Saturday, May 29, 2010

Praxis: The "AK-47 Disease" in Afghanistan.

Afghan with Enfield rifle, 1985.

From last month at

No Known Cure For The AK-47 Disease

April 12, 2010: American and NATO trainers are frustrated at their inability to train Afghans to shoot accurately. The Afghan soldiers and police, despite the constant example of superior marksmanship on the part of foreign troops, persist in pointing their weapons, instead of aiming them. Meanwhile, Afghan traditionalists are trying to change the way the Taliban fight. This can be seen by the increase in the use of sniping by the Taliban. In the two years, NATO units in southern Afghanistan estimate there has been a sharp (over 30 percent) percent increase in sniping incidents. This is not seen as a major danger. NATO troops wear protective bests and helmets that can stop bullets fired at long range, making it very frustrating for the Taliban shooters trying to hit a distant target in a vulnerable spot. And there was not a lot of sniping by the Taliban to begin with.

This shift in tactics is largely a reaction to the better training, and weapons, of U.S. and NATO infantry. Afghans, and especially the Taliban, consider themselves great warriors. But they are getting tired of being defeated every time they get into a firefight with the foreign troops. Worse yet, if the Taliban stay put during a fight, the damned foreigners bring in a warplane that drops a smart bomb or two, bringing an inglorious (for the Taliban) end to the action.

Then some of the young guys remembered grandpa decrying the decline in marksmanship years ago. Back before the Russians showed up, in the 1980s, the best an Afghan could hope to have was a World War II, or World War I, era bolt action rifle. These weapons were eclipsed in the 1980s by full automatic AK-47s and the RPG rocket launcher. The young guys took to the AK, and the thrill of emptying a 30 round magazine on full automatic. Not bad for a brief firefight, and suddenly hardly anyone, except a few old timers, wanted to use the old bolt action rifle, or learn how to hit anything with single shots.

What was not noticed much outside of Afghanistan, was that this shift in weaponry brought to an end a long Afghan tradition of precision, long range shooting. Before the 1980s, this skill was treasured for both hunting and warfare. When doing neither, Afghan men played games centered on marksmanship. One, for example, involved a group of men chipping in and buying a goat. The animal was then tethered to a rock, often on a hill, and then the half dozen or so men moved several hundred meters away and drew lots to see who would fire in what order. The first man to drop the goat, won it. Since Afghanistan was the poorest nation in Asia, ammo was expensive, and older men taught the young boys all the proper moves needed to get that first shot off accurately.

During the 1980s, Saudi Arabia spent billions of dollars to arm Afghans with all the AK-47s and ammo they could use, and they used lots of it. But rarely for target practice. Compared to bolt-action rifles like the British Lee-Enfield, the AK-47 was less accurate when one shot at a time was fired. The old timers, or a few young traditionalists, kept their Lee-Enfields, and made themselves useful picking off Russian soldiers at long distances, on those rare occasions where that was needed. A few Afghans noted that the AK-47, fired one shot at a time, was pretty accurate out to about 300 meters. But the Russians had more firepower, and it was rarely prudent to stay too close to them for too long. So "spray and pray" (going full automatic all the time) became the new Afghan warrior tradition.

The Lee-Enfield is one of the oldest, and still widely used, rifles on the planet. Over 17 million were manufactured between 1895 and the 1980s. While there are more AK-47s out there (over 20 million in private hands), these are looked down on by those who use their rifles for hunting, or killing with a minimum expenditure of ammunition. The 8.8 pound Lee-Enfield is a bolt-action rifle (with a ten round magazine) noted for its accuracy and sturdiness. The inaccurate AK-47 has a hard time matching bolt action accuracy more than a hundred meters out. Meanwhile, the Lee-Enfield can drop an animal, or a man, at over 400 meters, on the first shot.

There are millions of Lee-Enfields still in use throughout India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and even Iraq and other Persian Gulf nations. These are largely World War II leftovers. In the early half of the 20th century, the British gave out millions of these weapons to allies, or those being courted. Noting the accuracy of the Lee-Enfield (.303 caliber, or 7.7mm), the locals came to prize the rifle for hunting, and self-defense. There are still many gunsmiths throughout the region (and at least one factory in India) that will refurbish century old Lee-Enfields to "like new" condition. Ammunition is still manufactured, with the high quality stuff going for a dollar a round, and lesser quality for 25 cents a round. These rifles sell in the west for $500-1,000. The Lee-Enfield will carry on well into the 21st century.

