47 Comments

  1. Ah, for the Good Ol’ Days when the squad auto was a Kalashnikov.
    This bunch looks like one of our local informal “gun clubs”…

    • They were, and still are, some of the toughest, hardiest and most resourceful individuals one could ever come across, and perfectly adapted to their environment. More than one materially-superior adversary has found this out the hard way over the last couple of centuries, recent times included.

    • The big thing for them to have early in the war were shoes that looked like loafers or dress shoes, but were injection-molded of rubbery plastic, with details like toe-caps, tassels, etc., and in some case, laces, molded-in. And they were sometimes in bizarre colors like electric blue, or orange. Wish I’d taken pictures of details like that now.

  2. Wow – when these guys still liked us! I remember reading somewhere that many of these weapons were in fact very well made copies from Pakistan, where there was a booming backyard arms industry. I could, of course, be citing a source that is not only 30+ years old but completely wrong…

    • Look up “The Afghan And His SMLE” by Jack Lott in the 1981 Gun Digest.

      The “homemade” arms industry in the Adam Khel tribal area began in 1910 with copies of Martini-Henrys rebarreled to 0.303in, which were standard issue for native troops. The local smiths had been making flintlock “jezails” for generations, and the M-H falling block wasn’t much more complex, action-wise.

      Most of their early workers (who became the master smiths who trained the next generation) were actually retired smiths from the British government arsenals in Bombay (modern Mumbai) and Sialkot. The handwork methods they used in Khel weren’t really too different from those they’d formerly used at the arsenals.

      Early on, they tore up railway lines for steel. Later, it was imported from Bombay. By the 1920s, a Martini-Henry copy sold for about 400 rupees (~$125). In the early Eighties, an SMLE copy or Mauser 98 clone sold for about $300 with delivery in four days.

      I don’t know if they ever made AK copies, but in 1982 they were making FAL and G3 copies, as well as still making one of the “bread and butter” items, Webley Mk VI revolvers in 0.455in. They were preferred for “close-in work” due to their reliability and brutal stopping power by the theories of the day. A 265gr,.455in slug @ 600 FPS hits with about 220 FPE at the muzzle (Barnes, Cartridges of the World), and even though it’s less powerful in KE terms than a 9x19mm, it’s still no great pleasure to be tagged by one.

      cheers

      eon

      • As you say and this is true, over and over if people want to achieve something, they will. Same applies for arms making. There were several reports complemented with pictures I have seen thru time and all seem to come from Pakistani side. However, as old as this tradition might be, there are reported tendencies from Pakistani government side, to curb these activities.

        • You are quite correct about the proclivities of the tribal gunsmiths in Pakistan, and the central Government’s desire to bring them under control. On the other hand, given the tenuous nature of that same control in the further reaches of the country ( especially in the border areas ), the Pakistani Government doesn’t appear to have very much real influence in local affairs.

      • “By the 1920s, a Martini-Henry copy sold for about 400 rupees (~$125)”
        Kipling in his poem Arithmetic on the Frontier (1886) wrote:
        “(…)
        A scrimmage in a Border Station-
        A canter down some dark defile
        Two thousand pounds of education
        Drops to a ten-rupee jezail.
        The Crammer’s boast, the Squadron’s pride,
        Shot like a rabbit in a ride!
        (…)”
        (source: http://www.kiplingsociety.co.uk/poems_arith.htm )

        • Or as Steve Jackson once put it, “A British soldier with a Martini-Henry wasn’t worth ten times as much as a ‘Fuzzy’ with an assegai, but more like the square root of 10, because a single hit in the right place would kill him just as dead.”

          cheers

          eon

  3. Interesting that the Chinese reds (PRC) helped to supply and train them, I guess hard feelings leftover from the Sino-Soviet split.

    • I’d say more likely route is the Paki-Chinese connection (specifically for AK types). China is holding Pakistan as their hot iron against India and obviously some overspill is taking place elsewhere. Of course we are talking time span of several decades and what was in 80s does not need to be the same now; the world is intertwined more than we are ready to accept.

