The WWIII Team Yankee Twilight Zone: The Soviet-Afghan War

Hey everyone, its Alex again and today I want to take you on a thought exercise that, hopefully, will give you scenario and narrative campaign ideas for your Team Yankee games. I am calling this series of articles “Team Yankee Twilight Zone”.
In each article I profile a conflict that happened roughly around the time of the events of Team Yankee, and how you can do customized forces to get a “feel” for the conflict in your games of Team Yankee. It is my hope I can marry a fun game to a little bit of history.

Afghanistan: Graveyard Of Empire

The Soviet-Afghan War, which spanned 10 years from 1979 to 1989, has been called “Russia’s Vietnam” and for good reason. The war was a military and political quagmire for the Soviet Union with ill defined goals, a determined enemy, and combat in harsh terrain. The Soviet Union would end its military expedition utterly defeated when they withdrew in 1989. Less than three years later, the USSR itself would no longer exist. Thus, it can be argued the Soviet-Afghan War played a direct role in the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In 1978, a communist coup took place in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. The People’s Democratic Party Of Afghanistan (PDPA) installed Nur Taraki as President. However, Taraki would prove to be a weak leader who was in turn overthrown by a rival Hafizullah Amin. Both men would institute socialist reforms, and apply draconian measures to dissidents comparable to Joseph Stalin (whom Amin cited as inspiration). However, the communists in Kabul had not counted on the backlash from the deeply religious and conservative populace from the rural areas. In Afghanistan, society is governed by tribal and Islamic law and has been that way for centuries. These socio-economic changes were considered by many to be an affront to Islam. Soon after, riots would break out in places like Herat and Mazir-I-Sharif.
The Soviets, seeing a fellow communist government tottering and also wanting to secure its southern areas, chose to intervene militarily.

Opening with Operation Storm-333, which involved a raid on the Presidential palace by Spetznaz Commandos and the KGB, which included the assasination of Amin (The Reds have a funny way of helping fellow communists….) as well as the seizure of Kabul Airport. The Soviets would then install yet another leader, Babrak Kamal, and began deploying troops to help the PDPA secure Afghanistan for communism.

From the get-go, the mission in Afghanistan was ill defined.
Soviet conscripts were told simply they were going to do their “international duty for communism”. Many had no idea where Afghanistan was or what they were even doing there. They had no concept of Afghan culture, which caused them to mistrust the Afghan National Army and alienate the civilian populace (the worst thing you can do in an insurgency). Combined with the fact they were fighting an unseen, unknown enemy who hit and ran and morale plummeted. Stories of weapons trading with the Afghan Mulahideen for money and of “dedovishina” or grandfatherism (a form of hazing that made life for new soldiers very difficult) began to circulate amongst the soldiers. To make matters worse for the Soviets, President Reagan decided to send money and weapons to the Afghan Mujahideen (literally Holy Warriors) including Stinger missiles. Many saw that as payback for Soviet influence in Vietnam.

By 1989, with Mikhail Gorbachev in office with his policies of glasnost and perestroika, the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan. They had not succeeded in their mission, at the cost of thousands of Soviet lives and nearly 100,000 Afghan casualties. In the void, Afghanistan would see the rise of the Taliban the repercussions of which are still being felt with the now American conflict in Afghanistan.

The wheels on the BTR go round and round…….

Playing the Soviet-Afghan War in Team Yankee

Playing the Soviet-Afghan War in Team Yankee is actually fairly simple. On one side you have the Soviets with their technology, and on the other you have the guerilla fighters of the Mujahideen. I will go over each faction in turn, suggesting limitations and potential special rules for each faction.


The Soviets, generally speaking have access to most of their equipment. However, the Soviet 40th Army was not a top grade formation. To reflect this the following equipment is unavailable: T-80, T-64, BMP-3. 2S6 Tunguska, RPG-7VR.   The TOS-1 did make its debut in the later stages, but should be limited to a single three gun battery.
All other Soviet equipment is fair play and will capture a bit of the flavour of the Soviet 40th Army. Of special note is the Afgantsy, which is a fluffy and flavorful force for this conflict representing the elite VDV.

