Infantry: July 9, 2003


The increased use of RPG-7s in Iraq, and the tactics being used, indicate that men who fought in Afghanistan are showing the locals the Afghan RPG tactics developed during the 1980s. The RPG series of anti-tank rockets was developed by the Russians after World War II, based on the German "Panzerfaust." The RPG-7 entered service in the early 1970s and has become the most popular of the series. It is still manufactured in many nations (especially China and Pakistan). Russia has gone on to develop several more refined, but not nearly as popular, models. 

The RPG-7 has a rudimentary sighting mechanism, and is basically "point and shoot." You can be trained to use an RPG-7 in minutes. Anyone who is already a good shot with a rifle, can become quite accurate with an RPG-7 after firing a few rounds. After a few dozen rounds, amazing feats of accuracy can be achieved. For example, Afghans were able to use RPGs against the reactive armor on Russian armored vehicles by firing one RPG to detonate the reactive armor (blocks of explosives mounted on an armored vehicle, which exploded when hit by an RPG, thus destroying the armor penetrating effect of the RPG.) But once a section of reactive armor had exploded, it left that portion of the vehicle unprotected. Another PRG gunner would immediately fire another rocket and hit that spot (about the size of a window), thus penetrating the vehicles armor and destroying it. These tactics were used when the RPG gunners were within 50 meters of the vehicle being attacked. Still, it was a remarkably effective tactic that was used many times. Tanks were often immune to RPG rockets, at least their front armor. So the RPG gunners would either try for a rear shot, or hit the vision blocks for the driver, gunner and commander. Thus blinded, the RPG gunners could maneuver for a kill. Naturally, the Russians tried to protect their tanks and armored vehicles with infantry. But when an RPG rocket hit, it killed or injured most people within 10-15 feet of the explosion. Thus the Afghans would fire barrages of six or more RPG rockets at a Russian tank, to incapacitate or drive away the infantry so the vehicle could be taken out. It was the Afghans who first figured out how vulnerable tanks are to RPG shots at their rear end. 

Even though the back-blast of an RPG was pretty hard to miss (a flash of light accompanied by a cloud of grayish smoke), you could make it less prominent by wetting down dust and sand for 6-10 feet behind the gunner. This made it harder for enemy troops to immediately fire on the RPG gunner, and hit him. The Afghans also learned that you always move after you have fired an RPG rocket, for an opponent with any brains at all will fire at the RPG gunner. Thus in ambushes, the Afghans were careful to pick out firing spots for RPG gunners that gave them a clear shot at the targets, and a quick route out of there to a second, and even third, firing position. Since each RPG gunner was accompanied by two or three men with AK-47s (and carrying additional rockets, weighing about five pounds each), an Afghan ambush had at least half a dozen RPGs fired and a dozen or more AK-47s opening up, with the RPG gunners running to new firing positions and letting off another rocket. This sort of thing drove the Russians nuts, as well as killing lots of them and destroying many vehicles. 

The Afghans also discovered that RPGs could bring down helicopters. If the RPG gunners could get within a hundred meters of a helicopters, a barrage of rockets would usually result in a hit, which would either bring the chopper down, or cause so much damage that the helicopter would leave the battle. If was the Afghans who also realized that the self destruct mechanism of the RPG rocket went off at 800-900 meters. Thus if gunners got the range right, they could use RPGs as artillery, obtaining deadly airbursts over enemy troops, or even damage or destroy a distant helicopter. 

In 1994, the Chechens used many of these same tactics against the Russian army, to great effect. Many Chechens had fought in Afghanistan. The RPG tactics used against American and other peacekeeper troops in Somalia in 1993 was also the result of Afghanistan veterans coming by to share their experiences. 

All of these tactics have already been seen in Iraq. Unfortunately for the Iraqis, American tanks and infantry vehicles have armor that is pretty much invulnerable to RPG hits. Thus the Iraqis are concentrating their fire on unarmored vehicles. Given a chance, the Iraqis will make more use of RPGs, a deadly weapon in the hands of anyone out to kill.


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