Photographer Wiki

The Use of Landmines During the
Soviet-Afghan War

Landmines were a common weapon for both the Soviets and the Mujahideen with an estimated ten million mines placed during the decade long Soviet-Afghan War (International Campaign to Ban Land Mines).  Two important classes of landmine were used: The anti-personnel mine, designed to kill one or more persons on detonation, and the anti-tank/vehicle mine, designed to disable or destroy a vehicle and often used to destroy infrastructure.

Soviet Mines
The Soviets primarily used anti-personnel mines as strategic and defensive weapons (Jalali and Grau 139).  Fortified positions were often surrounded by minefields designed to block any route of attack.  Anti-personnel mines were also used to limit the movement of the Mujahideen by mining roads, passes, dry riverbeds, or any other suspected Mujahideen route.  Most of these mines were laid by hand which allowed their position to be meticulously recorded and the area scrupulously avoided afterward.  However, minefields laid during combat or in inaccessible passes were often remotely laid with cluster bombs or artillery shells, and thus the position of those mines is entirely unknown which makes complete mine clearance nearly impossible.  The three most common mines used by the Soviets were the OZM-72 bounding fragmentation mine which, as do other “bounding” mines, launched a small shrapnel laden bomb that exploded over the heads of its victims, the MON-50 directional mine, and the PMN anti-personnel mine (Russian General Staff, Grau, and Gress 252).  While these were the most common types of Soviet mines, an International Campaign to Ban Landmines report a decade later identified thirty Soviet made landmine types still prevalent in Afghanistan. (International Campaign to Ban Land Mines)

Mujahideen mines
The Mujahideen, like the Soviets, used anti-personnel mines as defensive booby trap weapons around important bases; however, they also used anti-tank mines to destroy troop and supply convoys and bridges.  Anti-tank mines were often made more deadly by stacking several mines on top of each other so they would detonate simultaneously.  Mujahideen fighters often increased the power of their mines by creating their own from the explosives of several other mines and artillery shells (Jalali and Grau 139).  Rather than defend a fortified position with minefields, the Mujahideen would use a large improvised mine to destroy the lead vehicle of a convoy and a crucial section of road (e.g. a bridge) and then attack the vehicles stalled behind the damage (Jalali and Grau 143).  To avoid detection by soviet mine-sweeping teams that began to precede every convoy, Mujahideen bombers skillfully camouflaged their work.  As the Soviets themselves said, “For example, they would strew metal pieces or bits of explosive in the ground [to confuse metal detectors]. To foil the senses of mine-detecting dogs, the Mujahideen would tightly wrap the mines in cellophane bags and pour kerosene, diesel fuel, or motor oil on them.” (Russian General Staff, Grau, and Gress 244-245) This made finding the live mines during and after the war nearly impossible.


The Side Affects
All this mining rendered roughly 859 square kilometers of Afghanistan dangerous to inhabit, cultivate, or even cross (International Campaign to Ban Land Mines).  Within a decade of the Soviet-Afghan War’s end, an estimated 90,000 to 104,400 people had been injured or killed by landmines in those areas.  The table below shows the distribution of landmine damage among the victims.

*Some victims had several injuries. Data taken from Table V (Andersson, Da Sousa, and Paredes 720)
The high death rate is attributed to poor access to medical care in remote areas (International Campaign to Ban Land Mines).  Those who survive face a difficult future with fewer opportunities and less capability to earn a living in their fairly agrarian society. 

Landmines cripple not only the
people they maim, but also the land they are buried in.  Mined fields cannot be safely plowed, and both herders and valuable livestock can be killed in mined pastures.  In fact, the 1993 National Survey of the Mine Situation in Afghanistan found that 316,000 domestic animals had been killed by landmines (International Campaign to Ban Land Mines).  It was estimated in 1995 that, without the interference of mines, Afghanistan could increase its agricultural production by 88-200% (Andersson, Da Sousa, and Paredes 721).  Clearly, the destructive power of landmines extends beyond the individual lives they destroy; these remnants of war can halve the fundamental productivity of a nation, creating poverty a decade after they were deployed.

Works Cited

 International Campaign to Ban Land Mines Land Mine and Cluster Munition Monitor 1999. Human Rights Watch, 1999. Web. Sept. 27, 2011. <>

 Jalali, A. A., Grau, L. W. The Other Side of the Mountain: Mujahideen Tactics in the Soviet-Afghan War. Quantico: Marine Corps Combat Development Command, 1999. Print.

 The Russian General Staff /translated and edited by Lester W. Grau and Michael A. Gress. The Soviet-Afghan War: How a Superpower Fought and Lost Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2002. Print.

 Neil Andersson, Cesar Palha Da Sousa, Sergio Paredes. Social Cost Of Land Mines In Four Countries: Afghanistan, Bosnia, Cambodia, And Mozambique.  BMJ: British Medical Journal, Vol. 311, No. 7007 (Sep. 16, 1995), pp. 718-721  BMJ Publishing Group. Web. 9/27/2011