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The Defector, by Octav Băncilă, 1906
Deserteur (Дезертир), by Ilya Repin, 1917

In military terminology, desertion is the abandonment of a duty or post without permission (a pass, liberty or leave) and is done with the intention of not returning. In contrast, Unauthorized Absence (UA) or Absence Without Leave (US: AWOL; Commonwealth: AWL) refers to a temporary absence.

According to the United States Uniform Code of Military Justice, Sub Chapter 10, Punitive Articles, Section 885, Article 85, Desertion is defined as: (a) Any member of the armed forces who– (1) without authority goes or remains absent from his unit, organization, or place of duty with intent to remain away therefrom permanently; (2) quits his unit, organization, or place of duty with intent to avoid hazardous duty or to shirk important service; or (3) without being regularly separated from one of the armed forces enlists or accepts an appointment in the same or another one of the armed forces without fully disclosing the fact that he has not been regularly separated, or enters any foreign armed service except when authorized by the United States; is guilty of desertion. (b) Any commissioned officer of the armed forces who, after tender of his resignation and before notice of its acceptance, quits his post or proper duties without leave and with intent to remain away therefrom permanently is guilty of desertion. (c) Any person found guilty of desertion or attempt to desert shall be punished, if the offense is committed in time of war, by death or such other punishment as a court-martial may direct, but if the desertion or attempt to desert occurs at any other time, by such punishment, other than death, as a court-martial may direct.


  • Desertion versus Absence Without Leave 1
  • Austria 2
  • France 3
  • Germany 4
  • New Zealand 5
  • Soviet Union 6
    • Soviet desertion in the Afghan Civil War 6.1
      • Inter-ethnic explanation for desertion 6.1.1
      • Soviet disillusionment upon entering the war 6.1.2
      • Problems in Soviet army structure & living standards 6.1.3
      • Soviet deserters to the Mujahideen 6.1.4
  • United Kingdom 7
    • World War I 7.1
    • Iraq War 7.2
  • United States 8
    • War of 1812 8.1
    • Mexican–American War 8.2
    • American Civil War 8.3
    • World War II 8.4
    • Vietnam War 8.5
    • Iraq War 8.6
  • Penalties 9
  • Legal status of desertion in cases of war crime 10
  • See also 11
  • References 12
  • Works cited 13
  • Further reading 14
  • External links 15

Desertion versus Absence Without Leave

A United States wartime poster deprecating absence

In the unit rolls after thirty days and then listed as deserters; however, as a matter of U.S. military law, desertion is not measured by time away from the unit, but rather:

  • by leaving or remaining absent from their unit, organization, or place of duty, where there has been a determined intent to not return;
  • if that intent is determined to be to avoid hazardous duty or shirk contractual obligation;
  • if they enlist or accept an appointment in the same or another branch of service without disclosing the fact that they have not been properly separated from current service.[2]

People who are away for more than thirty days but return voluntarily or indicate a credible intent to return may still be considered AWOL. Those who are away for fewer than thirty days but can credibly be shown to have no intent to return (for example, by joining the armed forces of another country) may nevertheless be tried for desertion. In rare occasions, they may be tried for treason if enough evidence is found.

Missing Movement is another term used to describe when members of the armed forces fail to arrive at the appointed time to deploy (or "move out") with their assigned unit, ship, or aircraft. In the United States Armed Forces, this is a violation of the Article 87 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). The offense is similar to absence without leave but may draw more severe punishment.[3]

Failure to Repair consists of missing a formation or failing to appear at an assigned place and time when so ordered. It is a lesser offense within Article 86 of the UCMJ.[4]


In 2011, Vienna decided to honour Austrian Wehrmacht deserters.[5][6] In 2014, on October, 24th a Memorial for the Victims of Nazi Military Justice was inaugurated on Vienna's Ballhausplatz by Austria's President Heinz Fischer. The monument was created by German artist Olaf Nicolai and is located opposite the President's office and the Austrian Chancellory. The inscription on top of the three step sculpture features a poem by Scottish poet Ian Hamilton Finlay (1924-2006) with just two words: all alone.


