Inevitably, in any war questions arise about the quality and reliability of the weapons issued to the troops. And the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are no exception.
The Associated Press reports that a study by a U.S. military historian of a battle in 2008, in which the Taliban surrounded a remote outpost in Afghanistan, raises the question: Do U.S. armed forces have the best guns money can buy?
“Despite the military’s insistence that they do, a small but vocal number of troops in Afghanistan and Iraq has complained that the standard-issue M4 rifles need too much maintenance and jam at the worst possible times,” the AP wrote.
The M4 is an updated version of the Vietnam-era M16. Similar questions have been raised about the heavier M249 Squad Automatic Weapon, which, along with the M4, is a standard weapon carried by small units.
In that attack at Wanat, Afghanistan, a year ago July, nine U.S. soldiers were killed and 27 wounded. A study by a historian from the Army Combat Studies Institute at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., found instances in that battle of weapons seizing up when they had been fired until the barrels were white-hot. The AP quoted Army officials as saying the M4 should be able to fire 3,000 rounds before a failure occurs.
The soldiers at Wanat insisted that their weapons had been meticulously cleaned, cared for and inspected. One would surmise that as much as these weapons are used, the failure rate is statistically very low, but that’s no great comfort when the Taliban come swarming out of the hills.
The failures at Wanat require a thorough investigation by weapons experts. Maybe it was a fluke. Maybe the M4 and M249 need to be modified and upgraded. And maybe it’s time for a new generation of automatic weapons. In any case, the matter bears investigation.
It’s not enough that the weapons have to be superb; the soldiers carrying them have to have faith that they are.