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Insight Into How Insurgents Fought in Iraq - NYTimes.com


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Two RKG-3 hand grenades wobbled through the air, thrown simultaneously by a pair of young Iraqi men. The small chute on each grenade opened, stabilizing the ordnance in flight and orienting their explosive shaped chargestoward their targets. The men had thrown them ahead of a vehicle in a passing American convoy, leading the target by putting the grenade where they expected the vehicle to be in a moment. The vehicle and one of the grenades met. An explosion flashed on the screen.

This kind of attack occurred many times in Iraq, often with fatal consequences. Yet the weapon and tactic were not often discussed publicly. Relatively small and easily concealed, the RKG-3 is a peculiar type of grenade, another relic of the Soviet arms-design bureaus that found fresh uses after the Soviet Union collapsed. Once considered an obsolete weapon with a narrow use, it was largely ignored by Western intelligence services before the American-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. And yet it mattered to troops exposed to its dangers, and it matters now to a richer and fuller account of the Iraq war.

Improvised weapons are being used today in other insurgencies, notably by rebels in Syria fighting against President Bashar al-Assad’s forces. (There is already evidence of technology migration from Iraq to Syria via the Lebanese militia group Hezbollah.) The brutal effectiveness of some of these weapons makes it likely that the United States will face them on other battlefields as well, and should become part of the standard baseline threat considered by military planners well into the future.

So how did this weapon find new life among insurgent forces in the 21st century? And where did they come from?

Answers to these and many other questions about how insurgents fought in Iraq can be deduced from dozens of declassified reports obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by Matthew Schroeder, a researcher at theFederation of American Scientists and the Small Arms Survey. As part of ajoint research project on illicit weapons, Mr. Schroeder acquired battlefield reports detailing weapons caches recovered by the American military in and around Baghdad from 2007 to 2010. He generously shared these documents with At War.

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