Warning! Booby-Trapped Ammo

“The United States has been seeding battlefields with improvised exploding ammunition, part of a large-scale project intended to undermine the Taliban that can have grisly unintended effects,” C. J. Chivers reports at atwar.blogs.nytimes.com. “Such ammunition was introduced by the United States to Afghanistan with hopes that it would explode inside the weapons of its foes. But ammunition tends to move fluidly through and around conflict zones. And once loose, booby-trapped ammunition does not distinguish between a weapon held by a Talib, a weapon held by an American soldier or a weapon held by anyone else.” What are the odds that some of that booby-trapped ammo could work its way back to the U.S.? Small. But you won’t see me buying loose ammo from abroad any time soon. Just sayin’ . . . [Click here for video of booby-trapped weapons and ammo]

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About Robert Farago

Robert Farago is the Publisher of The Truth About Guns (TTAG). He started the site to explore the ethics, morality, business, politics, culture, technology, practice, strategy, dangers and fun of guns.

33 Responses to Warning! Booby-Trapped Ammo

  1. avatarjwm says:

    i recall something like this being done in the viet nam days. I don’t know what if any real world effect a ploy like this has on the outcome of any conflict.

    I guess you’re trying to make the bad guys nervous. As if living in caves and watching for missile carrying drones wasn’t already guaranteed to make you nervous.

  2. avatarAharon says:

    Interesting piece. It might give mikeb some ideas in his quest to control gun owners. I look forward to learning about re-loading.

  3. avatarAverage_Casey says:

    So the U.S. booby trapped some 7.62 ammo there. Then just don’t but surplus 7.62 surplus ammo from that country and it’s neighbors.

  4. avatarStarro says:

    The tactic dates to far before the early 1900′s, to when cannon were in use. Worst case scenario is that a usable piece falls into enemy hands. Better case scenario, your forces are able to render the piece hors d’combat before it is captured. Even better case, you leave a nasty little surprise for your foe when he attempts to turn the gun on you. Of course the best case scenario is not to lose a gun in the first place. Unless, of course, you are doing so intentionally, eh Mr. Holder?

  5. avatarensitu says:

    News Flash for the NYTs Ammo does not move “fuildly” US troops do not fire BFPU ammo if the Talib do it it would be against orders.
    SOP is to mark it, report it, and let EOD take care of it.
    MR Chivers is a Class A rummor mongering Ashcan as well as an idiot

    • avatarAlphaGeek says:

      I’m not sure I agree. I read his statements as making the fairly reasonable point that spiked ammo could easily make it into the hands of allies and friendly neighboring states, who tend to use the same AK-class weapons as the militarized opposition.

      • avatarGoat says:

        Especially when it is the same mercs that are being used all around the middle easy and elsewhere for dirty work, since they were used against the russians in afghanistan the first time at the very least, and even all the way back to WWI.

    • avatarChris Dumm says:

      Having read The Gun and much of Chivers’ other work, I have to disagree with your claims about his journalism. I also must disagree with your contention that small-arms ammunition does not move fluidly around the world. It does. My storage cabinet contains 30 year-old Soviet surplus 5.45×39 ammo and 40 year-old Soviet surplus 7.62x54R. A few years ago it also included a few hundred rounds of 7.62×51 NATO of unknown origin, which proved to be unsafe to shoot.

      I’ve shot ‘surplus’ .303 rounds that fizzled for a quarter-second before firing. When we pulled the bullets, we found they were filled with sticks of Cordite and may have been produced before World War 1.

      More recently, Joe Grine purchased a case of surplus 7.62×51 NATO from an online retailer with a bad reputation. His shipment included about 20% crushed, bent, corroded, drilled or unprimed rounds. The ammo looked like it had been scavenged from the crew compartment of a shot-out Israeli tank from the 1967 war and stored in a salt-water bath for 40 years.

      Surplus ammo rarely comes with a ‘sell by’ date, and when it does those dates are usually ignored. If something externally looks like a small-arms cartridge and it’s packed with other loose rounds of the same caliber, it can float around the global stream of commerce for decades. The booby-trapped 7.62×39 rounds we left in Vietnam are probably all corroded or exploded by now, but these new Syrian rounds will be exploding in rifles for decades to come, all over the world.

      I wouldn’t buy any loose-packed ‘surplus’ 7.62×39 or 7.62×51 NATO, starting now, and I sure as hell won’t be shooting it.

  6. avatarAlphaGeek says:

    The article was a good read. For the TTAG AI, I think the moral of the story is to buy factory-boxed ammo to feed your firearms of Russian ancestry, which frankly just seems like a good idea regardless. It’s not like steel-cased Tula is significantly more expensive than loose boxes of military surplus 7.62×39, if you can even find it as milsurp these days.

  7. avatarH Rap Brown says:

    I wonder what explosive is used to spike the ammo? Supposedly ballisite was used in Vietnam.

  8. avatarST says:

    “Tonight on World News 2014,scattered reports are arriving of US shooters suffering powder burns .In light of Obama’s National Assault Weapon database only registering 10% of regulated rifles in circulation,there are a lot of AK and AR owners reporting injuries with undocumented rifles.The White House could not be reached for comment”

  9. avatarOHgunner says:

    I liked the part of the NYT video where the Talib yells “Allahu Akbar!” as he drops a booby-trapped mortar down the tube. Hahahaha. Good riddance to bad rubbish.