During WWI approximately 600 French soldiers were executed for desertion.[7]


During WW I only 18 Germans who deserted in the First World War were executed.[7]In contrast of the Germans who deserted the Wehrmacht, 15,000 men were executed. In June 1988 the Initiative for the Creation of a Memorial to Deserters came to life in Ulm. A central idea was, "Desertion is not reprehensible, war is".[8]

New Zealand

During WWI 28 New Zealand soldiers were sentenced to death for desertion; of these, five were executed.[9] These soldiers (List of New Zealand soldiers executed during World War I) were posthumously pardoned in 2000 through the Pardon for Soldiers of the Great War Act.[9]

The execution of soldiers for desertion is controversial, particularly considering of the age of some of the soldiers and the potential of shell-shock.[10]

Soviet Union

Order No. 270, dated August 16, 1941, was issued by Joseph Stalin. The order required superiors to shoot deserters on the spot.[11] Their family members were subjected to arrest.[12]
Order No. 227, dated July 28, 1942 directed that each Army must create "blocking detachments" (barrier troops) which would shoot "cowards" and fleeing panicked troops at the rear.[12]
The Soviets executed 158,000 soldiers for desertion.[13]

Soviet desertion in the Afghan Civil War

Many Soviet soldier deserters of the

  • Missing movement from
  • webpageSites of MemoryMemorial to German World War II deserters in Ulm, Germany at the
  • webpageSites of MemoryMemorial to all deserters in Stuttgart, Germany at the
  • AWOL Information

External links

  • Charles Glass; Deserter: The Last Untold Story of the Second World War, Harperpress, 2013.
  • Maria Fritsche, Proving One’s Manliness. Masculine Self-perceptions of Austrian Deserters in the Second World War. Gender & History, 24/1 (2012), 35-55.

Further reading

  • Manual for Courts-Martial United States (2012 Edition) (PDF). US Government Printing Office. Retrieved 13 December 2012. 
  • Peter S. Bearman; "Desertion as Localism: Army Unit Solidarity and Group Norms in the U.S Civil War", Social Forces, Vol. 70, 1991
  • Ella Lonn; Desertion during the Civil War University of Nebraska Press, 1928 (reprinted 1998)
  • Aaron W. Marrs; "Desertion and Loyalty in the South Carolina Infantry, 1861–1865", Civil War History, Vol. 50, 2004
  • Mark A. Weitz; A Higher Duty: Desertion among Georgia Troops during the Civil War, University of Nebraska Press, 2000
  • Mark A. Weitz; "Preparing for the Prodigal Sons: The Development of the Union Desertion Policy during the Civil War", Civil War History, Vol. 45, 1999

