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Sunday, November 26, 2006

The damn hardest thing in the world to do 


The Washington Post's Larry Kahaner published an excellent article this morning about the ultimate weapon of mass destruction, the Automatic Kalashnikov Model 1947, including the history of its invention, its revelation as more effective than any comparable Western small arms in the jungles of Indochina, and its transformation into a symbol of "anti-imperialism." Here's the short bit about its application in Iraq:

Although coalition bombing in 1991 destroyed much of Iraq's air force, Scud missiles and tanks, Saddam Hussein's regime retained its small weapons, including AKs. By March 2003, when Operation Iraqi Freedom began, Iraqi arsenals included seven to eight million small arms. These weapons -- which U.S. planners did not consider a major threat when the invasion began -- would prove deadly for American troops once major hostilities ended. During the chaos that followed the swift victory, millions of small weapons (mainly AKs) were looted from Hussein's armories. They landed in the hands of nervous law-abiding citizens, but also in the hands of Baathist loyalists and other opponents of the U.S. occupation who used them to start a protracted urban war.

In Iraq, the AK had taken on symbolic power, too. Hussein had been so enamored with the weapon that he had built a Baghdad mosque sporting minarets in the unique shape of AK barrels. His son Uday commissioned gold-plated AKs. And when Hussein was captured, two AKs were found in his underground hideout.

Even the newly forming Iraqi army -- trained by the U.S. military and civilian contractors -- refused American-made M-16s and M-4s. When the Coalition Provisional Authority was planning to outfit Iraqi forces, they were surprised to find that the Iraqis insisted on AKs.

"For better or worse, the AK-47 is the weapon of choice in that part of the world," said Walter Slocombe, senior adviser to the CPA. "It turns out that every Iraqi male above the age of 12 can take them apart and put them together blindfolded and is a pretty good shot."

The AK-47 is so cheap, so durable, and so potent that it has sustained insurgencies throughout the world for more than forty years (since the Soviets released it for wider production). It has empowered untrained soldiers to resist the full might of American and, indeed, Soviet firepower:
In Iraq, Sierra Leone, Sudan and elsewhere, today's wars are hot conflicts in urban areas, with guerrillas holding their own against better trained troops. Sophisticated, expensive arms seem no match for AK-wielding rebels who need little training and know the local terrain better. Some call this the new reality of small conflicts.

This sentiment was expressed by Maj. Gen. William J. Livsey Jr. the commandant of Fort Benning, Ga., in the early 1980s, when the military was first integrating computer chips into smart weapons. "Despite all the sophisticated weapons we or the Soviets come up with," he warned, "you still have to get that one lone infantryman, with his rifle, off his piece of land. It's the damn hardest thing in the world to do."

Read the whole thing.

8 Comments:

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sun Nov 26, 02:58:00 PM:

Not really. The AK-47 does not IMHO allow untrained rabble defeat Western Armies. It's reliable and easy to use, but not a magic sword.

It failed to hold Kuwait for Saddam, or stop Schwarzkopf. It failed to overthrow Algeria's army for the jihadists. It failed to hold Cambodia for Pol Pot against Vietnam. The AK-47 failed against the well-trained and highly motivated Paul Kagame and the RPF responding to the Hutu genocide of the Tutsis.

Modern western armies with artillery, close air support, bombers, and tanks in combined arms can absent political considerations go anywhere they want and kill anyone they want. Nuclear weapons only enhance this. You can have all the AK-47s you want, if the city you live in vanishes in a nuclear blast you simply end.

Moreover the article contains factual flaws: the M-16 Black Rifle has a serious design flaw, namely direct gas blowback on the firing pin, which requires frequent cleaning to function. The AK-47 is not very accurate and has lesser range to say, the M-14 with it's powerful 7.62 NATO cartridge. The Barrett 50 suggests that Western nations are using stand-off power to hit accurately at great ranges enemies. Useless in an alley but deadly on the plains of Iraq. Or any other place where the ability to hit the enemy while he can't hit you is paramount (basically anything other than jungle or house-to-house fighting).

Isrealis are developing the "flying killer robots" which are small in size to kill people in alleys rather than engage in street fights.

Suggesting a fundamental difference between western and non-western fighters:

Western fighters do everything they can to increase their lethality and amplify their killing range, moving away from spray and pray to tightly focused massive rounds or other stand-off weapons that defeat cover and/or concealment.

