ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have forced the U.S. military to innovate rapidly. First came a plea from soldiers to get Humvees with better armor. Then, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates pushed for thousands of huge armored trucks called MRAPs. They can almost survive any bomb buried under the road. But the insurgency has also been innovating.

NPR's Quil Lawrence reports on a weapon that insurgents have recently started using in Iraq to deadly effect.

QUIL LAWRENCE: For several years now, insurgents have been using shaped charges, which the U.S. military calls EFPs, explosively formed penetrators. They're essentially an armor-piercing anti-tank mine. Recently, insurgents are using a much more portable weapon that's nearly as powerful, says U.S. Army intelligence officer, Major Chuck Assadourian. It's called an RKG-3.

Major CHUCK ASSADOURIAN (U.S. Army Intelligence Officer): Basically it's a grenade that's thrown and it's got an armor-penetrating - it's kind of like a mini-EFP shaped charge on a stick.

LAWRENCE: Assadourian is based in Kirkuk in the north of Iraq. The RKGs have been seen mostly here in neighboring Diyala province and in the city of Mosul. It looks like a tin can on a long stick and it's light enough to be carried even by a child and it's easily concealed in a crowd.

(Soundbite of TV commercial)

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

LAWRENCE: 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.

Mr. ABU HAIDER (Former Tank Officer, Iraqi Army): (Foreign language spoken)

LAWRENCE: Abu Haider, not his real name, is a former tank officer in the Iraqi army. And he admits that he's got 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.

Mr. HAIDER: (Foreign language spoken)

LAWRENCE: One or two RKGs can cut most of the American armored vehicles in half, he says. When he was riding a tank in the Iran-Iraq war, these were what scared him the most, says Abu Haider. Some of these grenades are rumored to be coming in from Iran, but Iraq had plenty of them in stock, as well, says Major Chuck Assadourian.

Maj. ASSADOURIAN: This was the - I think it was the fourth-most-armed country in the world prior to our arrival. 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.

LAWRENCE: It may be former members of the regime who knew where to find these RKGs, which may 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. U.S. military officials are hard at work on a strategy to defend against this small but deadly weapon.

Quil Lawrence, NPR News, Baghdad.

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