One place where the Lee-Enfield found lots of fans was Afghanistan. There, the Afghans had been introduced to rifles in the 19th century, and they treasured these weapons. This was particularly true after the introduction of smokeless powder rifles in the late 19th century. Many Afghans were still using black powder rifles well into the 20th century. But once Lee-Enfields began show up in large numbers after World War I (1914-18), no one wanted the larger, heavier and less accurate black powder rifles (which always gave off your position, with all that smoke, after you fired a round.) Now, wealthy drug lords are buying expensive hunting and sniper rifles for their militias, but so far, the Taliban Snipers appear to be using grandpa's old Lee-Enfield.

NATO trainers get nowhere by mentioning the old Afghan warrior tradition of sharpshooting. The lack of discipline, and literacy, among so many Afghan recruits leaves less time for weapons training anyway. Meanwhile, the allure of "spray and pray" is too strong for a generation that has access to automatic weapons, and all the ammo they can carry.


Texas Cigar said...

Damn good article! Keep it up.

Anonymous said...

I don't recall my old Lee-Enfield being such a wonderful rifle, although the price was right. I paid $12 for mine in "good condition", while those in excellent condition went for $17. Mail order from an ad in Sports Afield, of course.

In the 1950's, all we could get was 215 grain ammo from dubious sources. As I recall, out to 200 yards, you could drive nails, but at 300, it was challenge to hit the barn door. Those bullets had the ballistic curve of a brick.

Taylor H said...

Wow, I never would have guessed!

Respectabiggle said...

As Jeff Cooper said, "May your enemies always be set on full auto."

Dakota said...

I wish I had bought one years ago when they were cheap and ammo plentiful. I have seen the "jungle carbines" rebarelled to 30 06 at the shows.... but to spendy for me.

303 seems to be harder to get than 30 carbine these days, unless you want to buy commercial which is too high also

Rhodes said...

The newer AK pattern rifles with higher precision chrome bores can offer sub 4MOA performance in the hands of a trained marksman in Semi-auto fire. The 22cal AKs can yield even better accuracy but suffer the same issues all 22cal does, lack of penetration of cover compared to 30cal. Yes this give you about 300m of effective range but that isn't bad at all considering the thing malfs once in a blue moon.

FA has been more of a curse than blessing for AKs and Stoner rifles since day one. Give be a good 308 in semi any day.

jjet said...

Why do our "best and brightest" insist on training the next generation people we'll have to fight/end up fighting?

IIRC, we created and trained the Taliban?

Don't get me started on Slick Willy selling submarine technology to the Chicoms....

Anonymous said...

The L.E. is not the tack driver that an '03 Sprgfld is, but, still does a wonderful job and holds 10 rds to boot. I own 5 of these great guns, No.1's and No.4's, from new to junk (Pakistani rebuild) and would never feel undergunned if this was all I had.
Ammo quality varies too, the Paki POF barely going off when you pull the trigger. Old cordite RG 51 does the same, kind of a hangfire like shooting a slow flintlock. I'm sure the Afghans have very poor ammo and maintenance, leading people to think these are junk.
However, a good clean well oiled L.E. with new ammo will give any enemy something to worry about. They served the Brits well through several wars.
Look how our own marksmanship changed when we switched weapons, every generation complained how it got worse with the newer M-1 vs. the '03. Then the old salts bitched about the M-14 not being as good as the M-1, and then I bitched about the M-14 vs. the M-16. When you have a smaller magazine and less ammo, you have a tendency to pick your shots a little more carefully, leading to better marksmanship. (If you were taught how to shoot in the first place) At this point in time, we Americans should be extremely grateful these Afghans like the spray and pray method.
And we are also comparing apples to oranges here, the AK was designed as a close-in weapon, whereas the L.E. was deadly past 600 yds.
Semper Fi, 0321

Anonymous said...

Alright, Mike, I'm sold on it. I want one.

Diesel said...

I have a 1953 manufacture No 4 Mk II* purchased in California in the 90s. Was nearly brand new, never issued only proof fired, wrapped in cosmoline. I still have some ammo for it, some Greek surplus and a box of JSPs.

cj428 said...

