Terrain Analysis of Afghanistan provides an in-depth synopsis of essential geographic information for the entire country, utilizing the terrain analysis reports found on the verso side of the 1:200,000 scale Soviet military-topographic map series. Each report, 128 in all, analyses the terrain and relevant geography of a specific portion of Afghanistan. The reports themselves are structured into six parts, describing populated places; local roads and transportation networks; topography and soils; hydrology; vegetation, and climate. Following this description for each area is a small-scale overview topographic map of the region under examination, as well as a soil map.
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By Robert Lee Hadden, Army Geospatial Center, Alexandra, VA, published in The Globe, Number 69, 2011, pp. 56-57.
This is a thorough review of the terrain of Afghanistan, based on the 128 Soviet-produced 1:200 000 topographic maps that cover the country, and which formed part of a world series of over 18 000 sheets covering 80% of the earth’s land surface. The 1:200 000 sheets for Afghanistan were derived from a 1:100 000 scale series which was itself derived from 1:50 000 maps made by the Soviet military between 1984 and 1986. The verso of most sheets in the 1:200 000 series gave a Russian-language description of the sheet’s terrain under six headings (populated places, roads, topography and soils, hydrology, vegetation and climate) along with a small black and white soil map. The book translates this textual information for the Afghanistan sheets, although it updates population figures wherever possible.
As an example of the type of coverage that is given in this book, the entry for map sheet I-44-XX (Ulusvali-Ajrestan) is given over three pages (pp.224-226). This entry demonstrates how the terrain is analyzed for practical use such as transportation, and for general military or commercial operations. The terrain analysis covers the first two pages of the entry. This is followed by a colour page featuring an overview topographic map of the area, and a colour rendition of the original black and white soil map from the verso of the sheet. This particular sheet is of a mountainous area near the eastern end of the country, and about half way between the northern and southern borders. Under the populated places heading, this entry notes that the houses are usually one storey high and are made of wattle-and-daub or stone. The populated places in the Ajrestan River Valley are scattered, most towns have fewer than 100 people, but a few have 500 to 1000. There is some telephone service along the valley itself. In the summer, yurts and tents can be found in temporary locations, with livestock pens nearby. Along the valley slopes, fortresses, forts and various types of strongholds are common.
The short entry on transportation and trafficability mentions that the subtropical alpine climate of this section makes transportation for vehicles other than by road impossible, and that the dirt roads are in clayey and loamy soils. These roads are difficult for wheeled vehicles to use in the rain. Near the Oba and Gargara passes, roads have sharp turns, and the area is crisscrossed with packanimal trails. From November or December to March and sometimes into May, the passes and their approaches are snowbound and all traffic ceases.
As to the hydrology, this entry says that water in this area is supplied from rivers, springs and wells, and that sanitation is unsatisfactory in nearly all populated places. Highest river levels in the spring are usually between 1-3 metres above low water, and a shallow, intermittent lake forms on the bottom of the Dasht-e Navar Basin. In the summer and early autumn many of the rivers dry up and silt up, and the basin becomes a largely impassable or difficult swampy area of up to 48 km². With regard to climate, winds are usually north-easterly, can blow up to storm force on the crests of ranges, and are characterized as mountain-valley winds. These winds blow up the valleys and mountainsides in the day, and then back down at night. In the alpine zone, the air is rarefied and can cause altitude sickness.
At the back of the book are seven fold-out indices for Russian and American map series of the country at various scales. There is also an adequate index of geographic names.
The cost of the book is high at US$195.00. The Russian maps that this book uses as a base are all over 25 years old, and there is also some question of their accuracy. The added information on each map sheet is also over eight years old, and there have been some major changes in roads and trafficability since the US occupation. However, the data found in this volume are both unique and valuable, and can be found in no other single volume. Much of this open source material is otherwise available only in Russian language publications, and even those original maps and documents are hard to find and expensive to acquire. For any enterprise interested in transportation, water, geography or climate in Afghanistan, this information is irreplaceable, and is well worth the price.
All in all, this is an excellent reference on the country’s terrain, and a highly recommended one for anyone going there or doing business in the country. It is hoped that the East View Cartographic’s idea to produce similar volumes for other countries will be followed up.