Works cited

  1. ^ a b Joint Service Committee on Military Justice (2012). "Article 86—Absence without leave". Manual for Courts-Martial United States (2012 Edition) (PDF). Fort Belvoir, Virginia: United States Army Publishing Directorate. pp. IV–13 – IV–16. 
  2. ^ a b Joint Service Committee on Military Justice (2012). "Article 85—Desertion". Manual for Courts-Martial United States (2012 Edition) (PDF). Fort Belvoir, Virginia: United States Army Publishing Directorate. pp. IV–10 – IV–13. 
  3. ^ Joint Service Committee on Military Justice (2012). "Article 87—Missing Movement". Manual for Courts-Martial United States (2012 Edition) (PDF). Fort Belvoir, Virginia: United States Army Publishing Directorate. pp. IV–16 – IV–17. 
  4. ^ Anderson, Wayne (1989). "Unauthorized Absences". In Winter, Matthew E. The Army Lawyer (Department of the Army Pamphlet 27-50-198) (PDF). Charlottesville, Virginia: The Judge Advocate General's Legal Center & School (JAGS), U.S. Army. p. 3.  
  5. ^ "Vienna to honor deserters from Hitler's army".  
  6. ^ "Vienna to honour Austria's Nazi army deserters".  
  7. ^ a b c "Shot at Dawn". The Heritage of the Great War. Retrieved 22 July 2014. 
  8. ^ Mark R. Hatlie (November 19, 2005). "Memorial to Deserters in Ulm". Sites of Memory. Retrieved 8 February 2010. 
  9. ^ a b "First New Zealand Soldier Executed". New Zealand History Online. Retrieved 22 July 2014. 
  10. ^ "World War One Executions". History Learning Site. Retrieved 22 July 2014. 
  11. ^ Text of Order No. 270
  12. ^ a b Roberts, Geoffrey. Stalin's Wars: From World War to Cold War, 1939–1953. New Haven, CT; London: Yale University Press, 2006, page 132
  13. ^ Patriots ignore greatest brutality. The Sydney Morning Herald. August 13, 2007.
  14. ^ a b Artyom Borovik, The Hidden War, (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 1990), pp. 175-8.
  15. ^ a b c Adbulkader H. Sinno, Organizations at War in Afghanistan and Beyond, (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2008), 157-8.
  16. ^ a b c d e Gregory Feifer, The Great Gamble, (New York: Russ Intellectual Properties, 2009), pp. 97-106.
  17. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Henry S. Bradsher, Afghanistan and the Soviet Union, New and Expanded, (Durnham: Duke University Press, 1983), pp. 206-14.
  18. ^ a b c d Adbulkader H. Sinno, Organizations at War in Afghanistan and Beyond, (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 2008), 186-7.
  19. ^ Hasan M. Kakar, Afghanistan: The Soviet Invasion and the Afghan Response, 1979–1982, (Berkeley: University of California, 1997), 136.
  20. ^ Hasan M. Kakar, Afghanistan: The Soviet Invasion and the Afghan Response, 1979–1982, (Berkeley: University of California, 1997), 175.
  21. ^ "'"UK | Tribute to WWI 'cowards. BBC News. 2001-06-21. Retrieved 2012-12-18. 
  22. ^ "At least 1,000 UK soldiers desert". BBC News. May 28, 2006. Retrieved May 1, 2010. 
  23. ^ J. C. A. Stagg, "Enlisted Men in the United States Army, 1812–1815: A Preliminary Survey", William and Mary Quarterly, 43 (1986), 615–45, esp. pp. 624–25, in JSTOR 1923685.
  24. ^ Douglas Meed, The Mexican War, 1846-1848 (Routledge, 2003), p. 67.
  25. ^ (1988) p 193"The Old Army: A Portrait of the American Army in Peacetime, 1784-1898"see Edward M. Coffman, . 
  26. ^ a b Paul Foos, A Short, Offhand, Killing Affair: Soldiers and Social Conflict during the Mexican-American War (University of North Carolina Press. 2002) p 25, 103-7
  27. ^ a b c "Desertion In The Civil War Armies". Retrieved 2012-12-18. 
  28. ^ a b c "Confederate Desertion". Retrieved 2012-12-18. 
  29. ^ Bearman, P. (1991). Desertion as Localism: Army Unit Solidarity and Group Norms in the U.S. Civil War. Social Forces, 70(2), 321-342. Retrieved from Academic Search Premier Database.
  30. ^ David Williams, Rich Man's War: Caste, Class and Confederate Defeat in the Lower Chattahoochee Valley University of Georgia Press, 1999. ISBN 0-8203-2033-1. pg. 122.
  31. ^ Vietnam War Resisters in Canada Open Arms to U.S. Military Deserters. Pacific News Service. June 28, 2005.
  32. ^ "Vietnam War Resisters, Then and Now". 
  33. ^ "Deserters: We Won't Go To Iraq". CBS News. December 6, 2004. 
  34. ^ a b Nicholas, Bill (March 6, 2006). "8,000 desert during Iraq war".  
  35. ^ "40,000 US Troops Have Deserted Since 2000". 2006-08-05. Retrieved 2012-12-18. 
  36. ^ a b Branum, James M. (2012). US Army AWOL Defense: A Practice Guide and Formbook (PDF). Oklahoma City, OK: Military Law Press.  
  37. ^ Manual for Courts-Martial United States (2012 Edition) (PDF). US Government Printing Office. Retrieved 13 December 2012. 
  38. ^ "Misconduct (including drug and alchohol abuse)". 
  39. ^ "Misconduct (including drug and alchohol abuse)". 
  40. ^
  41. ^
  42. ^
  43. ^ United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (April 22, 1998). """Conscientious objection to military service; Commission on Human Rights resolution 1998/77; see preamble "Aware.... United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. 
  44. ^ "Conscientious objection to military service; E/CN.4/RES/1998/77; See introductory paragraph". UN Commission on Human Rights. April 22, 1998. 
  45. ^ "Conscientious objection to military service, Commission on Human Rights resolution 1998/77, Navigation to document: press "next" four times, see bottom listing, and at the right choose letter for language ("E" for English) Document: CHR 54th 4/22/1998E/CN.4/RES/1998/77". United Nations Human Rights, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. 1998. 
  46. ^ D. CHRISTOPHER DECKER, AND LUCIA FRESA (29 Mar 2001). "THE STATUS OF CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTION UNDER ARTICLE 4 OF THE EUROPEAN CONVENTION ON HUMAN RIGHTS, 33 N.Y.U. J. INT’L L. & POL. 379 (2000); See pages 412-424, (or PDF pages 34-36)" (PDF). New York University School of Law, Issues - Volume 33. 
  47. ^ "Hinzman Decision, Full Text Decision". IMMIGRATION AND REFUGEE BOARD OF CANADA (Refugee Protection Division). March 16, 2005. Retrieved 2009-03-21. 