      • Pakistan’s official language is English, mostly because they have a dozen-odd local languages and nobody wants any other group to get the upper hand. However, they’ve started teaching Chinese in school, along with various economic and political ties to China.

        Their primary problem, as they see it, is India, which has its primary non-Commonwealth ties to the EU. Should things devolve to shooting again, ties with China would mean Pakistan wouldn’t necessarily have to compete with India in the same pool of BC and EU support and resources.

      • Agreed. The old animosities and paranoia that have existed since Partition in 1948 are still mostly alive and well today, and it doesn’t help that the local politicians from both countries as well as outside interests ( such as the U.S., China and sundry religious and political groups ) stir the pot constantly for their own ends.

        There is a glimmer of hope emanating from the more-aware younger generation ( read Indian and Pakistani Millennials ) who are tired of a conflict they don’t see any merit in pursuing because they don’t subscribe to the old bogeymen touted by others before them. That is one of the main reasons why those who want to keep the conflict alive carry out atrocities such as the Mumbai Incident and also tout such atrocities ( both sides are equally culpable ) as the reason why everybody from the other side is “evil”, “inhuman” and should therefore be feared, detested, mistrusted and, by implication, wiped out or subjugated accordingly. Such is the power of propaganda, the extent of the lie, and the level of deception.

        However, it is realistically still only a glimmer of hope. There is a very long and arduous task ahead to undo all the damage that has been wrought thus far, and that is assuming some sort of momentum can be sustained over the long term within the general population based on continuing awareness of the facts.

  4. The NYT article says that the picture is from the very year 1980, which probably explains the high Enfield-to-AK ratio. The AK was probably captured from government forces or the guy using it might even be a former government soldier.

    • True — unless one is familiar with the many subtleties that clearly distinguish one from another. The same thing has happened over and over again with every culture and ethnic group that has been subject to the same scrutiny, regardless of generation or context, to some extent or the other.

      Sequential cases in point :

      1. In the 1960’s and 1970’s in Vietnam, most U.S. servicemen had some difficulty distinguishing one Asian from the next, even in terms as disparate as a Northern Chinese from a Vietnamese of the Lower Mekong Delta ( in actuality an enormous difference as glaring as the difference between night and day, or black and white if you know what to look for ), let alone one Vietnamese from another ( again, the differences would have been readily apparent to anyone immersed in the local culture ).

      2. Growing up in a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society in Singapore and Malaysia, I found to my astonishment that a lot of locals simply saw anyone who was “white” as simply that — “white”. To them, someone who was “white” was classified as “European”, never mind the fact that there are an infinite variety of people of European descent who can be clearly distinguished one from another starting with country and nationality, and devolving through state, region, county, district, city, township, village and even neighbourhood. Yet, the same people who had this blind spot had no problems distinguishing a Cantonese from a Hakka ( Chinese ), a Malayalee from a Goan ( Indian ), a resident of the Northern Malaysian state of Kedah from a resident of the Eastern Malaysian state of Pahang ( Malay ), and so on and so forth all the way down the line. Ironically, many settlers and long-term expatriates who had really immersed themselves in local society could tell the differences at even the most subtle levels better than a lot of the local people themselves ; and for every knowledgeable individual of this kind, there was an equally ignorant individual who was almost the diametric opposite. Insularity and cultural or ethnic bias knows no boundaries and often does not respect people as human beings.

      3. And guess what? If one were to look very closely at any part of the world, one would find that the same basic cultural biases and parameters apply in equal measure to any and every human society, regardless of ethnicity. I am using the above-mentioned examples as but two of an infinite number of such instances that will be found all over the world spanning the entire existence of the human species. One only has to look closely at cross-cultural and intra-cultural records to realize that enlightenment, deeper knowledge, understanding, ignorance, arrogance and hostile rejection all go hand in hand. That is the human condition.

