ISAF armament of BLS
In a previous article SADJ covered ISAF armament on Camp Leatherneck from the American and British perspective. In this one SADJ will cover small arms from all the other members of ISAF forces on Camp Leatherneck, to include Afghan forces and the Taliban.
Islamic Republic of Afghanistan
Although BLS is primarily and mostly supporting the ISAF mission in Helmand province, ISAF has mostly withdrawn and has turned over security operations to the Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan Uniformed Police (AUP). When discussed in conjunction, the term Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) is used. Both groups use Shorbak as a military hub for logistics, headquarters, training, and billeting. More so for the ANA because this is the epicenter of the ANA 215th Kandak (Corps). The AUP are mostly outer security and maintain vehicle check points along the route into BLS. The ANA also have security roles but push out mounted patrols into the nearby Area of Operations (AO).
The AUP are mostly armed with different variants of the AKM or AK47 and their respective families. Personal handguns are mostly Smith & Wesson 9mm SMWs and Makarovs. For heavier armament, the AUP use some PKMs, RPKs, and the occasional RPG in addition to AKM mounted 40mm GP28 UBGL. Their vehicles are Ford Ranger pick up trucks, otherwise known among ISAF troops as “Danger Rangers”. These come equipped with an up-gun mount and rifle racks in the vehicle. They have sirens and communications equipment.
The ANA on the other hand have different armament dependent on the unit. The entry level ANA troops have mostly American supplied small arms. M16A2s are standard with M249 SAWs as a light machine gun and M240s being their medium machine gun. In the author’s final months in Helmand, some of the ANA troops were being issued M4s with picatinny rails and forward grips. Usually the M240s are mounted in the posts while the M249s go out on dismounted patrols or vehicle checkpoints. But this does change per the particular platoon operating. PKMs are also in use but very rarely. As for mounted patrols the ANA uses M1123 Humvees in either the cargo hold with barn door hatch configuration or the “bucket” version with raised armored sides and gun mounts. It is in the turrets of these vehicles that either .50 caliber M2HBs or M249s are mounted as upguns. The ANA also uses Ford Rangers and a troop carrying truck they call the “International”. These are the least preferred compared to the Humvees because of their poor performance against roadside IEDs.
Apart from the entry level ANA troops, there are two units that operate out of Shorbak that take it up a notch when it comes to small arms. The first is the Garrison Support Unit (GSU) and the other is the Afghan Task Force 444, or otherwise known as “Triple Four” in conversation. GSU is essentially the Shorbak headquarters and support company that is responsible for internal security and supporting the ANA mission on Shorbak. Another task that they do perform is to send out elements with Marine units to accompany them on combat patrols. These elements are never large, mostly just an attachment of a squad plus. They are armed with everything the entry level ANA soldier has but with the addition of 7.62x54R mm SVD Dragunov sniper rifles. On the patrols that the author has been with them, they have performed very well and were always willing engage in a good fight.
Kingdom of Jordan
The Jordanian ISAF contingent aboard BLS, officially known as JAF (Jordanian Armed Forces) is responsible for the Main Entrance Point or MEP. This where the majority of traffic into BLS comes through, both from outgoing ISAF mounted missions and incoming logistics convoys. Here JAF conducts vehicle searches and assists in guarding the gate area. The unit from Jordan that is currently deployed to BLS are elements of the 3rd Royal Guards (Mechanized). Their primary and only uniform is a digital brown/black/tan outfit with matching flak jackets and coats. JAF does not have a combat flame resistant garment meant to be worn for outside the wire. A misconception that some readers and even ISAF members have might be that since Jordan is in the Middle East, Jordanians can work a lot better alongside ANA troops. This is incorrect because Jordan and Afghanistan have completely different cultures and languages. The Jordanians speak a dialect of Arabic, the majority of Afghans speak Pashtu or Dari. The two peoples cannot communicate in the least.
The Jordanian arsenal is mostly supplied with American small arms with the exception of their handguns. Most of their missions involve being in a static searching position so they don’t have a full TO/E load-out with crew served weapons and designated billets. For the most part, the JAF enlisted men are armed with American made M4s, some have M16A2s. A very limited number of them have M249 SAWs which they use to mount on tactical vehicles. Interestingly enough, one of the M249s (Minimis) observed by the author had a Para buttstock and short barrel, gear American troops frequently don’t have.
Most of the M4s carried by JAF forces are Picatinny rail equipped with Aimpoint scopes mounted. All have the U.S. Army type rear iron sight with the front triangular sight maintained. Some rifles have the older round handguards instead of the Picatinny type. Along with the older handguards they will have a conventional carrying handle as well. Most of the JAF has 30-round magazines inserted in a condition 3 status with some equipped with 20-round magazines. A portion of the JAF does walk around base in condition 4, with no magazine inserted. All of the soldiers are issued 2 point slings, mostly the green parade type, with no 3 point or 1 points being in use.