See also

This opens the possibility of desertion as a response to cases in which the soldier is required to perform crimes against humanity as part of his mandatory military duty. This principle was tested unsuccessfully in the case of U.S. Army deserter Jeremy Hinzman, which resulted in a Canadian federal immigration board rejecting refugee status to a deserter invoking Nuremberg Article IV.[47]

Although a soldier under direct orders, in battle, is normally not subject to prosecution for war crimes, there is legal language supporting a soldier's refusal to commit such crimes, in military contexts outside of immediate peril: In 1998, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights document called "Conscientious objection to military service, United Nations Commission on Human Rights resolution 1998/77" recognized that "persons [already] performing military service may develop conscientious objections" while performing military service.[43][44][45][46]

"The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him."

Under international law, ultimate "duty" or "responsibility" is not necessarily always to a "Government" nor to "a superior," as seen in the fourth of the Nuremberg Principles, which states:

Legal status of desertion in cases of war crime

Any person found guilty of desertion or attempt to desert shall be punished, if the offense is committed in time of war, by death or such other punishment as a court-martial may direct, but if the desertion or attempt to desert occurs at any other time, by such punishment, other than death, as a court-martial may direct.[2]

The 2012 edition of the United States Manual for Courts-Martial states that:

A US service member who is AWOL/UA may be punished with non-judicial punishment (NJP) or by court martial under Article 86 of the UCMJ for repeat or more severe offenses.[1][37] Many AWOL/UA service members are also given a discharge in lieu of court-martial.[36][38][39][40][41][42]

In the United States, before the Civil War, deserters from the Army were flogged; after 1861, tattoos or branding were also used. The maximum U.S. penalty for desertion in wartime remains death, although this punishment was last applied to Eddie Slovik in 1945. No U.S. serviceman has received more than 24 months imprisonment for desertion or missing movement in the post-September 11, 2001 era.[36]