      4. On a brighter note, I will say this — while many of us bemoan the Age Of Information and all it implies, it has helped to break through previously-closed boundaries by enabling better and often more open communication among people as a whole. There is still a long way to go, but there are more avenues by which we can understand and empathize with one another. The Millennials are frequently criticized as being lazy, self-absorbed and unambitious, but I strongly disagree with this. Generally speaking, they are a generation who have had to grow up with less hope and opportunity than prior generations, yet they have a stronger sense of community and social and environmental responsibility, and are less self-indulgent ( where it matters in real socio-economic and humanistic terms, and not the seemingly obvious but irrelevant world of the “selfie” and so-called “reality” TV ), while somehow remaining optimistic about the future, probably because they see that future in less selfish terms than we do. Their ambitions are less about personally getting ahead than what they can contribute towards a better society on a global basis, no matter how seemingly insignificant those individual contributions might seem at the time ( because “it takes many little drops of water to form an ocean” ). Understand that these are generalizations on my part, but I think they mostly hold true all the same. We should take great pride in encouraging and supporting our young people in taking the pathways they have chosen because they have much merit, and not simply sit back and put them down. For those who might be otherwise inclined, remember this : Every generation seems to take a great and perverse delight in negatively commenting on the young, yet if we were to look objectively at our own accomplishments and failures, we would see that we are no better — and, in fact, often worse — than those who come after us. Our collective responsibility lies in passing the torch with our hard-won and often bitter experiences to the next generation not in terms of “I told you so”, but in terms of what positive lessons can be learned and applied.

      • Thank you Earl for your voluminous write-up. As much as you views are always objective and considerate, those who reside in “kitchen of international politics” are not. They are as selfish and ignorant are they can be.

        Take for example certain John McSucker who ‘clearly’ qualified “moderates” in charge of “nation-building” (read: nation destruction) in Syria. He said what amounted to: “c’mon,…they call allahu-akhbar; therefore they are moderates and they need our support”. So, here we have it.

        • Hi, Denny :

          Thanks very much for your reply and, as always, your deeper and meaningful insights. First off, I must apologize for writing so much at length in my last post, but I guess I got somewhat carried away on the subject. I happen to largely agree with you about the “kitchen of international politics” and its many ramifications and manifestations — it’s a wonder, too, that with the sort of menu that has been served up over these many decades that we haven’t all died of food poisoning, so to speak. When it comes to certain specific things such as international politics, the more things change, the more they stay the same because of the ingrained aspect of human nature you so astutely pointed out. There is still some hope, however, that this may gradually change with the passing of generations.

          It is always good to hear from you and share experiences, and I am definitely looking forward to more of this for many years to come!

      • Btw, tendency to sweep all to one bucket did not avoid me too. And yes, I became the one receiving side. Since my wife is SE Asian I had to work hard to attain my credit; just for being Caucasian. I am not sure if I made it, as yet.

        • Ah, then you and I both understand the point I was making about how the tendency to generalize and perceive that “they all look the same” goes every which way. This is a lesson that all human beings need to understand if real empathy and resolution of conflicts are to be achieved, because all are equally guilty of the same outlook at one time or the other, myself included, no matter how open-minded we might imagine ourselves to be.

      • Earl, when I first got to Afghanistan, I had a pretty good cultural briefing on the country and thought I understood what we now call the “human terrain.” Heh. Soon I was dealing with things like Tajik warlords who’d flipped and joined Khalili’s Hazaras with all their people, etc. All the stuff that the cultural anthropologists had assured me was “unpossible.”

        Meanwhile, getting out into rural Afghanistan, and most people had only seen a few people not of their village or tribe, and never a full-on foreigner. All Europeans? “Frangistani.” Franks. They didn’t know what to make of black guys — a great source of mystery, especially to the kids, especially African-Americans’ hair. But my full-blooded Japanese-American buddy? They refused to believe he was not a Hazara! Which is hilarious, as no Japanese or Hazara would ever make the mistake, I think. But caucasian Afghans definitely did. Funny thing — a lot of Uzbeks and Tajiks, mostly-white Afghans, have some Asian admixture themselves, which they hotly deny, as it’s associated with the Hazaras in their minds, and the poor Hazaras are both a racial and a religious minority in their own country.

    • Don’t have much to add to what others have said on this point, except that the relative lack of beards could be a hint that they were maybe not religious radicals, i.e., instead of being against any and all infidels, they may have just wanted the occupying force gone, like any good person anywhere else would.

