Infantry: The Sinister Sound Of Single Shots


February 20, 2009: The new secret weapon of the Afghan Army is the large amount of rifle ammunition troops are allowed to expend each year in learning to fire accurately. Afghans, and especially the Taliban, consider themselves great warriors. But they are not noted for the accuracy in a firefight. Since the 1980s, the country has been awash with AK-47s and RPG rocket launchers. The Afghans took to the AK-47, and the thrill of emptying a 30 round magazine on full automatic, as a worthy battlefield technique. Actually, it's not bad for a brief firefight, especially if you were fighting other Afghans. But against soldiers who aim and fire single shots, the "spray and pray" approach gets you killed.

NATO troops have built rifle ranges for the Afghan Army, and trained Afghan officers and NCOs in time-tested techniques of becoming an accurate shot, and training their own troops to do the same. Afghan troops are also being equipped with M-16 rifles. These are more accurate, for single shot use, than the AK-47 (as well as being a little lighter, and using lighter ammo). The Taliban now try to be more careful when getting into a fight with the Afghan Army. Like the foreign troops, Afghan soldiers can be detected by ear. They will be firing M-16s, one shot at a time, while their Taliban adversaries will be on full automatic. The sound of an M-16 and AK-47 are different, and full auto fire is obviously different than single shots. The Taliban often depend on setting up an ambush, with the intention of fleeing if they do not destroy most of the army force with their initial fire and roadside bombs.

There had been an Afghan tradition of precision, long range shooting. Before the 1980s, this skill was treasured for both hunting and warfare. 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. But because of that poverty, few families had a rifle, and most of those who did, could not afford to buy the ammo needed to develop accuracy. Thus sharpshooters were highly respected, not only for their skill, but because they could afford to buy a rifle (usually a bolt action one) and ammunition.

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 much less accurate when one shot at a time was fired. During the last three decades, it's become much more common for Afghans to have a rifle, usually an AK-47. But it was rare for any of these new riflemen to be very accurate with their weapon. The NATO training program is changing that, and changing the way the Afghan Army fights.



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