Does anyone have any info on U.S. signing semi-auto weapons ban with U.N. ?

Mattexian said...

I'll count myself a lucky bastid, to have gotten a Swedish Mauser nearly twenty years ago, for the price that Mosin-Nagants are going for now!

Anonymous said...

I wonder if an Afghan Appleseed is needed?

Ah the good old days:
A scrimmage in a Border Station--
A canter down some dark defile--
Two thousand pounds of education
Drops to a ten-rupee jezail--

Kipling Arithmetic on the Frontier.

Dennis308 said...

To any one who has never been in the military and MOST that have I would very highly recommend attending a riflemans course at the Appleseed Project sponsored by the Revolutionary War Veterans Association.If you can make Rifleman at Appleseed you would qualify as Expert in any of services.They are very good at what they do and YOU WILL IMPROVE YOUR SKILLS.
In the days to come we will find that ammo will be hard to find so a attitude of one shot one kill and the skill to do that will come in very handy.
Oh and case your wondering a Appleseed Rifleman has to score 210 pts. with the best score possible of 250 pts.


Anonymous said...

Civilian firearms instructors are frustrated at their inability to American police to shoot accurately. The American police, despite the constant example of superior marksmanship on the part of civilian shooters, persist in pointing their weapons, instead of aiming them.

Anyone who has shot with police shooters comes away with two clear and obvious impressions: One, these are the biggest charley foxtrots on the range, and two - when a cop clears leather - stay behind them.

American police make the Afghans look like Jerry Miculek.

There is nothing to fear from a cop's firearm - unless you are an innocent bystander.

J. Croft said...


Americans will have similar problems during the upcoming SAR-though it will be a matter of delusion and false pride as much as watching too many Hollywood gunfights...

If you find a .308 Ishapore that would work. It's also possible to either get a .308 barrel and .308 extractor or rechamber for 7.62x54 Russian-though your rear sight calibrations will be off significantly.

Off topic but vital: I hope Mr. Vanderboegh has a contingency plan in case a hurricane comes through the now oily Gulf of Mexico. Need to read:

Anonymous said...

Actual marksmanship has gone out of style. Check out this video from years ago and compare it to today.

Anonymous said...

The Mosin-Magant is an excellent rifle and the ammo is dirt cheap and plentiful, and it will reach out to 400 yards and better with good accuracy.

Anonymous said...

For anyone interested:

Scan through the page.

Cai NO 1 MKIII ENFIELD .303 BRIT Bolt $200.00

Enfield 303 NO 4 MK 1 .303 BRITISH Bolt $400.00

So. Calif.

Allen said...

I have an ishapore enfield in 7.62 NATO I purchased from Jay Simkin (formerly of the JPFO) many years ago when they were $100.

it's a decent rifle, but it could stand some polishing. I plan to turn it into a "trunk gun" by having a gunsmith chop the barrel down to about 18" or so. put that and a bandolier of ammo on stripper clips in the trunk and you're good to go. it's not an M1A but it'll do in a pinch.

thedweeze said...

Sorry I'm a bit late to the party; I was reading some SHTF fiction over at arfcom.

Here's my blogsite:

I *do* have a couple of Mausers (since I was able to snag a bunch of that excellent M75 sniper-grade 8mm Mauser at $.34/round; it seemed silly not to), but my weapon of choice is the No4 Rifle.

First: the rifle itself. Many Enfields were rearsenaled after WW2. Now, the Brits, aside from being one of our best friends in the world, simply cannot speak English, and their term for 'rearsenal' is Factory Thorough Repair, or FTR. Also, because WW2 bankrupted them, they closed all the other Royal Ordnance Factories except Enfield itself (for weapons development) and Fazackerly.

Therefore, the No4 Rifle you should consider will be electropenciled FTR ROF(F) on the non-bolt side of the receiver. The first few years after the war, they refurbished both No4 MkI and No4 MkI* rifles. As of May 1949, the Mk2 was introduced (they switched from Roman to Arabic Mark numbers in 1944). It differs from the earlier Marks by having the trigger attached to the buttsocket rather than the earlier attachment to the triggerguard. The postwar No4s come in three flavors: the upgraded No4 MkI became No4 Mk1/2, the Savage and Long Branch No4 MkI* became No4 Mk1/3, and the rifles built new are marked No4 Mk2.
Another way to determine that you're looking at a refurbished rifle is to look at the parts that get the most wear: the trigger, sear, cocking piece, and barrel. They will be stamped with an 'F' and a two digit date code. My Mk2 from May of 1950 has all its' parts stamped with 'F50'. My No4 Mk1/3 has an F52 stamped barrel and F54 stamped internals. Both of these rifles are essentially brand new. Many of these rifles were immediately surplussed and sporterized by Parker-Hale: the barrel will be shortened just aft of the foresight lugs, recrowned and a Parker-Hale stamped ramp foresight that accepts issue front sight blades was sweated on. It also includes a groove to accept a hood.

