The Battle for Hill 3234 was a successful defensive battle fought by the 345th Independent Guards Airborne Regiment, Soviet Airborne Troops, in Afghanistan against a force of 200 to 250 Mujahideen rebels in January 1988. Two of the soldiers killed, Vyacheslav Alexandrovich Alexandrov and Andrey Alexandrovich Melnikov, were posthumously awarded the Gold Star of the Hero of the Soviet Union. All of the paratroopers in this battle were given the Order of the Red Banner and Order of the Red Star.
The battle was dramatized in the 2005 movie The 9th Company.
In November 1987, the Soviet 40th Army under General Boris Gromov began Operation Magistral to open the road from Gardez to Khost near the Pakistani border. Khost had been cut off for months by mujahideen led by Jalaluddin Haqqani and had to be resupplied by air. Negotiations were undertaken with the local Jadran tribe as well as with Haqqani. These talks did not succeed, mostly due to the unshakable resolution of Haqqani who wanted to control the city as the core of his independent Afghan state and as a base for future incursions deeper into the country. Before the operation, there was also a widespread propaganda campaign, with a special radio station set up, calling on the Jadran people to cease supporting the mujahideen and leave the combat areas.
Even during the negotiations, a detailed operation plan was formed and the required forces put on alert. After talks finally collapsed, the offensive was set in motion. The operation involved the 108th and 201st Motor Rifle Divisions and the following paratroopers: 103rd Guards Airborne Division (345th Regiment) and 56th Brigade. They were supported by five infantry divisions and a tank division of the Afghan government. Prior intelligence and aerial reconnaissance had identified a number of important fortified rebel held sites on the road between Kabul and Khost. Fortifications included a minefield with mines about 3 km deep, 10 BM-21 rocket launchers, numerous anti-aircraft guns and DShK heavy machine gun positions, recoilless guns, mortars and RPGs. The rebels were well prepared for defense and made the main pass and the surrounding hills impenetrable. The Soviet command was aware that a direct attack would be suicidal and therefore decided to trick the rebels into revealing their positions. On October 28, 1987, a fake landing was made in the areas controlled by the mujahideen, throwing dressed up mannequins from the air. Thanks to this, a reconnaissance aircraft was able to transmit the coordinates of rebel positions to the air force and after several air strikes and a four-hour-long artillery barrage, Operation Magistral began.
As the operation went on, Soviet commanders wanted to secure the entire section of the road from Gardez to Khost. One of the most important points was the nameless hill designated by its height of 3234m, which was assigned to the 9th company of the 345th Independent Guards Airborne Regiment led by Colonel Valery Vostrotin. The 39 man company landed on the hilltop on January 7, 1988, tasked with creating and holding a hilltop strong point from which to observe and control a long section of the road beneath and thus secure it for the safe passage of convoys.
Shortly after landing, the airborne troopers, who were well trained and experienced in Afghan conditions, started to take up positions which covered both the road and the uphill passages. Just as they had dug in, the mujahideen began their attack at 1530 hrs. First they fired with all possible weapons including recoilless guns and RPG. After a few salvos, Soviet artillery replied and silenced some of the Mujahideen's guns, with the commander of the first platoon, Lt. Viktor Gagarin, directing fire via a radio. When rebel fire slackened, it was clear that this was the beginning of an infantry assault.
The airborne troopers were attacked by a coordinated and well-armed force of between 200 and 250 mujahideen. Attacks were made from two directions, indicating that the assailants may have been assisted by rebels trained in Pakistan. During the ensuing battle, the Soviet unit was in constant communication with headquarters and received everything the leadership of 40th Army had to offer in terms of artillery support, ammunition, reinforcements, and helicopter evacuation of the wounded.
The first attack at 1530 on January 7 was followed by eleven more attacks until just before dawn on January 8, when the mujahideen retreated after suffering severe casualties leaving Hill 3234 in the hands of the Soviet paratroopers. The exhausted and mostly wounded Soviets were nearly out of ammunition but continued to occupy the hill until the last convoy passed through the road below.
The Soviet forces sustained very low losses given the situation, with 6 men out of 39 killed. However, the vast majority of the unit became casualties, with 28 of the remaining 33 being injured. Two of the soldiers killed, Vyacheslav Alexandrovich Alexandrov and Andrey Alexandrovich Melnikov, were posthumously awarded the golden star of the Hero of the Soviet Union. All of the paratroopers in this battle were given the Order of the Red Banner and Order of the Red Star.
According to the Soviet estimates, the Mujahideen lost over 200 men. The Mujahideen wore black uniforms with rectangular black-yellow-red stripes. It was claimed by several sources that the mujahideen were actually members of the commando unit of the Pakistan Army.
The 2005 Russian/Finnish/Ukrainian movie The 9th Company was loosely based on this incident. In 2008, the Russian "documentary video game" The Truth About 9th Company was also released.
The 2016 album The Last Stand of the Swedish power metal band Sabaton includes a song titled Hill 3234, which tells the story of the battle.