      The Arabs that showed up, as the 1980’s went on, for religious reasons, would have been more likely to have encouraged the locals to turn a struggle against the invader into a struggle for religious ideology. With that, beards as evidence for religious devotion would have become more of the norm.

      • I think what you call “turn a struggle against the invader into a struggle for religious ideology” has some variability in the time. We do not live in 80s and lots has changed. It may be, that we are facing (at least in Afganistan) just the opposite – total disgust with all foreigners. That may have undesired effect for Western policy makers, but so be it.

        Also it is useful to keep in mind that ethic groups such as Arabs and Pashtuns are incoherent and should there have been “common purpose” at one time, it may have not survived forever. Hard to imagine how Osama would make his day now…

        • Given that the Afghans as a whole ( various tribes and sects notwithstanding ) have always fiercely resisted what they see as outside interference in their sovereignty, I think you may have an excellent point there, especially as it relates, as you mentioned, to situational changes over time.

      • Very good point, Jacob. In that light, I wonder if the gentlemen in the photograph were members of the old Northern Alliance serving under Achmed Shah Massoud, the “Lion Of The Panjshir”?

        • Ah, I see Earl beat me to the point.

          On what Jacob had said, in Afghanistan pre-1973 a beard was mostly a marker of a country peasant type or a mullah. After the overthrow of the King, the left-leaning government pushed progress hard enough to get push back. It broke into armed resistance (fully) by 1978, and the Soviets invaded (after shuffling some puppets around) because their ally was going to fall to the resisters, who were mostly religious motivated but riven by many factions.

          The Soviet invasion poured avgas on the fire. The US decided to support 7 Afghan factions (ultimately, not all of them right away). Some factions took the war to the Russians, some kept their powder dry for the war after the war. US channeled much aid through the Pakistani ISI, which was led by men with an Islamist orientation, and they supported the more Islamist factions.

          Meanwhile, among young men, growing a bear was a mark of solidarity with the muj.

          After the Russians withdrew in 1989, the government they’d set up lasted less than three years. The factions fought for four more years, then the Taliban emerged triumphant over the ruins. The Taliban enforced a beard-length regulation, and the some of same stubborn Afghans who had grown beards to defy the Russians shaved them to defy the Taliban. The Russians never demanded men be clean shaven, but the TB would beat the crap out of a guy who didn’t have a beard long enough. The test was a fist. If the TB can grab your beard in his fish, and no hairs are showing through the end, you’re a bad Muslim and have a beating coming.

          When we liberated a new area in 2002-03, we’d see a rash of young men shaving their beards off. Most of them kept mustaches, like the characters in the photo. The other thing they hated the Taliban for was destroying their music cassettes. You could always tell where a TB checkpoint had been from the spooled-out and trashed cassette tape hanging like tinsel in the trees or on a fence.

          • Thanks so much for all the replies and invaluable details stemming from your experiences in Afghanistan, Kevin ( I am referring to all the ones you wrote in this post as well as in previous discussions ). It is good to be able to share and clarify hard facts with someone who was there, and who intelligently applied himself with an open mind to the local environment.

            I was actually going to sit down tonight and pose a few additional questions while suggesting that a certain Kevin R.C. O’Brien might see fit to reply on FW on the basis of his combat experiences and human interactions in-country, but you beat me to it in turn :). I will say I learned a great deal from your insightful comments, to put it mildly. By the way, I think you meant to say “All the AK’s were 7.62mm” in your 102714 / 4;12 p.m. post ( aren’t typo’s hell? — I’ve made quite a few myself ).

            Once again, many thanks for everything, and wishing you and yours the very best.

          • First hand experience, huh? Yeah, I like that and give it lots of credence myself. How-ewah, living in cocoon of likes do not give true chance to penetrate the odd group and you may sleep in next door room. While not getting into such cultural extremes myself, at lest I always attempted to learned bit of their language. And was with them just by myself, taking the chance.

