I was reading an article about the war in Afghanistan in Foreign Affairs magazine yesterday when something odd caught my eye. Apparently, our soldiers are finding caches of small arms as they “sweep and clear” (read, seek and destroy) various villages in Marja, Helmland province. That came as no surprise as it is common knowledge that the CIA funneled Stinger missiles and innumerable land-mines to the Mujahideen in the 70s and 80s.
What was surprising is that the marines are finding ancient relics of empires past in the tiny opium producing villages in Marja. Among the shoulder launched missiles and other small arms, our marines are regularly finding .303 British Lee-Enfield rifles dating back to the WWI era. Many of the rifles were found to have been manufactured in India, some dating back to 1915. The ammunition they’re finding was manufactured in India up until the 1940s.
Unlike the ubiquitous Kalashinkov rifle (AK-47), the Lee-Enfield is a bolt action rifle that has a longer effective range making it well suited for amateur snipers to take pot shots at our soldiers. These rifles are nearly 100 years old and are still effective killing machines. No one knows how long they’ll last as bolt action rifles are well manufactured (especially the older ones) and have fewer moving parts than the semi-automatics that our contemporary armies are outfitted with today. With proper care and readily available surplus armory parts, these rifles could very well be in the field for another 100 years to come.
How’s that for irony?