By 1982, the operational maneuver base element for a raid operation had become a reinforced battalion. The wide variety of possible battalion maneuvers included flanking and enveloping attacks as well as air assaults by air assault forces landing from helicopters. The conduct of these raids proved that commanders and forces were accumulating experience and increasing combat mastery. But they did not always result in the desired outcome. Major S. N. Petrov remembers one such incident. Intelligence sources indicated that a group of 40 well-armed Mujahideen were in the town of Sherkhankel .This town was in the area of responsibility of one of the Soviet regiments.
Raid on Sherkhankel
"The 3rd Parachute Battalion, as the alert subunit, was ordered to move to Sherkhankel and destroy the enemy at 0200 hours, 20 March 1982. An artillery battalion and four Mi-24 helicopters were in direct support.
"The battalion commander decided to move at night with an approach march. A combat reconnaissance patrol would move some 300 meters in front of the main body. The march route was down a wide, straight road, along the left side of which stretched an adobe wall. On the right side of the road was a cement- lined canal that was five meters wide and 2.5 meters deep.
"Suddenly, through a firing port cut through the adobe wall, the enemy opened fire with a grenade launcher at the reconnaissance platoon. Practically simultaneously, a machine gun opened fire on the reconnaissance patrol. The machine gun was in the houses, some 150 meters away. The paratroopers, attempting to take up firing positions, fell under the enemy's fire. The battalion commander called for artillery and air support. The assigned mission was blown, however, and the battalion commander belatedly decided to use maneuver to encircle the Mujahideen. The Mujahideen struck a short, powerful blow and then hid, using the system of karez. The battalion had eight KIA and six WIA. Two of the dead were officers. The battalion abandoned further action and returned to base.
"My memory often returns to this tragic moment. I seek an answer to the tormenting question—was there a way to avoid this tragic outcome? Of course, with hindsight, you have 20/20 vision. This aside, I have determined the following miscalculations, which had an adverse effect on the ability of the alert subunit to carry out its assigned mission. First off, the battalion commander did not consider that combat in Afghanistan did not always start where you planned it. It might begin suddenly at any location which is to the enemy's advantage at any time of the day or night. This incident showed how an adobe wall running parallel and close to a road always presented a serious danger for Soviet forces. They provided the enemy secrecy and surprise. This factor was not studied. Second, the battalion column only had security to the front and was moving on a single axis. This made maneuver very difficult. If there is a possibility to move on two roads, with flank security, this may force the enemy to abandon his ambush. Third, in this incident, there was no reconnaissance and the soldiers were not in full readiness to use their weapons."
At this time, the inadequacies of heavy military equipment, which had limited application in mountainous terrain, became apparent. Tanks, BMPs, and self- propelled artillery were road bound and lacked the operational expanse for their employment. Contemporary high-precision jet aircraft were unable to support ground forces effectively with air strikes. Using helicopter gunships, the Soviets were able, for the first time, to establish more effective methods of combating the Mujahideen in the mountains. This use of the helicopters was severely limited later by the introduction of the man-portable Stinger air defense missile. This appreciably decreased the results of operations and combat which frequently did not achieve their projected goals.