The US banned the Russian weapon six months ago, replacing it with M4 and M16 rifles, in a bid to shift the Afghan army’s main weaponry from a Russian to an American system.
The Afghan army rarely uses Kalashnikovs in combat with the Taliban militants. Except for a few Russian-made helicopters, the army is fully equipped with US and NATO weapons, defense officials said.
Afghanistan’s defense ministry handed over more than 10,000 rifles, which it received as a gift from Moscow several years ago, to the interior ministry.
“The process has begun. Some have been replaced, but we will still need them (Kalashnikovs) until given new guns. We still use both Russian and US weapons,” chief interior ministry spokesman Najib Danesh said.
There are no official figures on the number of Kalashnikovs used by Afghan police. Former army generals, who served during the country’s occupation by the former Soviet Union, say several hundred thousand Russian rifles have been stored, but a large number are still in use in the country.
The sturdy Kalashnikov is said to be favored by security force personnel as well as militant groups, including the Taliban and Daesh, which rely on various types of the same rifle, but copied and produced in other parts of the world.
The Kalashnikov is more reliable than the US-made M4 and M16 and does not rust easily, experts say.
A number of security force personnel have complained about the effectiveness of the M4 rifle.
“The Kalashnikov is a simple but solid weapon. It requires less time and resources to mend and even if you drop it in mud, it works fine afterwards,” said retired general Attiqullah Amarkhail.
He said “the US wants to control Afghanistan’s foreign and domestic policy forever,” which led it to replace the Russian weapon system in order to control the Afghan forces.
The US also barred Afghanistan from having Russian-made tanks and other heavy weapons repaired in India, which also uses the same arsenal, leaving a large number of tanks and heavy weapons idle.
Since the ousting of the Taliban in 2001, US and other NATO countries have spent tens of billions of dollars rebuilding the Afghan security forces, which stand over 250,000.
Gen. Mirza Mohammad Yarmand, a former deputy interior minister, said replacement of the Kalashnikov and other Russian-made weapons had two benefits.
“Since America provides logistics and arms to Afghanistan, it will be easier for it to repair the US-made weapons. From another perspective, this can also be a part of the US rivalry (with Russia), because the US seeks a long-term presence here and repairing of US weapons can be lucrative for American firms.”