Enfield rifles again finding favor in Afghanistan

StrategyPage has a article about the resurgence of Lee-Enfield rifles in Afghanistan and use against NATO troops:

Afghan traditionalists are changing the way the Taliban fight. This can be seen by the increase in the use of sniping by the Taliban. In the last year, NATO units in southern Afghanistan estimate there has been a 25 percent increase in sniping incidents.

Then some of the young guys remembered grandpa decrying the decline in marksmanship years ago. Back before the Russians showed up, in the 1980s, the best an Afghan could hope to have was a World War II, or World War I, era bolt action rifle. These weapons were eclipsed in the 1980s by full automatic AK-47s and the RPG rocket launcher. The young guys took to the AK, and the thrill of emptying a 30 round magazine on full automatic. Not bad for a brief firefight, and suddenly hardly anyone, except a few old timers, wanted to use the old bolt action rifle.

Read the entire article here.

800Px-Lee-Enfield Rifle-1
Lee-Enfield rifle No. 4 Mk I (From Wikipedia)

According to the book Charlie Wilson’s War, supplying .303 ammunition was initially a priority of the CIA during the 1980s. The Afghans were already armed with Lee-Enfield rifles of WWI and WWI vintage and there was greater deniability supplying then obsolete ammunition. Once the CIA gained more funding and political support they shifted thier startergy to supplying AK-47, heavy weapons and ultimately the Singer surface-to-air missile system.

This war is often incorrectly compared to the Soviet invasion. The Taliban do not represent the Afghan people nor are they as well supplied as the Afghan freedom fighter were by the US, Pakistan and Arab countries. The Taliban, while presumably well supplied, are fighting with less advanced weapons than they did back in the 1980’s. NATO forces on the other hand have come a long way. It is not surprise that sniping is on the increase. Force on force confrontations with NATO troops almost always end with high Taliban casualties.

Steve Johnson

Founder and Dictator-In-Chief of TFB. A passionate gun owner, a shooting enthusiast and totally tacti-uncool. Favorite first date location: any gun range. Steve can be contacted here.


  • OT

    I have a SMLE from the Longbranch armory in Canada, manufacture date of 1944 – it’s the only real battle rifle I own. I like to think it was used to kill Nazi’s and Japanese – or at least one.

    I can put six aimed rounds out in under five seconds – plate sized group at 125 yards. Probably could do better but have old eyes and am not really used to iron sights.

    I’d be happy to have a firefight against some yahoo with an AK-47 at any range over fifty feet. I shoot first.


  • readiris

    What about the Dragunov sniper rifles surely there available and have similar or better performance to a 2nd world war Enfield and of course there semi auto.

    • readiris, the Dragunov (SVD) rifle is not particularly accurate, they are squad designated marksmen rifles rather than true sniper rifles.

      I have no idea how the old SVDs compare to the much older enfields in accuracy. There are probably many more enfields in the country than there are SVD rifles.

  • jdun1911

    Both rifles aren’t accurate but it can make hits over 500m. With that said accuracy is in the eye of the beholder.

    For example, the Soviet term for accuracy is 6 MOA or below at 100 yards. To the Soviet troops the Afghan fighters were marksmen using the 6 MOA benchmark. On the other hand 1 MOA or below at 100 yards is accurate by Western standard.

  • Sean Nack

    when i was in “the ‘ghan”, we’d find those all over the place, those and old martini-henry’s, but none of those were ever in working order. one dude even got to bring one back; it was in perfect working order and we fired it a few times. odd that infantry soldiers in a combat environment found even more shooting fun, but hey, it filled some hours.

    the unit that replaced us, the 173rd, put a big emphasis on DM’s in their doctrine; i wonder if afghans took up the sniping as a response?

    only SVD i ever saw whilst i was there was with the ANA. that said, we always received fairly accurate fire from medium to long distance from AK’s and god knows what else, so i would say that accuracy was in the eyes of the be-shooter, you know what i mean?

  • Oh, come on. Western snipers are happy with more than 1 MOA in practice.
    Squad DM are happy with more than 2 MOA as long as they get the desired effect.
    2.5 MOA was pretty much what I observed as normal performance for the first ten G3 shots of German conscripts with no prior firearm experience and two minutes of aiming instruction.

    The ‘West=accurate, AK users=spray&pray’ myth is quite annoying. It has a true core, but it has been blown out of proportion since.