  10. avatarrgsmithiv says:

    I find this to be a disturbing report. I realize war is ugly, but I feel certain methods of engaging the enemy are cruel and disgusting. Booby trapping ammunition, which would more often result in the loss of hands and horribly disfigured faces than an actual kill, is something the United States should not be taking part in. This practice seems no different than the use of land mines, which our country has vowed to abolish. http://www.state.gov/t/pm/wra/c11735.htm

    • avatarBill says:

      Boo hoo. Go cry about it to your rainbows and little puppies.

    • avatarAlphaGeek says:

      I question the ethics & morality of spiking rifle ammo, especially when it’s the common cartridge for that region of the world and could easily end up blowing some previously-US-friendly farmer’s hand off.

      I have no problem at all with the idea of spiking mortar rounds and RPGs. Anyone firing one of those is a combatant, and there’s enough explosive charge to kill rather than maim.

    • avatargabba says:

      well one of the main reasons rifle designs switched to smaller bullets was because they were less lethal, merely wounding enemy soldiers was far more crippling to an opposing force. they either had to expend significant man power in rescue and treatment, or like the russians did, they would have to abandon the wounded or put them out of their misery both of which resulted in horrible morale and mutiny.

    • avatarWLCE says:

      I dont like it because citizens can capture ammunition and become injured when they try and defend themselves or go hunting. Also, spiked ammunition is easily remedied; just ban forces from using ammunition scattered throughout the battlefield.

      Spiking heavy weapons is a different story.

      • avatarSpectre7 says:

        War is hell. You won’t find the word “humane” in its description. If you’re unwilling to abide such practices you never should have gone to war in the first place.
        Also, how would ban an insurgent force from using ammo they come across? How do you think they get their ammo? And hot rounds are often placed in supply dumps too, so it wouldn’t matter if you weren’t picking up battlefield ordnance.

  11. avatarMashashin says:

    I remover some stories about the soviets doing this with some grenades during the cold war so that as soon as you pulled the pin it would go off

    • avatarBilly Wardlaw says:

      One of the few stories I have from my father in Vietnam was that of dropping cases of frag grenades, with smoke grenade fuse cores installed, out of his Huey. He was a door-gunner, and specifically recalled operations where they would fly out over the jungle dropping cases and magazines of spike ammo and grenades.

  12. avatarDon says:

    This has been done since the creation of cartridge ammo.

    I kind of look at this practice the same way I view landmining. (while effective if controlled to only hit your targets, impossible to control, so therefore kind of “not cool”).

    -D

  13. avatarLemming says:

    Wait, the army is leaving boxes of WWB for the Taliban to find?

  14. avatarSkyler says:

    Hee hee. Looks like NYT has fallen for an urban legend.

    When my battalion was in Iraq, there was a story going around among the Iraqis that we had a way to “jam” the RPG rounds so they didn’t work. The way to counter it was to wrap wet rags around the warhead.

    Of course, RPG’s aren’t guided and the wet rags made it nearly impossible to aim and hit your target properly.

  15. avatarJWest says:

    1. The Germans booby trapped everything in WWII.
    2. We did ammo, mortar rounds and rockets in VN.
    3. SOV’s did same in Afghanistan in the 80′s.
    4. Was warned to hand recovered munitions over to EOD in VN. Did not know about #2.
    5. Mr. Chivers is a great reporter and a solid citizen. He’s spent a lot of time on the ground in Libya and, now Syria. Everything he says is backed by reasonable evidence -tho I think he tends to plump for the rebels. But then that’s where he has access. Qadafy and Assad haven’t exactly rolled out a welcome mat.
    6. His web site, “The Gun,” presents stuff that doesn’t necessarily wind up in the NY Times.
    7. BTW is named after his Pulitzer prize winning book -which is a masterful discussion of small arms in the twentieth century (primarily through the AK-47).
    V/R JWest

  16. avatarensitu says:

    .#1 BFPU ammo is not importable into the USA under several laws and ordances
    #2 Doctored ammo is not routinely left at the site of an engagment, it is infiltrated into the logistical train in small numbers.
    #3 the odds that a GI would PU some comm block ammo and smuggle it into the US
    and face the minium of an Article 15 and perhaps jail time and if sucessful fire it and discover that Gee it was Doctored is incredably, nay infinitely small

  17. avatarEd says:

    Anybody besides me think that its wrong that the NYT or any other group is reporting what MIL do or dosent do in AFG the enemy can read this stuff when did it become everyones business what the Military dose in AFG ? and for any one who thinks things are wrong that are done in AFG then go over there yourself and do things differently otherwise keep your judgments to your self. if you haven’t helped carry an KIA american to a medevac bird then don’t monday morning quarterback combat.

    • avatarJWest says:

      1. Chivers is not reporting on events in AF.
      2. He’s reporting on the battlefield in Syria.
      3. Tangentially, mentioned that doctored ammunition was used by many military forces, including ours.
      4. Broadcasting the tactic will not necessarily render it ineffective or cause additional US casualties, anyway.
      V/R JWest

  18. avatarGreg in Allston says:

    Caveat emptor. The odds of any particular individual coming across a bobby-trapped round from so-called surplus ammunition coming from the various theaters of war over the last several decades are vanishingly small, but those odds are not zero.

    Personally, I don’t buy reloads and I don’t buy sketchy, repackaged surplus. The cost/benefit analysis just doesn’t come out on the + side of the actuarial equation.

    Golly, I saved twenty bucks and I only lost a good rifle and my right eye. How cool is that? That’s not part of my plan.

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