            I met, in this great country with pretty well every nationality present a man, really educated one; twice doctor degree (no, not in Quran, but in biomedical science). He told me something too and surprise to surprise, it was not that bad when it came to dastardly deeds of T-ban. What he told me was this: there was safety before, after invasion none. There was no heroin growing (strictly prohibition) – now…. (we have seen pictures). When comes to wearing burqa he told me: this is purely family affair and yes it is eldest male who decides that. Do I want to live there? What a silly question?!

    • You wouldn’t happen to be a John Wayne fan, would you? I can almost hear that distinctive, drawn-out drawl so characteristic of the “Duke”.

      Anyway, good call, and thanks for the wonderfully facetious humor. It made my Sunday morning!

  5. One of the maxims of war is “if the enemy is in range, so are you.” From some articles I was reading back in 1980, that didn’t necessarily apply in the early days of the conflict, when Soviet troops found that their shiny new 5.45mm AK-74s didn’t have the range of the old .303 Enfields many of the Afghans carried. Once the Afghans learned this, they’d set up in plain sight just outside AK range and plink away until the Soviet “designated marksman” got set up with his Mosin or SVD.

    • The Battle of Khafji in Desert Storm taught that lesson as well. Saudi NG went in first to retake it from Iraqi Republican Guard units; since the NG were mostly in Cadillac-Gage V100 armored cars, they got killed, mainly by RPGs.

      US Marines went in to get the survivors out, and came under fire from mostly 7.62x51mm weapons, which outranged their 5.56x45mm; the flat hardpan around the village gave the advantage to whoever had the longest-ranged weapons, and the IRG’s were armed mainly with H&K G3s. They were able to stand off at 700-800 yards and take the Marines’ positions under effective fire. The 5.56mm’s ran out of steam and accuracy at about 500, which considering that they were designed to engage no further out than 400 meters (~440 yards) is hardly surprising.

      The matter was finally settled by Humvees armed with M2 .50 cal HMGS backed up by M60A1 tanks with 105mms.

      Moral; If you have a ballistic advantage, use it. If you don’t, get it.

      cheers

      eon

      • I realize you are writing from memory, so as an avid armchair general I would like to make some observations and corrections about the Battle of Khafji:

        The Iraqi units involved were all Iraqi regular Army from the so called heavy divisions. These divisions were the elite of the army consisting mostly of professional soldiers, but RG they were not. The confusion may have born from the fact that the divisions in question were the only regular Iraqi Army units in possession of small number of T-72 tanks, most of which were reserved for the Republican Guard.

        The Saudi NG lost several Cadillac-Cage V150 light armored vehicles during the retake of Khafji, but the losses were considered acceptable considering the opposition (not just RPGs, but tank main guns, AT missiles and recoilless rifles). Also, the USMC did not have tanks at the battle of Khafji. The tanks used were Qatari AMX-30s in the main push from the south and some Saudi M60A1 tanks in the blocking force north of the city.

        I could not find any reference to the incident you described in the official USMC history (https://www.mcu.usmc.mil/historydivision/Pages/Publications/Publication%20PDFs/Khafji%20Battle%20Study.pdf). The closest one documented in the paper was the accidental entry of two US tank trailers into Khafji, which resulted to the destruction of one vehicle and capture of two US service personnel, one of who was female. A courageous rescue operation was mounted by a volunteer Marine detachment, but the Iraqis had already managed to transport the POWs back to Kuwait and they were not released until after the war. The marines came under fire from Iraqi vehicles during the rescue attempt, but there is no mention of the small arms used by the Iraqis or their impact on the battle.

        I am not claiming what you wrote didn’t happen at all, but it appears it didn’t happen like you described during the Battle of Khafji.

    • I was going to say that the same situation has negatively impacted another superpower’s ground forces in similar fashion, but Eon beat me to it with his post.

  6. left to right, top row:
    might be a No.4 (wood stops short of muzzle)
    no visible weapon
    No.1
    No.1

    middle row:
    No.1
    No.1
    No.1

    bottom row:
    No.1
    No.1
    AK in 7.62×39
    No.1

    A true aficionado could probably break each Enfield down to a specific variant and tell which country the AK came from, but I’m not that knowledgeable.

