My apologies to author Jimmy Breslin for borrowing from the title of a book he wrote. But a series of reports from New York Times correspondent CJ Chivers about Afghan marksmanship has a comedic thread only tempered by the occasional lucky shot.
In this first article Chivers uncovers the truth about the fable about legendary Afghan marksmanship.
The recent Marine operations in and near Marja brought into sharp relief a fact that contradicts much of what people think they know about the Afghan war. It is this: Forget the fables. The current ranks of Afghan fighters are crowded with poor marksmen.
Thissimple statement is at odds with an oft-repeated legend of modern conflict, in which Afghan men are described, in clichés and accounts from yesteryear, as natural gunmen and accomplished shots. Everyone who has even faintly followed the history of war in Central Asia has heard the tales of Afghan men whose familiarity with firearms is such a part of their life experience that they can pick up most any weapon and immediately put it to effective work. The most exaggerated accounts are cartoonish, including tales of Afghan riflemen whose bullets can strike a lone sapling (I’ve even heard “blade of grass”) a hilltop away.Read more:
Afghan Marksmen Forget the Fables
Chivers continues to zero in on this subject by taking a closer look at the Taliban fighters and why their rifle fire has been less than stellar.
We plan more posts about the nature of the fighting in Afghanistan, and how this influences the experience of the war. Today this blog discusses visible factors that, individually and together, predict poor shooting results when Taliban gunmen get behind their rifles.
It’s worth noting that many survivors of multiple small-arms engagements in Afghanistan have had experiences similar to those described last week. After emerging unscathed from ambushes, including ambushes within ranges at which the Taliban’s AK-47 knock-offs should have been effective, they wonder: how did so much Taliban fire miss?Read more:
The Weakness of Taliban Marksmanship
Now just when we all could take a sigh of relief that the fabled Afghan enemy can't hit the broad side of a barn with a shotgun, Chivers offers up this report about the Afghan National Army, the guys who've been the recipients of billions of dollars of training.
Puncturing some of the legends of Afghan fighting prowess has value for at least two reasons.
First, when assessing the Taliban and other insurgent organizations — which few people dispute form a resolved and adaptive force – it is important to be wary of exaggerating their traditional fighting skills, as opposed to their social and political skills, their effectiveness as criminal organizations, and their shift in recent years toward improvised explosives. The Taliban’s shoddy marksmanship also raises questions about how fighting in Afghanistan has evolved. Is the Taliban’s shift toward using improvised explosives an indication that they have learned from the insurgents’ experience in Iraq? Or is it an indication that the Taliban realized that their rifle fire was usually ineffective? Both?
Second, when the discussion turns to deficiencies in the marksmanship of government troops, the conversation has another use. It provides insights into the overall state of the government security forces. And it leads to a natural question: What return has the United States received in Afghanistan on its extraordinary investment in the Afghan National Army? More on that in a moment.
Afghan Marksmanship: Pointing not Aiming
Now before we all get ourselves up in a dither about wasting billions in what seems to be an unteachable excercise, we should reflect that our own forces haven't focused on long range shooting skills for decades.
Tactical Tidbits from Afghanistan and The Return of an Old Friend. We can look back at the experience of our own military in trying to teach shooting skills to soldiers post Civil War, when as few as ten rounds per man were allocated for practice per year. It will take decades of training to build a cadre of marksmen, something that might be beyond the scope of our timetable. There may be a third way as explained in this article from the Small Wars Journal by Col. Gary Anderson.
When Ralph Peters of the New York Post and the editor of the New York Times actually agree on something, it is both an unusual occasion and a cause for reflection. In the case of Hamid Karzai, the leader of Afghanistan, we have one of those rare confluences of agreement. Both concur that Karzai has become more of a liability than an asset. His poorly thought out threat to throw in his lot with Taliban in response to Western disapproval, combined with his inept handling of the war, has lost him critical support in Washington and in Europe. Some Afghans think he may have lost his grip on reality; whatever the cause, he has made few friends in recent weeks among those he needs if he hopes to retain power. None of this bodes well for American strategy in Afghanistan. It is one thing to have an unstable ally in a war; we have dealt with shaky allies in the past. However, an ungrateful and unstable ally may well be too much to ask the American people to bear. It may be time to explore a third option between abandoning Afghanistan and enduring Karzai’s ungrateful and demonstrably corrupt regime.Read more:
A Third Way in Aftghanistan
UPDATE: Uncut: Lessons learned from Six and a Half Years in Afthanistan