According to the Pentagon, more than 5,500 military personnel deserted in 2003–2004, following the Iraq invasion and occupation.[33] The number had reached about 8,000 by the first quarter of 2006.[34] Another report stated that since 2000, about 40,000 troops from all branches of the military have deserted, also according to the Pentagon. More than half of these served in the US Army.[35] Almost all of these soldiers deserted within the United States. There has only been one reported case of a desertion in Iraq. The Army, Navy, and Air Force reported 7,978 desertions in 2001, compared with 3,456 in 2005. The Marine Corps showed 1,603 Marines in desertion status in 2001. That had declined to 148 by 2005.[34]

Iraq War

Approximately 50,000 American servicemen deserted during the Vietnam War.[31] Some of these migrated to Canada. Among those who deserted to Canada were Andy Barrie, host of Canadian Broadcasting Corporation Radio's Metro Morning, and Jack Todd, award-winning sports columnist for the Montreal Gazette.[32] Other countries also gave asylum to deserted U.S. soldiers. For example, Sweden allows asylum for foreign soldiers deserting from war, if the war does not align with the current goals of Swedish foreign policy.

Vietnam War

Over 20,000 American soldiers were tried and sentenced for desertion during World War Two. 49 were sentenced to death, though 48 of these death sentences were subsequently commuted. Only one US soldier, Private Eddie Slovik, was executed for desertion in World War II.

World War II

In Arkansas, many units deserted completely when rumors spread that local Indians had raided towns and scalped citizens, with the soldiers feeling their place was at home rather than fighting in the war. There were also instances across the southern states where whole units deserted together, banding together and living in the mountains, at times fighting against Union Army regulars if forced to do so, but also raiding civilian farms to obtain food or supplies.[27] Many Confederate units had signed on, initially, for a one-year service, and felt completely justified in walking away when they'd reached their breaking point. By the war's end, it was estimated that the Confederacy had lost 103,400 soldiers to desertion.[28]

One example of desertion in the Civil War was Confederate soldier Arthur Muntz, who was killed by his fellow soldiers after deserting at First Manassas. In many cases, in the early years of the war, the Confederate Home Guard dealt with deserters. For a time, the Confederate government offered a bounty to be paid for the capture and return of deserters. However as the war progressively got worse for the south, often Home Guard units would deal with desertion as they saw fit, whether that be by execution or imprisonment. The lynching of Bill Sketoe, a Methodist minister from Newton, Alabama who had allegedly deserted the Southern army in late 1864, is a case in point, though later historical research has questioned whether he was executed for desertion or for aiding and abetting the enemy.[30]

Adoption of a localist identity caused soldiers to desert as well. When soldiers implemented a local identity, they neglected to think of themselves as Southerners fighting a Southern cause. When they replaced their Southern identity with their previous local identity, they lost their motive to fight and, therefore, deserted the army.[29]

The execution of a deserter in the Federal Camp, Alexandria

The Sherman's march through their home counties triggered the most desertions.

American Civil War

The desertion rate in the U.S. army was 8.3% (9,200 out of 111,000), compared to 12.7% during the War of 1812 and usual peacetime rates of about 14.8% per year.[25] Many men deserted in order to join another U.S. unit and get a second enlistment bonus. Others deserted because of the miserable conditions in camp, or were using the army to get free transportation to California, where they deserted to join the California Gold Rush.[26] Several hundred deserters went over to the Mexican side; nearly all were recent immigrants from Europe with weak ties to the United States. The most famous group was the Saint Patrick's Battalion, about half of whom were Catholics from Ireland. The Mexicans issued broadsides and leaflets enticing U.S. soldiers with promises of money, land grants, and officers' commissions. Mexican guerrillas shadowed the U.S. Army, and captured men who took unauthorized leave or fell out of the ranks. The guerrillas coerced these men to join the Mexican ranks—threatening to kill them if they failed to comply. The generous promises proved illusory for most deserters, who risked execution if captured by U.S. forces. About fifty of the San Patricios were tried and hanged following their capture at Churubusco in August 1847.[26]