    By the way – a military history anecdote (not really related):
    The British were forced out of Afghanistan several times in the 19th century. At one time they had their red coats lined up away from their camp near Kabul, firing a volley at charging Afghan horsemen. They’ve hit none and the encounter was a total defeat.
    The British were actually inferior in marksmanship during that 19th century Afghan war and lost the long-range rifle battles.

    Said ‘Enfields’ in Afghanistan/Pashtu land are afaik mostly not really Enfields. They’re instead hand-crafted copies from the tribal area that produces AKM copies today.

  • jdun1911

    If my rifle were design for precision, I expect it to give me 1MOA or less. If I am a sniper I expect my rifle to give me one 1MOA or less. Anything other then that is unacceptable.

    The US military finds that the M14 accuracy is unacceptable. So what did the military do? Replace it with XM110. To some the M14 is accurate but to the military it wasn’t good enough.

    Accuracy is in the eye of the beholder.

  • Sean Nack

    i would credit the M-I-C with a victory on the XM110, but by and large i concur; fewer MOA the better, and for professionals and people who can afford that, that’s great. but picture yourself, for a moment, as an afghan in a mud-hut with a rifle that shoots a tiny bit better than your buddies’; lookee who’s a sniper all of a sudden.

    i think you and i are saying roughly the same thing. my contention is that a well-trained marksman with a Enfield (or M14, or M4, or AK) can get the job done. on ranges, in practice, accuracy is measured in MOA; in combat, it’s did you hit the target. we can all agree there, yes?

  • jdun1911

    I was replying to Sven.

    Yeah, we’re roughly saying the same thing.

    You use what you have. That’s a given. If your rifle gives you 4 MOA at best then that’s what you have. It’s better then a rock.

    Different groups have different benchmark for accuracy. A guy in Afghan will think his Enfields is accurate enough but if you give it to a professional marksman he will exchange it for a better rifle the first chance he gets.

    I’m not saying the Enfield is bad. I own one in my collection. It’s a good rifle. It has proven itself and no doubt can get kills over 400m.

  • Tom Stone

    SMLE rifles work.Which is why so many are in use in the backcountry of canada and alaska.Gibbs was remanufacturing them in 45-70 and they were popular with people in moose and bear country with people who wanted a rifle that was dependable and affordable.As far as accuracy,they were used in competition into the 1970’s with Parker-Hale barrels and it was found they had a “sweet spot” at about 600 meters.While not my first choice in rifles,they do meet the essential requirement of a Battle Rifle,reliability.

  • Sean G

    With regards to Afghan accuracy, the plateau regions there (namely Iran and Afghanistan) have amazing traditions of sharpshooting.

    I’ve seen a movie filmed in 1900 of a Lorestani man (in Iran) firing a flintlock at what looked like a bare mountainside…but lo and behold, a small speck the size of a pea on the theater-sized movie screen falls off a crag in the distance. The camera runs up, easily hundreds and hundreds of yards, and finds the mountain goat shot clean through the spine. According to the American film crew, the old Lorestani man was capable of doing this every time–it was how he fed his family.

    Here’s a great example of the musket he used:

    The Jezail musket was different from European muskets in that the calibers tended to be larger, and the distance of firing greater. This was largely geography. Afghanistan and Iran have massive valleys and mountains, or alternately wide open steppes–the landscape feels more expansive, and things can be seen from greater distances than much of Europe. Think the Dakotas vs. Florida, for example. .30-30 serves in Florida, but a .308 would be more suitable in Dakota.

    There are some great case studies in arms technology regarding the use of the Jezail against European powers in Afghanistan and especially the Caucuses as well. It was well suited to long-range ambushes against conventional formations of the day.

  • Sean G

    oops not 1900, brain fart!!! not much sleep last night.

    I meant 1925.


  • Mac45

    1 MOA, 2 MOA, 5 MOA… not relevant to the situation. What is relevant is how these weapons are used. The Enfield [including the Afghan copies, some of which are well made] has two advantages over the AK-47. One, it has a longer barrel and increased sight radius. And second, it is usually used as a hunting weapon in areas where long shots are not uncommon. This produces superior long range riflemen. Dedicated sniper rifles are without a doubt superior to the old Enfield, but in the hands of an experienced hunter, I wouldn’t feel safe within 1000 meters of one.

  • Oklahoma Mini Owner

    According to an interview I read with an ex-Spetznatz trooper, the Muj did the same thing when the Soviets were in country. I recollect that it is called “the ballistic advantage” or some such.

  • It doesn’t really matter how accurate it is. Arabs and Afghans can’t shoot for $#!+.

