The At War blog has run several posts this year on the tools of war, including posts covering rifles and automatic weapons in Taliban service in southern Afghanistan. The Taliban, judging from American collections after firefights and from caches, have put the martial refuse of past empires to effective use. The rifle above, a Lee-Enfield bolt-action model manufactured in 1915, is one example. It was collected by the Marines in Marja earlier this year, and after The Times published information about it, several readers wrote to say how fascinated they were that such weapons were still in service.
Today on At War, At War will publish a post about an even older rifle. (I’ll post the link after its appears; it’s difficult to sync posts from a tent in Afghanistan, so forgive me if there is a delay.) A close-up of the rifle is below. It’s a Martini-Henry, with roots in the 1870s, when the first specimens of this line were issued to British troops.
Rifles of this vintage, while they survive in Afghanistan, are not common. The At War post describes a practical reason way, which might also explain this weapon’s poor physical condition. And because they are not a factor in the fighting, I have not invested time in studying them, at least not with the energy that I have looked at the weapons that still wound and kill large numbers of people, Western and Afghan. (Those seeking more information on this particular line of rifles, take a look at www.martinihenry.com or, for more detail, www.martinihenry.co.uk.)
Are there older rifles out there in the Afghan hinterland? Probably, and if they turn up around me I will post images of them and descriptions of how they came into American or Afghan government possession. Tyler Hicks and I are in the process of booking several extended trips to Afghanistan next year. Maybe the 2011 hunting will be as rich as that of past years.
To settle another question (hello to the amazing Colin Smith, who survived), one reader had guessed that At War might be posting an image of a jezail — the 19th century muskets once carried by many an Afghan. Colin, I have seen jezails in Afghanistan, but only as curios in shops, never in the field. And the jezails that I have seen may have been reproductions made in western Pakistan for sale as souvenirs, so not as old as the Martini-Henry above.
For those interested in other weapons in Taliban possession, I will have more posts soon, both here and on At War. Tyler and I have become busy again with Charlie Company, 6th Battalion of the 101st Combat Aviation Brigade. The weather has lifted in southern Afghanistan and the fighting — and the wounding — have resumed. The schedule is erratic and unpredictable, so they may have to wait.
ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHS
Images of two antique rifles captured by U.S. Marines in Helmand Province in 2010. The date stamp is clearly visible on the Lee-Enfield rifle at top, just forward of the decorative green tape. (Highlights in green, the color associated with Islam, are often seen on captured Taliban weapons.) The date stamp is not visible on the Martini-Henry rifle shown near the middle of this post. Do you have insight on the weapon’s exact vintage? Send an email to email@example.com. Photos by the author.