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In his Washington Post op-ed about the historical impact of the AK-47 automatic rifle, "Weapon of Mass Destruction," (Nov, 26, 2006), Larry Kahaner is overzealous and flatly wrong. He claims that in "several videotapes warning the West about reprisals" Osama bin Laden "is seen with an AK either next to him or propped up in the background. The typical stock footage shows a white-robed bin Laden firing an AK, a symbol to the world that he is a true anti-imperialist fighter." In fact, bin Laden's weapon is an AK-74, which is not the subject of Kahaner's piece and indeed is nowhere mentioned. The AK-74 played absolutely no role in many of the conflicts he describes, including Vietnam, insofar as it didn't go into mass production until 1976. While the AK-47 fires a 7.62 millimeter round, the AK-74 fires a 5.45 millimeter round. Thus while it may look much like the AK-47, it's actually essentially copying not just the round size of the M-16 (5.56) but the characteristics of that round. It could be argued the lineage is closer to that of the American M-16, the value of which Kahaner downplays. The new models of the AK-74 even eschew the AK-47's wooden stock and handguard in favor of black plastic - just like the M-16. Kahaner quotes somebody claiming the AK-47 is "The very best there is," but actually it's so notoriously inaccurate that -- as I've repeatedly witnessed in Iraq -- it's almost universally used in what's called "spray and pray" mode. In other words, depress the trigger until all 30 rounds are fired and hope you hit something. As the Federation of American Scientists notes on its website, "The M16A2 semiautomatic rifle is the standard by which all military rifles of the future will be judged."
[Note: In the original posting I said the AK-47 didn't fire full metal jacket rounds. It normally does. But what's more important is that it was designed to imitate the tumbling effect the M-16 round has when it hits flesh. It's no coincidence that many NATO countries have now adopted the M-16 round.]