    However, if they want to learn, they’ll do better with a Smelly than an AK.

    I’ve seen and handled one of those US refurbed SMLEs. They’re actually pretty damned good, even by SMLE standards.

  • Eric

    Personally for a weapon of its age I think it is a fairly accurate rifle, and I passed several marksmen awards with a standard No.4 back in the 80’s.

    And just a little history on them…

    During the Second World War, standard No. 4 rifles, selected for their accuracy during factory tests, were modified by the addition of a wooden cheek-piece, and telescopic sight mounts designed to accept a No. 32 3.5x telescopic sight. This particular sight progressed through three marks with the Mk 1 introduced in 1942, the Mk 2 in 1943 and finally the Mk 3 in 1944 (later somewhat confusingly re-designated the L1A1). Holland and Holland, the famous British sporting gun manufacturers, converted the majority of No 4 Mk I (T) sniper rifles, with the rest converted by BSA and, in Canada, Long Branch arsenal. These rifles were extensively employed in various conflicts until the late 1960s, and when the British military switched over to the 7.62×51 NATO round in the 1950s, many of the No 4 Mk I (T) sniper rifles were converted to the new calibre and designated L42A1.

    The L42A1 sniper rifle continued as the British Army’s standard sniper weapon until the mid 1980s, being replaced by Accuracy International’s L96.

    • Eric, interesting, thanks for the info

  • HarryPurvis

    Just my two peneth

    In whatever conflict you go into, it’s what youve got rather that what you want. Then you get good at using it.

    The No4 is a great rifle, and it I had a choice of it or an AK series over the the terrain of Afghan I would like the 4, ammos plentifull (thanks to the CIA, some irony there) the kinetic is good for a knock down, hell even if you dont get a kill the guys going to have a bad day and splinters instead of ribs.
    I can get it rebuilt locally and the parts are home grown, and if stopped I could claim to be hunting, cant do that with an AK unless your hunting a flock of sheep in a pen.

    In all things it’s the “nut behind the butt”, yep I could take my 6.5x47mm handbuilt with S&M x56 scope, molyed rounds and gucci kit, and yess out to 1500 I would be a hero, but thats not what is going on, no ones asking the US/UK forces to use it, it’s your enemy who is, and surly the number of casivacs and body bags say more than I can.

    For those in the fight still, stay safe,head down and come home soon.

  • Lance

    The US Military did NOT replace the M-14 with the M-110. The M-110 is made to replace the M-24 SWS. M-14s still serve as NOT a sniper rifle but as a DMR as part of a infantry squad.

    As for .303 Enfields, thhe most dangerious opponets to come accross where afghans armed Enfields. Russian troops often leved a town when the found .303 rifles or cases on the premises.

  • Mike Price

    Australian Armory 303 Lee Enfield No1 Mk3 manufactured at the Lithgow factory in Australia in 1919.

    Largest group

    Smallest group with 42grs of 2495 at 2523FPS and group was 1.446″


    Adjust my sights to 3″ at 100yds and good to go.

    Ballistic Chart
    .303 British180gr Sierra SPT

    Sight in at 3.0″ high at 100yds

    1000 foot pounds energy as minimum on deer size game

    Yards——–Velocity—–Energy—–(above/below line of sight)





    320———–1980——1568——–(-10” P/B-hold top of shoulder)

    380———–1873——1402——–(-10” from top of shoulder)

    400———–1838——1350——–(-14” from top of shoulder)

  • Robert Ross

    “The British were forced out of Afghanistan several times in the 19th century”

    The British were never forced out of Afghanistan, apart from the loss of one coumn the rest of the forces withdrew in an orderly manner only to reinvade a few months later and finally again in 1878 when they crushed all resistance and annexed the country. Although the tribal jezails had a better range than the Brown Bess, any pertinent Afghan success was down to huge human wave attacks of 10:1 ratios(Battle of Maiwand), nothing to do with marksmanship which in itself doesn’t win a battle or a war.

    Account of the Battle of Maiwand;

    “These men charged from the shelter of a garden and died with their faces to the enemy, fighting to the death. So fierce was their charge, and so brave their actions, no Afghan dared to approach to cut them down. So, standing in the open, back to back, firing steadily, every shot counting, surrounded by thousands, these British soldiers died. It was not until the last man was shot down that the Afghans dared to advance on them. The behaviour of those last eleven was the wonder of all who saw it” “

  • walker
  • josua

    well, the enfield is an accurate weapon during WW1, I think its still the same oday