  7. Many of the AKs are smith-made. Each tribal youth receives one for his 14th birthday; bought by his father and uncles. They are just as servicable nad deadly as any made anywhere. The basic mantra of the Tribal groups is, “Me amd my brother against my cousin; me and my cousin against the world!” If you ask one why this is so the answer is, “Because this is what we do!” If they are fighting against anyone for purely religous reasons, why did ISIS go for the oilfields and banks instead of some goat herader? It is ALL about the money! I lived among them for five years.

  8. Most of them are wearing the Nuristani pakol hat, which makes me suspect that they are, not Nuristanis (those tend to be extremely fundamentalist Moslems; they were the last pagan race conquered by the Afghan kings, and their province was “Kafirstan” until they converted, it’s now “Nuristan.”) Because the pakol was affected by Ahmad Shah Massoud, of the Jamiat-i Islami Tajik faction located in the Panjsher Valley, I wonder if these were Panjsheris or at least Jamiat members.

    By the time I got there in 2002 you never saw an Enfield, unless some warlord was trying to fob off all his old crap he had no rounds for any more as a “Taliban cache.” Even more modern weapons like the RPD were out of style. It was all AK and PKM, already. All the AKs were 7.92mm. The only exception was Khalili’s Hazaras, based around Bamian. They had 5.45 rifles and ammo.

  9. In the mountains range is more important than the volume of fire.
    I suppose the mujahedeen have not read (if they could read at all) any histories of the German Fallschirmjaeger campaign in Crete in 1941. It was ultimately victorious for the Germans, but even victorious campaigns bring casualties to the winning side. And the casualties, apparently, were so appalling, that Hitler forbade using the paratroops ever again (when they waere, it was on land, as in the Arnhem campaign). The reason for the German victory was the losing the nerve by a New Zealand commander (to me he remains nameless; would that be to protect the memory of General Freyberg, later active in the Italiah campaign?), who withdraw his forces without orders. As far as weapons were concerned, the German Maschinenpistole MP 40, then considered the weapon deserving to be issued to the elite troops, like the paratroops, proved in the mountains no match for the Lee-Enfields of the British and Commonwealth troops. Which led, utimately, to the construction of the FG-42 (Fallschirmjaeger Gewehr), a weapon firing a full-sized Mauser rifle cartridge, when necessary, at full automatic. However, it turned out that when fired in full automatic mode the rifle cartridge, the weapon was too violent.
    Regards, Andrzej.

  10. PS
    AK magazine with the capacity of 40 comes from Kalashnikov squad weapon, which was gradually replacing in taht role the Diegtiarov belt-fed squad weapon (with which I was familiar).
    Regards,
    Andrzej

    • @ Andrzej :

      I enjoyed reading your comments on FW. Ian has posted several articles, and we have had many past discussions in detail, concerning some of the subjects you brought up, eg., the FG42. If I remember correctly, one of our most knowledgeable contributors, Kevin R.C. O’Brien ( aka Weaponsman on the http://www.weaponsman.com web site ), who served in Afghanistan, previously listed the Degtyarev RPD as one of his favorite machine guns.

      Speaking of Afghanistan, are you an Afgantsy? I mean this in a respectful way, as in a true Afghanistan veteran. It would be really insightful and educational to hear from a Soviet veteran of the 1980’s Afghan campaigns. I have always said that not enough has been made known about such veterans and their experiences, and that they should be fully acknowledged for their sacrifices and humanity, never mind the controversies surrounding the political aspects of their deployment. If the bloody politicians from all sides want to wrangle over an issue, let them fight it out and shed their own blood ( as if they would, ha! ) for their ambitions, and not the blood of others. I think veterans of every stripe, even one-time foes, often have so much more in common and understand one another better than their own countrymen do.

      I have noticed that in recent years, more books about the Afgantsy have started to surface here in the West, and these can most easily be found on Amazon. They certainly make for historically interesting and often poignant reading.

  11. Ah yes the beards! If I recall correctly, there were none or extremely miniscule incidents of suicide bombing in the frist Afghan war. That will be a very interesting topic to explore into.

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