Eastern fighters sacrifice lives for mass-wave style attacks or attrition warfare. They have lots of disposable people they'll sacrifice to kill their enemy.

If you look at the Plains Indians, the Zulus versus the Brits, the Maoris versus the English, etc. this tactic can often fail when WEstern political will is strong.  

By Anonymous BIRD OF PARIDISE, at Sun Nov 26, 03:07:00 PM:

The AK-47 is not the worlds most deadly weapon the realy deadly weapon is the goverments of various tyranical nations and big time tyrants like FIDEL CASTRO  

By Blogger GreenmanTim, at Sun Nov 26, 07:48:00 PM:

"Whatever happens, we have got, the Maxim gun, and they have not" -Hilaire Belloc  

By Anonymous doctorpat, at Sun Nov 26, 07:57:00 PM:

7 Million AK47s in Iraq.

Is there a bounty out on them? Is there a reward of say $500 or $1000 for every rifle handed in and destroyed? If not, why not?

$1000 is a lot for a hungy arab. For 7 billion dollars you could disarm the entire country.

Well maybe not, because this will just result in a flood of rifles from all the surrounding countries. And wouldn't that be a good thing too? Drain the entire middle east/africa/south Asia region of AKs, because as long as they are cheap and common, they are a long term threat to American troops.

You just have to make sure the price you pay isn't high enough to promote the manufacture of more.

An alternative would be to tackle the ammunition rather than the gun. I suspect that the ammuntion needs more industrial capacity, nobody is making ammuntion in their desert tent with a set of files and a drill press.

Add RPGs to the list.  

By Anonymous davod, at Mon Nov 27, 05:20:00 AM:

I would like to see in writing that the Iraqis declined the M16 in favor of the AK47. I would suggest it is more likely the Coalition is providing the AK47 because it is cheaper.  

By Blogger Papa Ray, at Mon Nov 27, 04:08:00 PM:

I have opinions on this. They are not hear-say or from something I have read.

But from personal experience with both the M-16, M14 and the AK47 (I have not shot the AK74).

The original M16s had problems because of mfg defects and because they didn't chrome the chambers (nor the barrels, but that only makes the barrel not last as long).

Also, the original ammo was changed slightly which made jamming less frequently. But that took way longer than it should have.

Also, the troops didn't like them because they wouldn't shoot through anything. Even firing into dense brush would deflect the puny 5.56 rounds.

Yes, they are lighter, the ammo is lighter and you can carry more.

Yes, its accurate, but only as good as the person firing it and in the heat of combat, even expert shooters don't fire that well.

Whereas the old AK47 is a heavy solid Weapon, you can beat someone to death with it. It's ammo is also heavy and takes up more room.

It is accurate enough under a hundred yards, where most of combat firing takes place.

One bud of mine said that teaching the Iraqis they could kill more by firing single or two three round bursts was the hardest thing to do. They have always just held the trigger down until the mag was empty.

In urban house to house, it is the weapon to have. It will shoot through the walls, ceilings and floors (unless they are concrete). It's short, easy to handle and reload. It hardly ever malfunctions and if you clean it once a week or so, your good to go.

With aftermarket sights I can shoot the shit out of targets at 200 yards with an AK.

All Day Long.

I have not fired the newer M4 or varients.

The russians make a long barrel varient of the AK, I hear it is a fair sniper rifle. I don't know its designation.

There are millions upon millions of AKs on this planet. The russians and chinese sold millions alone to N. Viet Nam.

One guy I talked to that has one rotate in Iraq said that the AK is as common there as cell phones are here in the states.

Some families have six or more.

Almost every east block country and china makes ammo for the AK. I buy from russian mfgs all the time.

Just my observations.

Papa Ray
West Texas
USA  

By Anonymous Darkmage, at Wed Nov 29, 01:26:00 AM:

DoctorPat,

If a middle east country, say... Iran, can make an AK47 for $150 and sell it to the insurgency for $250 who then participate in a buyback program where they collect "$500 or $1000"...

Do you really think you're going to make any progress at disarming the middle east?

People will always obtain weapons. Hell, we can't even keep weapons out of prisons. What makes you think we can keep them out of a country?  

By Anonymous doctorpat, at Mon Dec 04, 08:18:00 PM:

$150? That ruins that idea.  

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