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Wednesday, August 03, 2016

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Weapons of the War in Afghanistan: Edged Weapons Part II

Weapons of the War in 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 ninth installment let's take a look at the most common edged weapons of the war in Afghanistan.

Part II: AAF / ACF

Pesh-kabz / Choora / Karud / Kard / Khyber Knife

The pesh-kabz is a type of Perso-Afghan knife designed to penetrate mail armor and other types of armor. The word is also spelled pesh-quabz or pish-ghabz and means "fore-grip" in the Persian language. Originally from Iran, it is now widespread in Central Asia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and northern India.

All pesh-kabz use a hollow-ground, tempered steel single-edged full-tang blade with a thick spine bearing a "T" cross-section for strength and rigidity. In most examples, a pair of handle scales are fixed to the full-tang grip, which features a hooked butt. The earliest forms of this knife featured a recurved blade, suggestive of its Persian origins, but later examples may be found with both recurved or straight blades. The straight blade is the more common form in South Asia. In all variants the blade is invariably broad at the hilt, but tapers progressively and radically to a needle-like, triangular tip. Upon striking a coat of mail, this reinforced tip spreads the chain link apart, enabling the rest of the blade to penetrate the armor. One knife authority concluded that the pesh-kabz "as a piece of engineering design could hardly be improved upon for the purpose".

The knife is typically used as a thrusting weapon. However, the wide hollow-ground blade also possesses considerable slicing performance, and as such may also be used effectively with slashing or cutting strokes. Its ability to be used as either a cutting or thrusting weapon has caused more than one authority to erroneously classify the pesh-kabz as a fighting dagger.

Pesh-kabz are typically around 16-18 inches in overall length, with blades of approximately 11-13 inches. When compared to other similar knives with T-section blades and reinforced tips, the pesh-kabz is virtually indistinguishable, save for its length of blade. The otherwise identical kard or bahbudi (antiq.) has a longer blade (though still shorter than an Afghan sword such as the salwar yatagan) and is considered a separate design, while the chura, used by the Mahsud clan of the Pashtun Khyber tribe, is a slightly shorter version of the pesh-kabz.

The pesh-kabz has a full tang and is traditionally fitted with walrus (ivory scales or handles), but other examples have been found using ivory from the tusks of the rhinoceros, or elephant. Still other knives may be found with scales of wood, agate, jasper, rock crystal, horn, serpentine (false jade), or metal. The sheaths are typically constructed of metal or leather over wood, and may be inset with silver or precious stones.

The pesh-kabz originated in Safavid Persia and is believed to have been created sometime in the 17th century to overcome the mail armor worn by mounted and foot soldiers of the day. After armor ceased to be worn by modern armies, the pesh-kabz retained its utility as a close combat knife, and many Pashtun tribesmen, particularly the Mahsud, Afridi, and Shinwari clans, continued to use the design, along with the chura and kard.

The pesh-kabz is still used today as a personal weapon as well as a ceremonial badge of adulthood for Pashtun and other Afghan hill tribes. During the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, this knife was again the weapon most often used to execute captured or wounded prisoners, this time Soviet and Afghan army soldiers, pilots, and tank crewmen.
  • Manufacturer: Various Blacksmiths
  • Weight: N/A
  • Overall Length: Typically around 16-18 inches
  • Blade length: Approximately 11-13 inches
  • Blade Material: N/A

The pulwar is a single-handed curved sword originating in Afghanistan. It is the traditional sword of the Pashtun people.

The pulwar originated alongside other scimitar-type weapons such as the Arab saif, the Persian shamshir, the Turkish kilij, and the Indo-Pakistani talwar, all of them ultimately based on earlier Central Asian swords. Originally, the Khyber knife served as the weapon of the common people while upper-classes could afford to import swords from neighboring Persia and India. Over time, the Afghans combined characteristics of the imported swords and adapted it to create the pulwar. Most existing pulwar date back to the early 19th century.

Borrowing features from the swords of neighboring lands, the pulwar may be described as an Afghan version of the Indo-Pakistani talwar. Pulwar blades tend to be more elaborately fullered than those of the talwar. Some pulwar hilts were fitted to Persian blades which are slimmer and more curved and tapered towards the tip than the more typically robust pulwar blades. The hilt is characterized by two quillons which are short and turned to point in the direction of the blade in the manner of some shamshir and saif, a feature typical of swords produced in Qajar period Iran. Unlike the flat disc surrounding the pommel of the tulwar, the pommel of pulwar exhibits a cup-shape. Often both hilt and blade can be ornately engraved with inscriptions, designs, and images.
  • Manufacturer: Various Blacksmiths
  • Weight: N/A
  • Overall Length: N/A
  • Blade length: N/A
  • Blade Material: N/A



Many of the edged weapons and tools you come across in Afghanistan are one off items made by blacksmiths; some are custom and some are of common designs for the area. Items can range from very well made pieces, to very rough almost amateur pieces. 
  • Manufacturer: Various Blacksmiths
  • Weight: Various
  • Overall Length: Various
  • Blade length: Various
  • Blade Material: Various

Shawn G in the Korengal Valley, Kunar Province, 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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