In the Mexican–American War, high desertion rates were a major problem for the Mexican army, depleting forces on the eve of battle. Most of the soldiers were peasants who had a loyalty to their village and family but not to the generals who conscripted them. Often hungry and ill, never well paid, under-equipped and only partially trained, the soldiers were held in contempt by their officers and had little reason to fight the Americans. Looking for their opportunity, many slipped away from camp to find their way back to their home village.[24]

Mexican–American War

The desertion rate for American soldiers in the War of 1812 was 12.7%, according to available service records. Desertion was especially common in 1814, when enlistment bonuses were increased from $16 to $124, inducing many men to desert one unit and enlist in another to get two bonuses.[23]

War of 1812

United States

On May 28, 2006, the UK military reported over 1,000 deserters since the beginning of the Iraq war, with 566 still missing since 2005 and that year to date. The Ministry of Defence said that levels of absence were fairly constant and "only one person has been found guilty of deserting the Army since 1989".[22]

Iraq War

"During the period between August 1914 and March 1920 more than 20,000 servicemen were convicted by courts-martial of offences which carried the death sentence. Only 3,000 of those men were ordered to be put to death and of those just over 10% were executed...."[21]

"306 British and Commonwealth soldiers [were] executed for...desertion during World War I," records the Shot at Dawn Memorial. Of these 25 were Canadian, 22 Irishmen and 5 New Zealanders.[7]

Armenian soldiers in 1919, with deserters as prisoners

World War I

United Kingdom

Interviews with Soviet soldier deserters confirm that much of Soviet desertion was in response to widespread Afghan opposition rather than personal aggravation towards the Soviet army. Armed with modern artillery against ill-equipped villagers, Soviet soldiers developed a sense of guilt for the widespread killing of innocent civilians and their unfair artillery advantage. Soviet deserters found support and acceptance within Afghan villages. After entering the mujahideen, many deserters came to recognize the falsity of Soviet propaganda from the beginning. Unable to legitimize the unnecessary killing and mistreatment of the Afghan people, many deserters could not face returning home and justifying their own actions and the unnecessary deaths of comrades. Upon deserting to the mujahideen, soldiers immersed themselves into Afghan culture. Hoping to rectify their position as the enemy, deserters learned the Afghan language and converted to Islam.[14]

Soviet deserters to the Mujahideen

Within the Soviet army, serious drug and alcohol problems significantly reduced the effectiveness of soldiers.[18] Resources became further depleted as soldiers pushed into the mountains; drugs were rampantly abused and available, often supplied by Afghans. Supplies of heating fuel, wood, and food ran low at bases. Soviet soldiers often resorted to trading weapons and ammunition in exchange for drugs or food.[16] As morale decreased and infections of hepatitis and typhus spread, soldiers became further disheartened.

In 1980, the Soviet army began to rely on smaller and more cohesive units, a response to mirror mujahideen tactics. A decrease in unit size, while solving organizational issues, promoted field leaders to head more violent and aggressive missions, promoting Soviet desertion. Often, small forces would engage in rapes, looting, and general violence beyond what higher ranks ordered, increasing negative sanctions in undesirable locations.[18]

The Afghan army, comprising 100,000 men before 1978, was reduced to 15,000 within the first year of the Soviet invasion.[17] Of the Afghan troops that remained, many were considered untrustworthy to Soviet troops.[17] Afghans that deserted often took artillery with them, supplying the mujahideen. Soviet troops, to fill Afghan soldiers’ place, were pushed into mountainous tribal regions of the East. Soviet tanks and modern warfare was ineffective in the rural, mountainous regions of Afghanistan. Mujahideen tactics of ambush prevented Soviets from developing successful counterattacks.[17]

The initial Soviet plan relied on Afghan troops’ support in the mountainous regions of Afghanistan. The majority of the Afghan army support crumbled easily as forces lacked strong ideological support for Communism from the beginning.[20]

