Identification and analysis of small arms ammunition in Libya

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The Small Arms Survey has recently released my latest long form report, examining the variety of Small Arms Ammunition (SAA) observed in Libya during and immediately after the recent conflict. This is the first in a series of baseline assessments of arms and ammunition holdings in Africa and the Middle East that I intend to author. The next report in the series will focus on SAA identified in Syria.

An extract from the press release:

The assessment is based on photos of cartridge headstamps, cartridges, and ammunition packaging, as well as shipping documents pertaining to small arms ammunition transfers. Most of these records are from Tripoli and were gathered during the first five months of 2012, with additional photos from Ajdabiya, Benghazi, and Misrata. This baseline will serve as a valuable tool for governments, NGOs, and other actors involved in understanding and stemming the illicit flow of small arms ammunition in the region … The Headstamp Trail forms part of the Small Arms Survey’s Security Assessment in North Africa, a multi-year project to support those engaged in building a more secure environment in North Africa and the Sahel-Sahara region.

The report can be downloaded and viewed here.

Image copyright: Damien Spleeters

Update II: AK-103 Exports to Libya

By N.R. Jenzen-Jones

AK 103-2 in Libya

I stumbled across the sole post on this almost vacant WordPress site this morning. It features photos which show close-up detail of an AK-103, apparently from Libya. These are the first photographs I have seen that show sufficient detail of the receiver to conclusively establish the provenance of the weapons in question. These images, along with the evidence shown in the last update, lend more weight to one of my original speculations that these weapons were exported to Libya from Russia.

The receiver bears the designation ‘AK 103-2′, indicating that the weapon features a three-round burst function. More tellingly, to the left of the serial number, on the trunnion, can be seen the factory marking of the Izhevsk Machine-Building Plant, or IZHMASH (ИЖМАШ), an upright arrow inside a triangle. The serial number, beginning with the two digits ’07′, indicates that the rifle was manufactured in 2007.

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Update: AK-103 exports to Libya

by N.R. Jenzen-Jones

As discussed in this earlier piece, Kalashnikov AK-103s have been sighted in the hands of both pro-Qadhafi forces, and the rebels/National Transitional Council in Libya recently. I had advanced a theory that the rifles had either been sent from Russia, as pre-production samples related to this arms deal, or been manufactured in Libya for the same reasons. Nicholas Marsh, from the Norwegian Initiative on Small Arms Transfers (NISAT) picked up the story and has since been keeping an eye on it.

As Marsh points out in a recent post, an August 31st photo in the New York Times (detail of which is above) shows AK-103s resting in a crate bearing some interesting shipping information. Most notable is the supplier, ‘Rosoboronexport’, the Russian state-owned arms exporter. The customer is listed as ‘Procurement Department, Tripoli, Libya’. The ports of origin and arrival are consistent with what would be expected. There appear to be ten rifles in the crate, the standard shipping number, and what appears to be wax paper can be seen at right.

The crate pictured is numbered as #6524 out of 11380. Working on 10 rifles per crate, that equates to 113,800 from this particular contract.

Of course, to be certain that these assault rifles were actually contained within the crate shown we would need some more information from someone on the ground. Ideally, we could match the contract number on the crate to the relevant paperwork, and see what the crates originally contained. Of course, this is a lot easier said than done. I have sent an email to Rosoboronexport seeking further details, but it is highly unlikely I will receive a response.

But, as Marsh rightly points out, for the purposes of providing a pointer to where further research is required, this photo is enough for us to assume the rifles were sent to Libya under an authorised export deal with Russia.

Jumping The Gun: what does the AK-100 series really mean for Libya’s rebels?

By N.R. Jenzen-Jones
This post originally appeared on the Lowy Institute’s blog The Interpreter.

Libyan Rebel with AK-103 (March 5th 2011)

Stephanie Koorey’s piece on Libyan weapon supplies falls short of investigating properly the origin of many of the small arms seen in Libyan rebels’ arsenals. The star of Koorey’s piece – an ‘AK-100 series’ rifle shown in this  Al Jazeera video clip – leads her to reasonably ask, ‘where are these from?’ Eastern Europe? South and Central Asia? Perhaps even South America? However, there exist possibilities closer to the conflict, and more to the story.

The gun in question is certainly an AK-103; the muzzle brake design and barrel length are different on the AK-102, AK-104, and AK-105, and the AK-101 and AK-74M are chambered for 5.56x45mm and 5.45x39mm, respectively, and feature correspondingly straighter magazines. The state-controlled Gafat Armament Engineering Complex in Ethiopia has been producing AK-103s for some time now as the ET-97/1 Automatic Rifle. Arms movement between the two countries has been well documented, though it is not extensive.

