Courtesy: "New York Times", 21 April 2011
Inferior Arms Hobble Rebels in Libya War
By C. J. CHIVERSBENGHAZI, Libya — A PKT machine gun, a weapon designed to be mounted on a Soviet tank and fired electronically by a crew member inside, has no manual trigger, no sights and no shoulder stock. That does not prevent many Libyan rebels from carrying it as if it were an infantryman’s gun, even though it cannot be fired.
A Carcano cavalry carbine — probable refuse from Italian colonization in Libya between the world wars — is chambered for a dated rifle cartridge that the rebels have not been able to procure. That did not deter
four rebels recently seen wandering the battlefield with these relics, without a cartridge to fire. The MAT-49, a submachine gun produced for the French military several decades ago, is a weapon for which it is difficult to obtain parts. That did not seem to trouble one rebel who showed up on the eastern Libyan front brandishing a MAT-49 — with no magazine. He would have been more dangerous with a sling and stone.
The armed uprising in Libya has produced a spontaneously formed force with a grand and passionately held ambition: to defeat Libya’s state-sponsored military in battle and chase Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi and his sons from power.
Few who have seen the front lines would dispute that Libya’s rebels need arms matched to their fight. But as the European powers send military advisers to eastern Libya, the developing NATO plan to help the rebels organize themselves quickly into an effective fighting force confronts their backers with difficult issues.
A survey of weapons carried by hundreds of rebels fighting on two fronts — in eastern Libya and the besieged city of Misurata — presents a picture of an armed uprising that is both underequipped and in custody of many weapons with no utility in the war at hand. The rebels are also in possession of weapons that if sold, lost or misused, could undermine their revolution’s reputation and undercut their cause.
These include anti-aircraft missiles and land mines, both of which the rebels have used on at least a limited basis so far, and which pose long-term regional security threats. They include as well heavier weapons — Type 63 and Grad rockets — that rebels have fired indiscriminately, endangering civilians and civilian infrastructure.
Taken together, the rebels’ mismatched arsenal and their inexperience and lack of discipline have made achieving the revolution’s military goal extraordinarily hard. For their part, the rebels insist they have the will to prevail against the forces loyal to Colonel Qaddafi if provided the means. That resolve was clear in the words of Fikry Iltajoury, 31, who turned up on a recent day with only a large steak knife. He had been fighting from a machine gun truck, he said, until the truck and machine gun were destroyed.
“We were hit and my friends died,” he said “I lost my weapon but have this.”
He held up the knife, a serrated blade with a wooden handle. “I want to stuff it into Qaddafi’s heart.”
Mr. Iltajoury’s circumstances — eager but materially unprepared — matched what is often visible elsewhere.
By one fundamental measure of readiness, the Forces of Free Libya, as the rebels call themselves, are abjectly underequipped: They have many more volunteers than rifles.
Kalashnikov prices in eastern Libya point to wartime scarcity — some fighters said they paid more than $2,000 for their weapon, several times a typical price. In the siege of Misurata, many rebels at the front have no firearms at all, and wait for a friend to fall before joining the fight.
Those who do have modern weapons have gathered into motley formations with arms that either require different training, need different types of ammunition, or both.
It is not uncommon to see a rebel group with widely mixed weapons: a NATO-standard FN FAL rifle, two different classes of Kalashnikovs, a Degtyaryov machine gun of early Soviet provenance and perhaps a bolt-action rifle from before World War II, like the Carcano carbines or specimens from the old Lee-Enfield line.
A few grenades (homemade or factory-produced) and an occasional rocket-propelled grenade or anti-aircraft missile often round out their armaments, along with PKT machine guns (fired not with a trigger but by a bolt-release mechanism) or homemade rocket launchers, little more than an electrical circuit hooked up to welded bars and pipes.
The rebels have other shortages as well — including ammunition and spare parts, especially in Misurata. (So far the rebels have acknowledged that only one foreign government, presumably Qatar’s, has provided them with weapons — a shipment said to include 400 rifles.)
But if the shortages are unmistakable, so are the risks of distributing arms to such a force. Among the Forces of Free Libya, an absence of discipline and experience, a fleeting appreciation for both the tactical and technical aspects of weapons employment and a disregard for, or perhaps ignorance of, international conventions are all on display.
Put simply, the rebels have a limited sense of how to use modern weapons in ways that maximize their effectiveness while minimizing their risks to everyone else.
They have exhibited what seems to be a tolerance for at least a small number of child soldiers. Such was the case of Mohamed Abdulgader, a 13-year-old boy seen at a forward checkpoint earlier this month with an assault rifle in his grip.
Mohamed claimed not be a front-line fighter. But he was in area that within an hour came under fire, and made clear his readiness to fight. “If the Qaddafi men try to do anything to me, I will hurt them,” he said. None of the fighters present, or their commander, appeared concerned.
Similarly, the rebels have little evident command-and-control and no clear or consistent rules of engagement — factors that have perhaps contributed to instances of abusive or outright brutal conduct.
There have been credible accounts of rebels beating and robbing African men on the mere suspicion of their being mercenaries, and on April 9 two journalists observed rebels capture and immediately kill a suspected Qaddafi informant.
Countries that provide arms to such lawless forces could later be accused of encouraging or enabling these kinds of crimes. Similarly, many rebels have assembled powerful but inaccurate weapons systems that they have been firing near Ajdabiya and Brega. These include 107-millimeter rockets on pickup trucks, as well as makeshift mounts for 122-millimeter Grad rockets and 57-millimeter air-to-ground rocket launchers removed from former Qaddafi attack helicopters.
Journalists have seen these high-explosive munitions fired repeatedly, and often haphazardly. The rebels firing them typically have no evident communication with forward observers who might watch where their ordnance lands, and have shown no ability to adjust their aim.
In tactical terms, this is indiscriminate fire — the very behavior rebels and civilians have decried in the Qaddafi forces, albeit on a smaller scale.
Moreover, the rebels possess weapons, including land mines, that if used or not accounted for, could undermine their quest for international stature and support.
Although the rebel leadership in Benghazi had said its forces would not use the mines they inherited from Qaddafi government stocks, on April 17 a BBC news crew videotaped rebels laying anti-vehicular mines near Ajdabiya, the rebel city at the edge of currently contested territory.
Similarly, after capturing former military arsenals, the rebels openly distributed portable anti-aircraft missiles, known as Manpads. If they drift from the rebels’ possession to black markets, they could be used by terrorists to attack civilian aviation.
The weapons have little current utility for the rebels. Aircraft now overhead in Libya are almost always from NATO, or otherwise considered friendly. (One rebel helicopter was visible flying near the front lines about 10 days ago.)
Nonetheless, rebels still carry them, and officials in Algeria and Chad have publicly said that since the uprising began, loose Manpads from Libya have been acquired by operatives with Al Qaeda in Africa.
Taken together, this mixed picture presents foreign backers with a pair of related problems. To watch Libyan rebels head to battle is to watch young men calling for freedom step toward a bloody mismatch, and often their deaths. To arm them, though, is to assume other risks, some of which could last for years.
Note: The viewpoint expressed in this article is solely that of the writer. "FATA Awareness Initiative" Team may not agree with the opinion presented........................
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