KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - The Afghan National Army has given back thousands of assault rifles donated by Canada several years ago in a $9-million effort to bring the fledgling fighting force up to speed.
The 2,500 modified, surplus C-7 rifles, mostly vintage 1980s weapons, were delivered to the Afghan military amid much fanfare between 2007 and 2008.
But with a renewed focus on training, NATO has quietly decided that the entire Afghan force should be equipped with American M-16s, of which the C-7 is a variant.
"The M-16 provided by the United States is very similar to the C-7, however their parts are not interchangeable," said Maj. Andre Salloum, an Ottawa-based spokesman for Canada's overseas command.
"As such, the decision was made to recover the C-7 weapons and return them to Canada for disposal."
It was the Afghans who, early in the war, asked for NATO weapons. Their soldiers carried leftover Soviet AK-47s, which are heavier and far less accurate than the family of North American rifles preferred by the North American military.
Canada, as part of its plan to train the Afghan army, donated 2,500 used rifles that had already been slated for disposal. They were modified with a shorter butt to accommodate the slightly smaller stature of soldiers in Afghanistan.
The donation itself was pocket change, relatively speaking — about $2.9 million. The real cost was in shipping the weapons and supplying ammunition, not to mention the training time that went into showing the Afghan soldiers how to use the rifles.
The donation was meant to serve as one of Canada's small legacies in Afghanistan.
"This responds directly to one of the security benchmarks of the Afghanistan Compact, to which Canada is a signatory along with over 60 members of the international community," said an Aug. 16, 2007, briefing note on the program, obtained by The Canadian Press under access to information laws.
"This donation falls in line with, and is part of NATO's greater initiative to increase the capacity of the ANA."
At the same time Canada made its donation, the U.S. decided to kick in as well, sending some 104,000 M-16s between 2007 and 2009.
Whether the two allies talked about co-ordinating their gifts remains unclear, but officials saw the Canadian donation as supplementing American efforts.
"We assume that this initiative is in harmony with ISAF reconstruction efforts," said an undated Defence Department analysis conducted in early 2007.
"While the overall arming of the ANA seems to be a project led by the U.S., Canada wishes to do its part. What that 'part' will be, and how it will dovetail into the bigger reconstruction effort, is up to (Canadian Expeditionary Force/Department of Foreign Affairs) to illuminate."
The Canadians also provided seven million rounds of 5.56-mm ammunition, which was expected to last for years.
The documents suggest getting the weapons into Afghan hands was a fairly complicated process, one that included filing the Canadian serial numbers off the weapons.
Under International Traffic in Arms regulations, National Defence not only had to seek permission through Foreign Affairs, it had to ask the U.S. State Department for the green light.
"The mere staffing of this initiative through the meanders of the different department and international agencies required to approve this initiative will take time, far longer than the time required to prepare the weapons for shipment to the ANA," said an April 7, 2007 briefing note to former army chief Lt.-Gen. Andrew Leslie.
In its options analysis, the army laid out three approaches for meeting the Afghan request and the first one was for Canada to simply buy weapons and give them to the units they were training, instead of donating surplus equipment.
In: World News, Afghanistan
Tags: Afghan, army, gives, donated, rifles, back, to, Canada, in, favour, of, U.S., weapons
Location: Afghanistan (load item map)
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