Rebel fighters in Mali made extensive use of weapons originally from Libyan arsenals during 2012/13, a joint investigation by The Small Arms Survey and Conflict Armament Research has found.
In a new report, they note the rebellion in particularly the northern areas of Mali differed in scale and intensity to previous Tuareg rebellions in the same region.
“This,” the report notes, “has been attributed to an outpouring of weapons, ammunition and related materiel from the 2011 Libyan civil war.
“Weaponry, some of it heavy, is from former Libyan military arsenals. It includes 106 mm recoilless rifles and NR-160 rockets. Weapons such as BM-21 multiple-launch rocket systems, 9M22M rockets and UB-32 rockets launchers proliferated extensively in post-conflict Libya and may well have originated there. There is too little information visible on the weapons themselves in film and video footage and photographs taken in Mali, or on the precise composition of Libya’s pre-civil war arsenal to draw firm conclusions as to their origin.”
The report also documents numerous weapons, ammunition and related materiel whose provenance is unclear. It states there are firm indications rebel fighters captured some from the Malian armed forces, particularly during the rapid advances made in March/April last year, when military bases were seized in Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu.
“Recovered weapons indicate these advances led to the capture of a variety of ordnance, including small arms and light weapons. This was in addition to major conventional weapons, such as BM-21 multiple-launch rocket systems.”
Among small arms positively identified were Kalashnikov assault rifles, FN FAL rifles, G3 rifles, MAT-49 sub-machine guns, RPD light machine guns, PK general purpose machine guns, Dragunov SVD 54R sniper rifles, PSL sniper rifles and barrels for general purpose machine guns.
The DSHKM heavy machine gun was widespread and mounted on Toyota Landcruisers.
RPG-7 rocket launchers, SPG 73mm recoilless guns, M40 106 mm recoilless guns and 81/82 mm mortars were also verified as having been used by the rebels along with their specialist ammunition and nose fuzes.
In terms of larger conventional weapons, the researchers documented 2A14 single-barrel 152B cannons, Zu-23 twin barrel 152B cannons, 12 tube 107 mm rocket launchers, UB-32 57 mm multiple rocket launchers, D-30A 122 mm towed howitzers and BM-21 122 mm multiple launch rocket systems. Ammunition for all these weapons was also documented by the Small Arms Survey and Conflict Armament Research.
Two armoured military vehicles were positively identified, with the BRDM-2 armoured personnel carrier of Soviet Union/Warsaw Pact origin seen in Gao. The other armoured vehicle positively documented is the BTR-60 armoured personnel carrier.
“Rebel forces could have captured it from the Malian army in March 2012, which was reported to have deployed 44 of these vehicles ahead of the 2012 rebellion. Its disruptive pattern colour scheme is different from documented Malian armoured vehicles, usually painted in plain dark green,” the report stated.
Earlier this month the UN Security Council’s Group of Experts – who monitor an arms embargo imposed on Libya at the start of an uprising in 2011 which ousted leader Muammar Gaddafi – said the North African state had become a key source of weapons in the region as its nascent government struggles to exert authority.
Weapons are spreading from Libya at an “alarming rate,” fuelling conflicts in Mali, Syria and elsewhere and boosting the arsenals of extremists and criminals in the region, according to the Group’s report.
“Cases, both proven and under investigation, of illicit transfers from Libya in violation of the embargo cover more than 12 countries and include heavy and light weapons, including man-portable air defense systems, small arms and related ammunition and explosives and mines,” the experts wrote in the report.
“Illicit flows from the country are fuelling existing conflicts in Africa and the Levant and enriching the arsenals of a range of non-State actors, including terrorist groups,” according to the 94-page report, which was dated February 15.
“The proliferation of weapons from Libya continues at an alarming rate,” the report said.
The experts said transfers of arms to Syria – where a two-year-old civil war has killed more than 70,000 people – had been organized from various locations in Libya, including Misrata and Benghazi, via Turkey or northern Lebanon.
The report also found that in the past year flows of Libyan weapons to Egypt appeared to have increased significantly.
“While trafficking from Libya to Egypt represents a challenge primarily for Egypt’s internal security, in particular in relation to armed groups in the Sinai, some of the materiel appears to have crossed Egypt to further destinations, including the Gaza Strip,” the experts wrote.
Weapons from Libya were also being transported through southern Tunisia, southern Algeria and northern Niger to destinations such as Mali, but some arms were remaining in those corridor countries for use by local groups.
“These zones also serve as bases and transit points for non-state armed groups, including terrorist groups and criminal and drug trafficking networks with links to the wider Sahel region,” according to the report.