BAGHDAD: Soldiers serving on Camp Taji, Iraq, trained Iraqi troops on the fundamentals of marksmanship with the M-16 rifle, June 15. The training was part of a continued effort by the U.S. to phase out the Iraqi Army’s use of the Soviet-era AK-47 Kalashnikov assault rifle.
The swap between the two weapons has gun-enthusiasts across the military and social-media sites up-in-arms, as fans of both weapons debate the practicality of the initiative.
The AK-47, which has become symbolic of Middle Eastern militaries, has been used by the Iraqi Army since the 1960s. The weapon is less accurate than the western M-16 rifle, yet its more durable design makes it a more suitable match for a desert climate, critics say.
But the transition to the M-16 is not based solely on the weapons capability. As the rifles are issued to Iraqi soldiers, they will be registered individually — a measure intended to reduce the number of American weapons being acquired by insurgents.
The new M-16s will also update the Iraqi Army’s arsenal, as many of their AK-47s are in varying states of disrepair, military officials said.
On Camp Taji it was all smiles from the Iraqi troops, as the U.S. Soldiers walked them through the basics of firing the M-16.
“For their first time, they shot very well — even compared to some U.S. Soldiers,” said Sgt. Kevin Averre, the noncommissioned officer in charge of the training. Averre is assigned to the Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, serving as a battle NCO in the brigade’s tactical operations center.
In 2003, Averre served with Iraqi Security Forces as an infantryman assigned to the 4th Infantry Division.
“Even in 2003 they spoke very highly of the M-16’s accuracy,” said Averre.
The training focused primarily on “zeroing” the weapons, a process by which Soldiers adjust the weapon’s sights to align with their eyesight. The Iraqi soldiers also received instruction on weapons maintenance, something seldom necessary with the durable AK-47.
While the Iraqi Army has already received thousands of weapons in accordance with the proposed one-for-one swap of AK-47 for M-16, receipt of the weapons is prioritized by necessity.
Many Iraqi soldiers on Camp Taji do not use M-16s, and as the weapons continue to arrive, U.S. units will remain actively engaged in the training of the Iraqi Army.
(Spc. Roland Hale is a journalist with the Combat Aviation Brigade, 1st Infantry Division)