Peacekeepers internationally as well as in Africa where the majority of the United Nations’ peacekeeping missions are have a major problem with the loss of arms and ammunition according to a report by the Small Arms Survey (SAS).
Titled “Making a tough job more difficult: the loss of arms and ammunition in peace operations” the report points out the loss of arms and ammunition in peace operations is a global and pervasive problem.
“It affects missions across geographic regions, functioning in different threat environments and involves many troop and police contributing countries,” according to Eric G Berman, lead author and managing director of the SAS. Co-authors are Mihaela Racovita, an associate researcher at the survey and Matt Schroeder, a senior researcher.
Arms and ammunition are lost in “a variety of ways” including patrols, escort duties, resupply operations and troop rotations among others.
A key finding of the report is more than a dozen organisations apart from the UN peacekeeping and peace support operations. Oversight of lethal materiel deployed during many missions is either negligible or non-existent.
“Even the UN has no institutionalised oversight of arms and ammunition recovered outside formal weapons recovery programmes. Materiel recovered through patrolling, cordon and search operations or resulting from embargoes or other mandate implementation measures can be sizeable.
“The extensive losses of contingent-owned equipment (COE) the SAS documented in Sudan and South Sudan are not outliers or exceptions.
“The SAS’ previous estimates of losses from peace operations in Sudan and South Sudan – at least 500 small arms and light weapons as well as 750 000 rounds of ammunition – significantly under-estimated the scale and scope of losses.
“The system through which the UN manages COE provides a framework for rigorously controlling arms and ammunition during peace operations. However, the establishment of uniformly robust controls on storage and transport is hindered by budgetary, logistical and infrastructural constraints; shortages in staffing and expertise and gaps in UN policies and procedures,” the report states.
It also points out armed guards deployed as part of unarmed civilian missions have lost arms and ammunition. “This raises questions about oversight and good practice that merit further exploration”.
In Africa most losses occurred in Somalia, DR Congo, Sudan, Burundi, Sierra Leona, Mali, the Central African Republic (CAR) and Ivory Coast while the Balkans, Cambodia, Haiti and the Israel/Syria border are named as other peacekeeping mission sites where arms and ammunition losses were noted by the research team.
Among examples listed are over 500 assault rifles, machineguns mortars and 45 000 rounds of ammunition “lost” by Zambian troops surrendering in Sierra Leone and a Nigerian convoy handing over 55 assault rifles, machineguns and about 14 000 rounds of ammunition after being attacked by rebels in Darfur.
Additionally, Kenyan troops serving with AMISOM lost at least 150 assault rifles, 26 machineguns, five mortars and 140 000 rounds of ammunitions when their camp was hit by al Shabaab rebels.
Another example given is that of Burundian troops losing more than 100 assault rifles, 20 machineguns, anti-tank weapons and mortars when attacked by al-Qaeda aligned fighters in Somalia.
The report notes: “The loss of small arms and ammunition is often – but not always – the cost of doing business.
“Sometimes peacekeepers are in the wrong place at the wrong time and some arms depots are breached not because of lax stockpile security, but because assailants are determined and well-armed.”