What's happening at the
Wednesday 21 Feb 2018 | 16:48 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 21 Feb 2018 | 16:48 | SYDNEY

Libya's rebels: Where are the weapons from?



15 June 2011 11:17

Stephanie Koorey is an Adjunct Research Associate at Monash University.

Libya's rebels appear to be armed in a fairly predictable way. The basis of their armoury seems to come from weapons taken from state stockpiles in battle and from defecting Libyan officers. The literature refers to these as 'battle-captures', or euphemistically, 'leakage'. In Libya's case, it's clearly a flood. 

Libya was one of the largest purchasers of conventional military equipment in the developing world in the 1970s and 80s. While the USSR was its main supplier, others — such as Italy and France – also became suppliers. And Libya's coming in from the cold in the early 2000s — which included lifting the 1992-imposed arms embargo in 2003 — opened the door for new deals.

Footage shows the rebels with standard iconic revolutionary-style wooden-buttstock Kalashnikov (AK) automatic rifles — quite likely sourced from Libyan Government arsenals. There were also allegations of small arms coming over from Egypt, a not unlikely source of the standard AK. Qatari mortars and other arms and ammunition have also found their way to the rebels, in violation of the arms embargo. 

Western countries have been vocal in their refusal to arm the rebels. Even so, there have been some 'oops' moments, such as Swedish Carl Gustav recoilless rifles being seen in use by the rebels — likely explained by the weapons being decades old and probably transferred under earlier licensing and export arrangements — and a so-called 'typing error' explaining the 80 million euros worth of Italian-manufactured Berretta handguns shipped to Libya in 2009. 

Such weapons movements and surprises are fairly standard in civil wars and other intra-state conflicts. However, where the Libyan rebel arsenal is most interesting is in Al Jazeera footage of the rebels in receipt of a rifle from the AK-100 series (see above, 1:50 in). The recipients were reticent about where it came from, but the implication was that there is more than one. 

According to the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey, this weapon has not been distributed to any countries in the Middle East or Africa: it is in use in state forces in Eastern Europe, South and Central Asia and South America (Hugo Chavez can be seen posing with an AK-103 in 2006).

What this appearance of AK-100s might mean is that the rebels do indeed have a benefactor outside the region. It also makes the Libyan rebels the first known non-state combatants to have AK-100s. AK envy may well set in for other revolutionaries.

It will be hard to prove who shipped these weapons and how they got to the rebels. And anyone who can plausibly deny involvement — whether a state-sponsor, an an arms dealing entrepreneur, or both (see the case of Viktor Bout) — will most certainly do so.

You may also be interested in...