Iraqi Insurgents Turn To Small But Deadly Weapon

Twenty RKG-3 grenades were discovered in Salah ad-Din province May 29.

Twenty RKG-3 grenades were discovered in Salah ad-Din province May 29, along with additional materials used to make improvised explosive devices. Courtesy U.S. Army hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy U.S. Army

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have forced the U.S. military to rapidly innovate. First came a plea from soldiers to get better-armored Humvees to protect against roadside bombs. Then, Defense Secretary Robert Gates made a push to bring out a huge armored truck called a mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle, or MRAP, which can survive almost any bomb buried under the road.

But as the military has been innovating, the insurgency has, too.

Recently, insurgents have been using a portable, powerful weapon called the RKG-3, says U.S. Army intelligence officer Maj. Chuck Assadourian.

"Basically, it's a grenade that's thrown, and it's got an armor-penetrating [element]," he says.

Small, But Deadly

U.S. military officials are hard at work on a strategy to defend against this small but deadly weapon.

For several years, Iraqi insurgents have been using shaped charges that the U.S. military calls EFPs, or explosively formed penetrators. They are essentially armor-piercing anti-tank mines.

The RKG-3 is "kind of like a mini-EFP shaped charge on a stick," Assadourian says.

The grenades, developed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War and copied and produced by numerous countries, have been seen mostly in the northern Iraqi cities of Mosul, Kirkuk, and in nearby Diyala province.

Light, Easily Concealed

An RKG looks like a tin can on a long stick and is easily concealed in a crowd. It is light enough to be carried even by a child.

The Iraqi government has been running television ads against aiding the insurgents or carrying weapons — including an ad about the RKG.

But the weapon has an appeal to those who claim to attack only Americans and not harm Iraqis. It can be used almost surgically to strike one American truck in the middle of a mixed Iraqi-American convoy.

Abu Haider — not his real name — is a former tank officer in the Iraqi army. He admits that he has acquaintances who have fought against the Americans. He says the RKG is perfect for hitting and running, though it has to be thrown correctly for the charge to have its full effect.

Penetrating U.S. Armor

One or two RKGs can cut most of the American armored vehicles in half, he says, adding that when he was riding a tank in the Iran-Iraq war, these were the weapons that scared him the most.

Some of these grenades are rumored to be coming in from Iran, but Assadourian says Iraq had plenty of them in stock as well.

"I think it was the fourth-most-armed country in the world prior to our arrival," Assadourian says. "And so, you know, there's tons of stores. Sometimes they get pulled out of where Saddam had them, put somewhere else, and then the person who did the moving may have been detained."

And it may be that former members of the regime knew where to find these RKGs, which might explain why they are most commonly used by the Naqshbandi army, an insurgent force connected to Saddam Hussein's former vice president, Izzat al-Douri.

The Naqshbandi group has posted video online showing stockpiles of the grenades and even a few attacks on American convoys.

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