Their officers are armed with 9x19mm Browning Hi Powers mostly carried in hip holsters. These were either issued a while back or their supply is old, as most of the Hi Powers have wooden grips with newer polymer grips being the exception not the norm. Some high ranking officers have the occasional Beretta M9 but this is even rarer than the polymer grip equipped Hi Powers.
Republic of Georgia
The Republic of Georgia has always maintained a strong presence of troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan throughout the two conflicts. On Leatherneck the country maintained an infantry battalion which is the 31st Georgia Light Infantry Battalion (GLIB). This unit recently was relieved by the 23rd GLIB in April of 2014. Georgian troops hold some of the internal security duties and also send out external patrols outside the wire. Unlike the Danes, Estonians, and British, they use MRAP tactical vehicles borrowed from the U.S. for their operations. Their uniform is loosely based on the US Army’s ACU with a major exception of being of a different hue of multicam. They have a flame resistant outfit that is worn on patrol. They use the older Interceptor flak jackets which are either DCU patterned or multicam, the newer unit using mostly the multicam version.
The Georgian arsenal is composed of a mixture of Soviet origin weapons, modern Israeli designs, and American commercial M4s. Personal armament consists of the Bushmaster M4 with either Aimpoint or Trijicon ACOG optical sights. Some of the rear echelon troops have simple iron sights instead. It should be noted that their rifle is the M4, not a mixed issue of carbine M4s or M16s but just M4s. These are usually accompanied with the standard forward grip. They are also probably the only force on Leatherneck with a standard issue custom sling. This is the single point sling from Tactical Tailor. With the 31st GLIB, AN/Q PEQ15s were found on most rifles to include some light machine guns. But with the 23rd GLIB the older black AN/Q PEQ 2s were used instead. For a grenadier role, UGLs (Georgian in origin) are mounted underneath the handguards of the designated M4s. These have a traditional upper handguard as opposed to a Picatinny rail that American forces use. For sighting options grenadiers use a modified flip up M203A1 sight that is mounted to the grenade launcher. To fire the UGL, there is a button on the left side that is simply pressed and the grenade is launched.
For machine gun armament the Georgians used 7.62x54R caliber PKM medium machine guns and Israeli IWI 5.56x45mm Negev light machine guns. The Negevs are used with 30-round STANAG magazines as opposed to a belt fed drum. Although a good machine gun, the Georgians said that it had to be kept clean and maintained often in order for it to be reliable. Negevs come equipped with Metroplex holographic sights mounted to the rear of the rifle on a Picatinny rail.
The PKMs come in either black or brown polymer furniture and are used with slings. Their operators carry them around the camp just like everyone else does with their rifles but this strikes the author as odd because they are a medium machine gun and not accompanied with security rounds. This would be akin to a Marine 0331 walking everywhere with his M240 and no ammunition, something that is not done. Regardless, the Georgians take them on patrol with the standard PKM drums in a dismount role and mounted in the MRAP turrets. Just as Afghans call them “Pkaa” so do the Georgians.
Many of the officers carry Israeli IWI Jericho pistols in 9x19mm. These are used in conjunction with also Israeli Fobus hip holsters. Some of the officers have Makarov pistols as well but these are limited compared to the Jerichos. Something that the 31st GLIB didn’t have and the 23rd GLIB did bring to the table were Galil rifles for a designated marksman role. These were in 7.62x51mm, equipped with scopes, bipods and enhanced pistol grips for shooting. The Georgians also use RPG7s on patrol.
The Estonians are armed with 5.56x45mm Galil ARMs in either the full size rifle or compact carbine version. Most had two scopes mounted, an Aimpoint 1x power red dot optic and a 3x magnifier on a QD mount. Unlike the Trijicon 4x RCO mounted on Marine M16A4s and M4s (which have close eye relief), the scopes are mounted extremely forward on the rifle. The selectors are the traditional Safe, Auto, and Semi (marked S, A, R) with the pistol grip thumb selector. They have a similar set up as the UK Forces, using a simple two point sling while on garrison but some having a single point attachment to be connected to an attachment on their flak jackets while outside the wire.
Their medium machine gun is the MG3 with its high rate of fire. As for handguns, all the Estonians have Heckler & Koch USPs regardless of being rear echelon or garrison. All of these are used in conjunction with the standard U.S. Military green ambidextrous hip holster. While deployed the author got to fire their small arms due to a charity shoot the Estonians organized on Camp Leatherneck.
The Danish forces in Afghanistan have established a reputation as a very capable and hard hitting force. As an example, they are the only ISAF force on BLS to use heavy tanks (M1 Abrams) in their mounted sections, and almost all of their tactical vehicles have M2HB .50 caliber heavy machines mounted as up guns. Their enormous and well groomed beards passed down from their Viking heritage just reinforces the image (the Danish realized early on in the conflict that to gain more respect among Afghan villagers, beards were seen as a mark of maturity, thus helping young Danish soldiers have better ground in engaging with much older village elders and the local populace). They maintained a company size element that mostly operated alongside the UK Forces, and sometimes supporting Marines as well. They wore camouflage utilities and had a combat flame resistant garment that was similar to the British design but differed in the torso material being of a beige color. Their flak jackets were of a matching pattern.