(End of first comment. Part 2 will concern ammunition)

thedweeze said...

Part2: Ammunition

Most of the good quality milsurp ammo was shot off years ago, so there are limited choices nowadays.
1)Commercial ammo. It's a buck a pop or better.
2)Greek HXP. This is the gold standard of milsurp .303, and it, too is expensive, because all us Enfield addicts know this, and will cheerfully bid the price into the stratosphere. Boxer primed and reloadable. Mostly 70's headstamps.
3) South African. This is as good as the HXP, but is Berdan primed.
4)Yugoslavian. The Yugos make surprisingly good ammo, but is not often found.
5) Reloading. This is probably what you're going to have to do. The two best choices for .303 brass are Remington and Prvi Partizan. Nosler and Lapua are also very good, but quite expensive. Avoid Winchester, Federal, and S&B, as they are thinner and will tend to separate after only a few reloadings.

Sierra 174 grain MatchKings are the gold standard here.
Speer 150 grain spirepoints have a ballistic coefficient of .411 and are also quite good.
Another good choice are the bullets pulled from 7.62x54R 7N1 Combloc ammo. They are mild steel core, weight 147 grains, and because steel is less dense than lead, weigh less yet are the same overall length as the 174 grain MkVII bullets, which means you don't have to adjust your seating die.

We used M2 ball in the .30-'06, the MkVII is the standard for the Enfield. Here ie my MkVII equivalent load:
Remington case 2.200"
CCI#34 primer
42.0 grains of Reloader15
174 grain Sierra MatchKing.
Ignore the listed COAL: Make the bullets as long as you can but will still feed through the magazine.

Since my No4 Mk1/3 has the shortened barrel, I am currently researching a separate load using Prvi Partizan brass, .311 7N1 147 grain FMJBT and Hodgdon BL-C(2) powder using CCI#200 primers to reduce the muzzle flash.

l said...

This article coincides with another article I read about US troops out gunned to 300M in Afghanistan.

They are having more numerous F-Fights @300+.

Maybe its time to bring back the tried and true Garand and M14.

Different theater of operation different weapon. Spec-ops ++

Not for everyone just the SDM maybe?

Anonymous said...

Some of us in the unorganized militia already have the M1 Garand and the M1A; also the '03 and 03-A3.

Too bad about the boys in the sand pile; but they'll be back in the unorganized militia someday; break out their real rifle.

Semper Fi
Mountain Rifleman

Dave_H said...

The spray and pray aspect was part of a host of factors why the folks over there don't tend to shoot well. I recall a recent article that went in to detail about it. Old corroded ammo, worn out rifles, uncorrected vison problem among the population, not to mention insufficient training start with.
On the other hand our former Soviet adversaries had mandatory rifle training for schoolboys. By age 16 or so every one of their future conscripts had been familiarized with an AK.
When they were giving away AK's like snickers on halloween, they apparently neglected to send some folks along with the guns to show the recipients how to use them properly. Good for us.
I forget who said this but I appreciated the sentiment. The AK will do what you ask, but you have to ask it in russian.

Happy D said...

A straight forward conversion to a common hunting round and the old Enfield could punch through that personal armor.

Afghan Gunsmiths are among the best in the world.

So I will not go into the details. The ones I know are big internet users. So I assume Taliban supporters are as well.

Anonymous said...

I used to go to Woolco, with my grandfather in the day buy two or three at a time and we shot them to death,we shot well into adulthood, I shot many a deer, and a few feral hogs,russian boar,these were taken from rests and we got good range, we shot cordite loaded ammo corrosive we had cases of the stuff,it ate the bore out we had long range shots at old railroad ties with very good acuracy, 100/200/300 yds I'll take my son and teach him like my grandfather did for me...