Another distinct possibility is that the rifles may well have come from within Libya itself.

We know the Libyan government planned to manufacture AK-103s under license, and it is likely that samples were sent over from Russia for assessment purposes. It is even possible that a pre-production run was manufactured within Libya. We’ve certainly seen pro-Qadhafi forces using the AK-103, which lends weight to this theory.

Koorey’s assertion that this “makes the Libyan rebels the first known non-state combatants to have AK-100s” is also untrue. There have been confirmed reports of non-state combatants using AK-100 series weapons in Chechnya (and probably Ingushetia), in Colombia (by FARC rebels, and likely by the ELN and cartels as well) and in other conflict zones. Private security contractors in both Iraq and Afghanistan have made use of Bulgarian 100 series clones. I’d be very surprised if a few examples hadn’t made it into the hands of militants in these or other parts of the Middle East and Central Asia, or in the Caucasus, India or the Balkans.

I have also heard personal accounts of AK-100 series rifles being sighted in the hands of Hezbollah fighters, which may well be connected to Iranian military use of AK-103s. Also, given that certain units in the Yemen Army use AK-104s, it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine a few examples turning up in the hands of Houthi militants or other groups in the region. Bearing in mind production first began in the 1990s, it is not surprising these weapons have been sighted around the world. The fact that countries like Venezuela and India have moved to produce these rifles under license relatively recently only serves to heighten the distribution of the AK-100 series.

So how will the presence of AK-103s affect the conflict in Libya? Almost unnoticeably; at this stage we have seen very limited stocks of the weapon. Even should the numbers of 100 series rifles increase, their acknowledged advantages over older AK-family weapons will have very little strategic impact, given the relatively low level of marksmanship training of the combatants involved. Unless the rebel forces can obtain significant numbers of them – and sufficient stockpiles of 7.62x39mm ammunition – we are not going to see this weapons system providing much of an advantage at all.

Image courtesy of The New York Times. Libyan Rebel with AK-103 (March 5th 2011).

Update 21/06/2011: Stephanie Koorey has a reply to this piece up here.  I think she may have missed a few of my points, but I intend to get in touch with her and compare thoughts on the small arms situation in Libya.

Update 16/09/2011: It appears the rifles were from Russia, after all. Details here

Update 31/10/2011: Close-up images of the receiver of one of the rifles shows Russian factory markings. Here

Will Australia go to war in Libya?

As I write this, my RSS feeds and Twitter timeline tick over with reports of fierce fighting between Libyan and rebel forces, news of the Paris summit for world leaders, and speculation on the fighting to come. Gaddafi has undeniably broken his own ceasefire. A Libyan warplane has been shot down. This will get messier still with the involvement of foreign forces, not only from enforcing a no-fly zone but also from the ground level troops required to provide tactical intelligence in support of air assets.

With Britain, the US, Canada, France, Spain, Denmark and the UAE readying their fighter jets for the Mediterranean, I can’t help but wonder when Australia’s military will be dragged into the fight for Libya.

Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd today ruled out the possibility of RAAF aircraft being used to enforce the no-fly zone, however I’m still not convinced that denies future involvement of Australian forces in other Libya-related operations. The Australian public would be forgiven for resisting the thought of sending our troops on other far-flung coalition conflicts, but best we consider the possibility now, and there are a couple.

The first and most likely of these scenarios involves Australian troops deployed as a part of an international stabilisation force after Gaddafi’s forces are pushed back swiftly. Both Foreign and Defence Ministers Rudd and Stephen Smith are correct in pointing out that this is a matter ostensibly for NATO, however, as part of a UN or coalition mission, Australia may be requested to send troops.

The second and more ominous scenario envisages a more protracted engagement with NATO and other foreign troops. President Obama will have to make good on his promise that military action will ensue if a cease-fire is not immediate; given Gaddafi is currently pushing into Benghazi, I’d say the President has few choices. While President Obama has asked for military action to exempt ground forces and be “finite”, there is still the possibility that the situation in Libya could take a turn for the worst. The UN resolution, based on Chapter 7 provisions on the responsibility to protect, mandates the protection of Libyan civilians; the door is left open for a more active intervention. In this scenario, although considerably less likely, Australian troops may contribute a small contingent for heavier fighting and more surgical tasks.

While crystal-ball gazing is an undertaking fraught with danger (and I’m happy to be wrong on these points), perhaps the Australian public, wary of political underselling of conflicts such as Afghanistan, should begin considering whether some 70 years later there might be a second coming of the Rats of Tobruk.

Photo courtesy of AFP.