For personal armament the Danish ISAF contingent carried Diemaco C7 carbines mounted with variable power Elcan scopes. The rear echelon troops carried 9x19mm Sig Sauer P210s in hip holsters. These had either wooden grips or polymer but wood was observed more often than not. The Danish troops that went outside the wire were occasionally armed with Heckler & Koch USPs as well. Vehicle armament consisted of the previously mentioned .50 M2HBs and some M240s (MAG58) with MDOs mounted.
The small nation of Bosnia has the least amount of ISAF members aboard BLS. But they do provide a significant role in base security by guarding one of the entry points. There is at most a platoon reinforced of Bosnian troops at any one time. Their uniform is the older Desert Combat Uniform (DCU) and this is worn with matching flak jackets and outer garments. There is no combat flame resistant gear in use as they do not conduct external missions.
For armament the Bosnians have .50 caliber M2HB heavy machine guns for static defenses and are issued older M4 carbines with Elcan sights and the original Colt telescoping buttstock. Soldiers utilize 2 point slings and the officers have Sig Sauer P210s which are mostly
carried in hip holsters.
Private Military Contractors
The mercenary business has been around ever since men were willing to chance dying for a bit of gold coin instead of for a cause near to their heart. General Smedley Butler himself even wrote that all war is a very profitable enterprise for some of those not fighting and dying in the muck and the mire. The conflicts of Iraq and Afghanistan have simply streamlined the process of hired guns and brought them into being mainstream. As for Camp Leatherneck, the contract that protects the base day and night is an American private military contracting (PMC) company by the name of “Triple Canopy” (Triple for the company’s motto of Assess, Avert, and Achieve). The PMC was formed by prior American Special Forces veterans in the late 1990s and unlike the infamous Blackwater, (morphed into Xe, then Academi) has not gotten itself involved in any “indiscriminate murder” charges.
Triple Canopy (or TC as it is shortened to) is responsible for sections of perimeter guard along the fringes of Camp Leatherneck along with some interior guard duties. The author has stood countless hours of post as an Infantryman and has also been inside a number of TC posts and must admit, these posts would stir the envy of any Service member with their amenities, armament and creature comforts. TC guards have a standard uniform of a long sleeved green shirt with its logo adorned and tan “tactical contractor” pants. For protection, TC issues out SAPI plates and MICH helmets but as far as the actual flak jacket, many TC guards have their own choice, so long as the PPE fits inside. Most of the guards are prior Service members themselves and already know about all things military so aren’t novices when it comes to picking gear or completing their duties.
Personal armament consists of an M4 style carbine made by Bushmaster and offered commercially as the ES2 with one exception in that they have an automatic selector instead of just single fire. Some have a burst selector but these are rare. Most are issued with an EOTech 512 as well. As mentioned earlier many TC guards are prior service and thus have personal preferences about miscellaneous attachments to their rifles such as single point sling attachments, rail covers, forward grips, and flashlights. But these rifles are really only ever taken out while on post or en route to it. All guards are issued Glock 19 sidearms which while most use a hip holster, some use thigh rigs. All are also issued standard 14-round magazines but some have the 17-round magazine and insert that, which looks somewhat odd without a pistol grip extender or plate. On post these pistols remain in their holsters but some guards draw them and place them in the front portion of their flak jackets so as to make a faster draw if a secondary firearm is needed. Although the majority of TC guards have the Glock 19, a select percentage are armed with US Government supplied Beretta M9s.
For heavier armament, TC utilizes 7.62x51mm M240 Bravo medium machine guns, .50 caliber M2HB heavy machine guns, and Mark 19 Mod 3 40x53mm High Velocity automatic grenade launchers. Guard procedures are very scrupulous in clearing these weapons out between guards and maintaining them. Something as important as head space and timing an M2 machine gun can turn a bad situation into a very detrimental situation very quickly if not completed properly. Unlike many Marine machine gunners in theater that utilize MDOs and HDOs on their machine guns, TC doesn’t have optics on their machine guns and instead use the weapons iron sights. The posts already have binoculars and most sectors of fire are not that far out that suspicious activity wouldn’t be out of binocular range.
Although Triple Canopy is the largest PMC aboard BLS, there are plenty of other contractors that assist with training and other spectrums of base operations. These contractors were mainly armed with Beretta M9s and Glocks but a few Sig P226s and Heckler & Koch USPs were present. Again these handguns were mostly carried in hip holsters.
Being based on BLS and having the opportunity to be around all these ISAF and ANSF forces in addition to actually working and fighting alongside them was in itself an absolute delight while being on a combat deployment. Being able to be around all their various small arms, shooting them, and examining the differences in equipment and tactics was even better. Being in the profession of arms in addition to small arms being the author’s most important passion, this allowed an intimate look into the way that warfare is conducted in the modern age. The author hopes that the readers will gain much insight and knowledge from this glimpse into the forces on the front line.