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The Soviet decision makers did not anticipate the influential role of Islam in the Afghan society. There were very few experts on Islam in the Soviet government and the academic institutions. The highest leadership was poorly informed about the strength of religious beliefs among the masses of the Afghan population. Political and military leaders were surprised to find that rather than being perceived as a progressive anti-imperialist force, the Afghanis [considered Russians] as foreign invaders and “infidels.” Reports from Afghanistan show the growing awareness of the “Islamic factor” on the part of Soviet military and political personnel.
The Soviet troops had absolutely no anti-guerrilla training. While the formal mission of the troops was to protect the civilians from the anti-government forces, in reality, Soviet soldiers often found themselves fighting against the civilians they intended to protect, which sometimes led to indiscriminate killing of local people. Operations to pursue and capture rebel formations were often unsuccessful and had to be repeated several times in the same area because the rebels retreated to the mountains and returned to their home villages as soon as the Soviet forces returned to their garrisons. Soviet traditional weaponry and military equipment, especially armored cars and tanks were extremely vulnerable on Afghani terrain.