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Monday, May 02, 2016

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Weapons of the War in Afghanistan: Sidearms Part II

Weapons of the War in Afghanistan
View of Firebase Vegas and LZ from OP Rock, Korengal Valley, Afghanistan.

In the world of war, weapons and technology are ever changing, each war is characterized by the weapons and tactics used to fight it. As new environments and enemies are encountered, the parties to those wars develop new - more effective tactics, technologies, and weapons to counter and defeat their adversaries. The ingenuity seen in war has existed since (and most certainly before) the first wars of recorded history and continue to this very day. 

Keeping with that theory, let’s take a look at the weapons that have characterized the wars and conflicts that the United States has been a party to over the course of it’s history. During the course of this series, I aim to breakdown the weapons used in each conflict by their classification, and to which party they were employed by. Having served in combat operations in Afghanistan’s Korengal Valley, I would like to start our series with the War in Afghanistan. 

For our fifth installment, let’s take a look at the most commonly encountered sidearms in the War in Afghanistan. A sidearm, usually a handgun, is worn on the body in a holster to allow immediate access and use. A sidearm is to be used if the primary weapon is not available; if it has run out of ammunition or if it malfunctions.

View of OP rock from Firebase Vegas, Korengal Valley, Afghanistan.


Tokarev TT-33

Externally, the TT-33 is very similar to John Browning's blowback operated FN Model 1903 semiautomatic pistol, internally it uses Browning's short recoil tilting-barrel system from the M1911 pistol. In other areas the TT-33 differs more from Browning's designs — it employs a much simpler hammer/sear assembly than the M1911. This assembly is removable from the pistol as a modular unit and includes machined magazine feed lips preventing misfeeds when a damaged magazine was loaded into the magazine well. Soviet engineers made several alterations to make the mechanism easier to produce and maintain, most notably the simplifications of the barrel's locking lugs, allowing fewer machining steps. Some models use a captive recoil spring secured to the guide rod which does depend on the barrel bushing to hold it under tension. The TT-33 is chambered for the 7.62×25mm Tokarev cartridge, which was itself based on the similar 7.63×25mm Mauser cartridge used in the Mauser C96 pistol. The 7.62×25mm cartridge is powerful, has an extremely flat trajectory, and is capable of penetrating thick clothing and soft body armor. Able to withstand tremendous abuse, large numbers of the TT-33 were produced during World War II and well into the 1950s. In modern times the robust TT-33 has been converted to many extremely powerful cartridges including .38 Super and 9×23mm Winchester. The TT-33 omitted a safety catch other than the half cock notch which rendered the trigger inoperable until the hammer was pulled back to full cock and then lowered manually to the half cock position.

  • Cartridge: 7.62x25mm Tokarev
  • Effective Range: 50 m
  • Weight: 1.88 lbs / 0.85 kg
  • Rate of Fire: N/A
  • Capacity: 8-round magazine

View of OP Rock from down the southern side of the hill. From this view you can see OP Rock overwatching Firebase Vegas to the right of the photo, and OP Little Rock overwatching the Korengal Road to the left of the photo.


Next to the Khyber Pass firearms the Makarov is the second most common pistol that I came across in Afghanistan. The Makarov is a good, reliable pistol and I wouldn't hesitate to carry one myself.

The Makarov is a medium-size, straight-blowback-action, all-steel construction, frame-fixed barrel handgun. In blowback designs, the only force holding the slide closed is that of the recoil spring; upon firing, the barrel and slide do not have to unlock, as do locked-breech-design pistols. Blowback designs are simple and more accurate than designs using a recoiling, tilting, or articulated barrel, but they are limited practically by the weight of the slide. The 9×18mm cartridge is a practical cartridge in blowback-operated pistols; producing a respectable level of energy from a gun of moderate weight and size. The Makarov is heavy for its size by modern US commercial handgun standards, largely because in a blowback pistol, the heavy slide provides greater inertia to delay opening of the breech until internal pressures have fallen to a safe level. Other, more powerful cartridges have been used in blowback pistol designs, but the Makarov is widely regarded as particularly well balanced in its design elements.

  • Cartridge: 9x18mm
  • Effective Range: 50 m
  • Weight: 1.63 lbs / 0.74 kg
  • Rate of Fire: N/A
  • Capacity: 8-round magazine

View to the North of the Korengal Valley from OP Little Rock.

Khyber Pass Copies
Copy of Webley Pocket Pistol in .38 S&W, purchased at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan.
Martini–Henry Pistol
Most of the pistols that I came across in Afghanistan were Khyber Pass created, many of which I would never have attempted to fire myself, due to the chances for catastrophic failure. 

A Khyber Pass Copy is a firearm manufactured by cottage gunsmiths in the Khyber Pass region between Pakistan and Afghanistan. The area has long had a reputation for producing unlicensed, homemade copies of firearms using whatever materials are available – more often than not, railway rails, scrap motor vehicles, and other scrap metal. The quality of such rifles varies widely, ranging from as good as a factory-produced example to dangerously poor.
The most commonly encountered Khyber Pass Copies are of British military firearms, notably Martini–Henry, Martini–Enfield, and Lee–Enfield rifles, although AK-47 rifles, Webley Revolvers, Tokarev TT-33s, Colt M1911s and Browning Hi-Powers have also been encountered.

  • Cartridge: Various; often times are chambered for odd cartidges.
  • Effective Range: N/A
  • Weight: N/A
  • Rate of Fire: N/A
  • Capacity: Various

One of many RPG Warheads found in a fighting position the morning after a night attack on OP Rock.

Some 7.62x39mm casings found in the same fighting position. As you can tell the casings are coated in a copper wash, indicative that this ammunition was manufactured most likely in China, and smuggled into the country. A good majority of the ammunition used by AAF/ACF fighters in Afghanistan are of Chinese origin.

Shawn G at OP Little Rock,
Firebase Vegas, Korengal Valley, Afghanistan.

For more info on these and other weapons
Technical specs compiled from:

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Shawn in the Korengal Valley, Kunar Province, Afghanistan.

For more info on these and other weapons
Technical specs compiled from:

"The appearance of U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) visual information does not imply or constitute DoD endorsement."


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