle units, which were operating on foot. Best drivers and weapon operators were assigned to those units who were doing mounted operations more often. And the rest were either sent to outposts or stayed at the main base doing some everyday work.
From the author: it is often thought that the hardest job during the Soviet-Afghan war was to conduct dismounted operations in the mountains. This is mostly true. Soldiers had to curry dozens of kilograms of weapons and equipment and participate in firefights in complicated situations. However, this does not mean, that all other jobs did not require physical and mental strength. Physically weak person is unable to reload KPVT machine gun, installed on the BTR or BRDM. And the mentally weak soldier can not be relied on when on night watch on an outpost.
Outposts set up
Depending on the location of a given outposts, soldiers were delivered there by air or by the supply column. That said, they were usually delivered straight from the main base, without any prior training. This was seen as the simpler job and new soldiers were supposed to get "on the job training".
Soldiers and officers who were assigned to the outposts would usually stay there until the very end of their service in Afghanistan. Usually there were no rotations and soldiers would easily stay on an outpost for 1.5-2 years. Officers and warrant officers had a little bit more freedom, they were allowed some holidays and they could have been required at the other outposts or to perform entirely different task. So for them there was at least some potential change in the routine.
The outposts themselves were also different in nature and size. They could have been quite big, company size, allowing the garrison of up to 100 people. But this was more of an exception - with such size it was more like a forward military base rather than an outpost. Regular outposts were small - up to a platoon size. But since there was always lack of people in the units, a regular platoon on an outpost could be just a dozen men strong.
Armament of the outposts
The outposts main task was to defend itself. They were also required to observe and control the territory around them. Usually they were limited to what weapons and equipment was available and to how it could get on the outpost. Obviously, it was impossible to drive a tank to the ones very high up at the mountains.
However, tanks were not too rare on the outposts close to the main road. The chassis of the T-62 tank, which was the main option of the 40th Army in Afghanistan, were prone to wear and tear, but the main gun could have ben intact. These tanks were installed alongside the main logistical roads. Infantry fighting vehicle, experiencing same problems, could have been installed on the outposts as well.
Other heavy group weapons would mainly include mortars and heavy machine guns. The mortars would mainly consist of 2b9 "Vasilek" 82 mm automatic mortar and 2b11 "Podnos" 120mm mortar. They had the maximum range of 4300 and 7000 meter respectively, which was good distance for the conditions. However, it was no too easy to use them in the mountainous areas, as quick reconnaissance fire adjustment was usually impossible due to lack of people. However, mortar teams would usually know the dangerous point from where the enemy could attack.
Heavy infantry weapons would also include 12.7mm machine guns - Utes and DShK and 30mm grenade machine gun. These were easy to operate, precise and powerful weapons. Everyone on the outposts would know how to use them. At the range of up to 1500 meters they were absolutely devastating, as there was little to no cover which could stop a 12.7 round.
Apart from that, soldier were armed with their personal small arms - AK, RPK, PKM and SVD. They also had big amount of ammunition of each type, flare rockets, smokes etc. In case if everything went wrong and the outpost was attacked by overwhelming number of mujahadeens, there was a radio system to communicate with other outposts and the "mainland", so the help would be sent.
Soldiers daily routine on the outposts
The routine on the outposts would consist of being on battle position, observing the surroundings or taking a rest. Soldiers would usually do this in turn, 12 hours of each. Night shifts could be further spit between those on duty as it was hard for one man to keep awake until the dawn.
It was a bit more hard for the officers, as in most cases it was just one officer or warrant officer per outpost. He would usually have some experienced soldiers or sergeants who been there on the outposts for long enough to act as his subordinates. This way the life and duty on the outposts could flow in a controllable manner.
The duty would consist of not sleeping on position and actually observing the surroundings. There were backups, of course, such as mines, flares etc. installed around the outposts to warn about the incoming enemy. But it was essential for the soldiers to thoroughly observe the surroundings in order to fight off the enemy when the enemy was still far away from the outpost.
When off-duty, soldiers would either sleep or work on common tasks, such as digging, improving living conditions or cooking. The food on the outposts was usually better than on the main base. This might seem counterintuitive, but on the outposts soldiers would cook small portion for themselves, while the base cooks could be professionally worse and corrupt. If the conditions allowed, soldiers would also trade with the locals and improve their diet with the local products.
Overall, serving your military time on a soviet outpost during the Soviet-Afghan war might sound like tedious task. And by all means, it was. Staying for around 600 days on the same spot, with same people, doing essentially same tasks is mentally challenging.
However, this was not the worst job out there. Soldiers serving on the outposts were exposed to less risk than those who would go on the operations. Attacks on the fortified outposts were not common, so, depending on the location, an average soldier could experience less than a dozen attacks during his career. Some were not be engaged at all.
And it was also a much better option than serving on the bigger base. As was said, the number of people on an outpost was usually limited to 10-20 soldiers and one officer. This meant that there would be no officiality, everyone would just do his job without marches, drills, expectations and other bullshit, which is present on big bases, full of officers.
All in all, serving on an outpost was not only a safer option, but also a more comfortable one.