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Born out of Kalashnikov’s obsession to create a weapon capable of driving the invading Germans from his motherland, the Soviet weapons designer produced an assault rifle renowned as much for its simplicity as for its effectiveness.
Although it never saw service during World War II, the AK-47 became the standard infantry weapon for the Red Army, as well as most of the other Warsaw Pact armies. National liberation movements supported by the Soviet Union also found themselves generously equipped. More famously, it continues finding its way into the arsenals of rebels, drug traffickers, street gangs and terrorists the world over.
Now approaching 90, Kalashnikov remains bullish on his greatest creation. Despite the ever-mounting death toll caused by the AK-47, Kalashnikov has no trouble sleeping. “I was doing it for my country,” he says.
The AK-47 has evolved over the years, which keeps it relevant to this day. This gallery charts the history of this terrible, remarkable weapon.
Above: Early in the Iran-Iraq War, an AK-47-toting Iranian soldier watches smoke rising from burning oil refineries near the Iranian city of Abadan. The Iraqis under Saddam Hussein, armed and supported by the United States, used mostly M16s.
In this 1979 photo, a young Khmer Rouge soldier holds a North Korean-made AK-47 rifle after fleeing to Thailand ahead of advancing Vietnamese troops. The Soviet Union licensed manufacturers in a number of countries to produce versions of the AK-47.
Mikhail Kalashnikov, the AK-47’s inventor, shows off his handiwork in 1997 ahead of festivities to mark the weapon’s 50th anniversary.
A Taliban militiaman checks his AK-47 while cleaning it between skirmishes in the mountains of Afghanistan. The ammunition clip has been removed, which, considering the way he’s holding it, shows good sense.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California) holds an AK-47 with a modified shoulder stock and ammunition drum during a 1999 news conference in Washington D.C. Feinstein was seeking a federal ban on high-capacity ammunition clips. She didn’t get it.
Esmad Ullah, a teenage soldier in Afghanistan’s national army, could be the poster child for the ubiquity of the AK-47 assault rifle. The picture was taken in 2003, near Ullah’s observation post outside of Kabul.
Squeeze, don’t pull. A Palestinian girl receives a lesson in the art of firing an AK-47 from a police officer. She was among some 30,000 Palestinian youngsters who attended special summer camps across Gaza in 2000, where they were taught to handle weapons and schooled in guerrilla warfare tactics.
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