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Gaddafi's Lost Arsenal, a Threat to the Sahel Region

This post is part of our special coverage Libya Revolution 2011.

Since the beginning of the conflict in Libya that toppled the Gaddafi's regime, weapon trafficking has been on the rise in the Sahel region. The consequences of this trafficking threatens peace in a region that is already destabilized by poverty and vast uncontrolled areas.

The Permanent Interstate Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel (CILSS in French) is an international organization whose mandate is to invest in research for food security and the fight against the effects of drought and desertification in the region. Its country members include Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal and Chad. All of them are on high alert regarding the potential impact of weapons on the loose reaching their borders.

Africa Boyebi repost a report from the AFP on his blog that describes an uncontrolled weapons site [fr]:

L'arsenal compte quelque 80 bunkers de béton peints couleur sable destinés au stockage de munitions, essentiellement de fabrication russe et française.
Dans un seul de ces bunkers, l'AFP a compté environ 8.000 obus de 100 mm. Dans d'autres, des centaines de bombes de 250, 500 et 900 kg larguées par avion, sont empilées sur plusieurs mètres de haut, mais aussi des roquettes, des bombes à fragmentation, des obus d'artillerie et de mortier de tout calibre, des munitions de canon antiaérien…

The arsenal includes about 80 bunkers painted sand color that were used to stockpile ammunitions, mostly made in Russia or France.
In one of those bunkers, AFP counted as many as 8,000 100 mm long shell bombs. In other bunkers, hundreds of 250, 500 and 900 kg bombs were also piled up to several meters high, as well as rockets, artillery shells and mortars of any caliber, and anti-aircraft gun ammunitions…

Peter Bouckaert, Human Rights Watch's emergencies director and an expert in humanitarian crises provides the details of the weapons [fr] that were found unguarded 100 km south of Syrte in the following video. He states that some of weapons here were retrieved in the Sinaï desert and even Gaza later:

Way before conflict broke out in Libya, there were weapons circulating throughout the Sahel region at the unguarded borders of many countries, but these weapons were much smaller in size and range. However, more sophisticated weaponry has been introduced in the past few months.

However, more sophisticated weaponry has been introduced in the past few months. Samuel Benshimon on Sahel Intelligence explains that AQIM (Al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb – a radical Islamist militia) may have claimed some of these heavy weapons [fr]:

According to reliable sources from the capital cities of  Chad, Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, Algeria and Mauritania, heavy weaponry, including anti-aerial missiles abandoned in Libya were seized by mysterious terrorists groups. A military source in Bamako states that many of these weapons were already transported  towards AQMI bases in the north of Mali by African mercenaries.

Samuel Benshimon adds that a high level officer has confirmed the accuracy of this information and that he also said [fr]:

The authorities of his country are very worried about AQIM reloading on weapons in such manner and that it presents a very palatable threat fro the entire region. He adds that amongs the weapons are Sam7, anti-aerial missiles made in Russia. Similar concerns were expressed by the president of Chad Driss Deby. The weapons were retrieved by African mercenaries or AQIM elements and were transported overnight to their final destination. The branches of AQIM  based in the north of Mali are controlled by Algerian emirs Mokhtar Belmokhtar and Abdelhamid Abou Zaid

What ought to be even more worrisome are the issues that author and blogger Thérèse Zrihen-Dvir has listed in the following post [fr] :

The revolution is now over and Libya is free. However, the former rebels are not ready to let go of their weapons right away. Just in case, you know. The region is still not stabilized, the police is still composed of volunteers for half of them. No national army has been fully set up so the population feel like they ought to protect their communities themselves and hold on to their weapons.

In an article on elkhabar.com blog, Moroccan scholar Mohamed Drif (specialized in Islamic movement), predicts that the region will be controlled by three groups that sprung from the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya [fr]:

The first group will be composed of the Gaddafi's loyalists, the tribes that fought by his side and that went home in the North of Niger. The group is experienced with combat and that owns weaponry that allows to pursue the fight against the new regime in Libya and will target western interests in the region.

The second group will be composed of the many Africans that were linked to the Gaddafi regime. This group will start to destabilize the region not because they want to avenge Gaddafi but because they want to regain the financial loss they incurred when the support from Gaddafi ran dry. Guerilla warfare from this group is likely in order to claim some quick financial spoils.

The third group will be composed of Gaddafi partisans in Libya or in neighboring nations who are striving to destabilize the region for tribal reasons.

Cafe Aboki blog posts an AFP report, which claims that the National Transitional Council of Libya has found yet another stockpile of weaponry [fr], this time, of the chemical type. Chemical weapons are very mobile [fr] and have a great capacity to kill and destroy the surrounding environment.

A study by Olivier Lepick for Recherche Stratégique indicates the multiple  angers that chemical weapons [fr] can present:

Some characteristics of chemical weapons are tailor made for terrorist activities, most notably the fact that there are no reliable detectors of chemical and biological weapons, they are not easily traceable and the relative ease with which one can procure such substances. Evidently and unfortunately, these weapons also have a tremendous capability to spread fear and panic among the civilian population.

This post is part of our special coverage Libya Revolution 2011.

  • Eagleeye47

    It’s time for the world to take serious note of all these weapons / systems for the good of all, ensured confiscation & safe keeping for global peace at the earliest.

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