[15] The structure of the Soviet army, in comparison to the

Problems in Soviet army structure & living standards

The native Afghan army fell from 90,000 to 30,000 by mid-1980, forcing Soviets into more extreme combative positions. The mujahideen’s widespread presence among Afghan civilians in rural regions made it difficult for Soviet soldiers to distinguish between the civilians they believed they were fighting for and the official opposition. Soldiers that had entered the war with idealistic viewpoints of their roles were quickly disillusioned.[16]

In major cities, Afghan youth that originally supported the leftist movement soon turned to Soviet oppositional forces for patriotic and religious reasons.[17] The opposition built resistance in cities, calling Soviet soldiers infidels that were forcing an imperialist Communist invasive government on Afghanistan’s people.[17] As Afghan troops continued to abandon the Soviet army to support the mujahideen, they became anti-Russian and antigovernment.[19] Opposition forces emphasized the Soviets’ atheism, demanding support for the Muslim faith from civilians.[17] The hostility shown towards soldiers, who entered the war believing their assistance was requested, grew defensive. The opposition circulated pamphlets within Soviet camps stationed in cities, calling for Afghan freedom from the aggressive Communist influence and a right to establish their own government.[17]

Soviet soldiers entered the war under the impression that their roles were primarily related to organization of Afghan forces and society. Soviet media portrayed the Soviet intervention as a necessary means of protecting the Communist uprising from outside opposition.[17] Propaganda declared that Soviets were providing aid to villagers and improving Afghanistan by planting trees, improving public buildings and “generally acting as good neighbors”.[17] Upon entering Afghanistan, Soviet soldiers became immediately aware of the falsity of the reported situation.

Soviet disillusionment upon entering the war

As Afghan soldiers continued to desert the Soviet army, a united Islamic Alliance for the Liberation of Afghanistan began to form. Moderates and fundamentalists banded together to oppose Soviet intervention. The Islamic ideology solidified a strong base of opposition by January 1980, overriding ethnic, tribal, geographic and economic differences among Afghans willing to fight the Soviet invasion, which attracted Central Asian deserters.[16] By March 1980, the Soviet army made an executive decision to replace Central Asian troops with the European sectors of the USSR to avoid further religious and ethnic complications, drastically reducing Soviet forces.[18]

Upon entering Afghanistan, many Central Asians were exposed to a Koran for the first time uninfluenced by Soviet propagandist versions, and felt a stronger connection towards the opposition than their own comrades.[17] Highest rates of desertion were found among Border Troops, ranging from 60-80% during the first year of the Soviet invasion.[18] In these areas, strong ethnic clashes and cultural factors influenced desertion.

The personal histories of Central Asian ethnic groups – especially between Pashtuns, Uzbeks, and Tajiks, caused tension within the Soviet military. Non-Russian ethnic groups easily related the situation in Afghanistan to Communist takeover of their own states’ forced induction into the USSR.[17] Ethnic Russians suspected Central Asians of opposition, and fighting within the army was prevalent.[16]

In the beginning of the Soviet invasion, the majority of Soviet forces were soldiers of Central Asian republics.[15] The Soviets believed that shared ideologies between Muslim Central Asians and Afghan soldiers would build trust and morale within the army. However, Central Asians’ longstanding historical frustrations with Moscow degraded soldiers’ willingness to fight for the Red Army. As Afghan desertion grew and Soviet opposition was strengthened within Afghanistan, the Soviet plan overtly backfired.[16]

Inter-ethnic explanation for desertion

[15] Analyses of desertion rates argue that motivations were far less ideological than individual accounts claim. Desertion rates increased prior to announcements of upcoming operations, and were highest during the summer and winter. Seasonal desertions were probably a response to the harsh weather conditions of the winter and immense field work required in the summer. A significant jump in desertion in 1989 when the Soviets withdrew from Afghanistan may suggest a higher concern regarding returning home, rather than an overall opposition towards the war itself.[14]

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