Also, to reflect the low morale in the 40th Army I propose the following special rule:

  • Dedovishina: At the beginning of the game before the first turn the Soviet Player rolls a die for each non-Afgantsy unit in their force. On a 5-6, their morale, counterattack and rally ratings stay the same. On a 3-4 they suffer a -1 penalty. On a 1-2 they suffer a -2 penalty for the entire game.


Ok so you probably know who represents the Mujahideen, right? Basij! While this may seem obvious, it really does fit. The Mujahideen weren’t particularly skilled, but they made up for it in gritty determination and an almost fanatical belief in their cause. This makes the Basij a natural fit. Also, the entire formation would do well representing the Mujahideen’s equipment.
For artillery support, I would use BM-21s as I’ve not heard of mujahideen using standard artillery. Now to bring a little more flavour in I suggest the following text to the Basij:

“Add up to two PKM Teams for 1 point each and add up to two stinger teams for 2 points each”


Afghanistan is infantry country, as the mountainous Hindu Kush is not conducive to tank operations (though the Soviets and ANA did have tanks there). I suggest setting lots of hills and crags on your table, punctuated by an under developed road or two, or a small village/kalat in the table’s “valley” surrounded by tall terrain adobe walls.  The idea is to have most of the fighting happening on hills and not in flat terrain. You could even potentially have all over bulletproof cover when on a hill to reflect fighting amongst the rocky outcroppings.


I hope you enjoyed reading this as I did writing it, and sincerely hope you give these “Twilight Zone” rules a try! If you would like some inspiration, I highly recommend the movie “The 9th Company” to give you inspiration for Soviet or Mujahideen forces in Afghanistan. Until next time stay tuned for TYTZ #2: The Yugoslav Wars, and may your dice roll hot!


4 thoughts on “The WWIII Team Yankee Twilight Zone: The Soviet-Afghan War

  1. I suggest taking a look at the book “The Bear Went Over the Mountain”. Its a collection of Soviet after action summaries with SME comments after each report. It would be a great companion book to use along with the idea Alex has mentioned in this article.

  2. Alex

    Thanks for putting this together to add to Jon’s comments the Bear Went Over the Mountain is the first book in a trilogy on the Soviet Afghan War. The Bear Went Over the Mountain describes the organization and equipment in each of the branches of the Soviet military involved in the Afghan War and the evolution that they went thru. EX: As the war went on the Soviets started replacing their BMP-1s with entirely BMP-2s and the BTR 60/60/80 family of vehicles. Plus the vast number of after action reports that Jon indicated. Also the T-72 should also be on the not used in Afghanistan list.

    The Other Side of the Mountain is the 2nd book in a trilogy in the series and focuses on the Mujahedeen tactics, organization and another vast set of after action reports. When reading these books, I thought the NAM set of rules from Battle Front could easily be adapted, the special rules for the PAVN and Local Forces are already written. The missions in NAM are very similar to a lot of the after action reports in both books. I would use the Local Forces, Specials Tasks Battalion and the PAVN Infantry Battalion’s as possible formations. The Special Tasks and Infantry Battalion would represent the better organized and funded Mujahedeen. From the support options, you could use the 82mm recoilless gun, the 14.5AA, 120mm Mortar and the 37mmAA and a Afghan version of the local resistance teams. I think using the Team Yankee rules have a different points costs and leave out some of the troop types that are in NAM. EX: , ground mounted 82mm Mortars, AA guns, etc..

    Both of these books I believe could supply the information needed to modify the NAM rules into a set of rules for the Soviet Afghan War. I do think this is a gap in the BF product range and would enable players who have Soviets already another use for those armies. Thanks again for the article.

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