Academic journal article Prism : a Journal of the Center for Complex Operations

Brothers Came Back with Weapons: The Effects of Arms Proliferation from Libya

Academic journal article Prism : a Journal of the Center for Complex Operations

Brothers Came Back with Weapons: The Effects of Arms Proliferation from Libya

Article excerpt

In November 2011, Mokhtar Belmokhtar of the North Africa-based al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) told the Mauritanian news agency ANI that "We have been one of the main beneficiaries of the revolutions in the Arab world.. .As for our acquisition of Libyan armaments that is an absolutely natural thing."1 His statement summed up the fears expressed by many commentators-to include the author of this article-that large quantities of arms within Libya were left in unsecured stockpiles and would be proliferated to terrorists and insurgents around the world.2 Most vividly, in 2013 the UK's Daily Mail newspaper, noted "spy chiefs" claim that Libya "has become the Tesco [supermarket] of the world's illegal arms trade."3

Large quantities of arms from Libya were illicitly trafficked to Gaza, Mali, the Sinai, and Syria. In Mali and Sinai transfers from Libya qualitatively enhanced the military capacity of nonstate opposition groups by supplying military weapons that had previously been unavailable or in short supply. Large quantities of arms were shipped to Gaza and Syria, but alternative sources of supply mean that Libyan weapons probably did not give groups there new capabilities.

The proliferation of arms from Libya abated after 2013. Since then a combination of national and international initiatives to prevent trafficking, and an upsurge in fighting in Libya have likely reduced illicit arms flows from Libya. Significant quantities of arms have not proliferated from Libya outside North Africa, Syria, and Gaza. Hitherto, proliferation of arms from Libya has been a regional problem that has partially been managed by states, and it has not been as destabilizing as feared.

Stocks of Arms in Libya Prior to the 2011 War

Prior to 2011 Colonel Qadhafi created arms and ammunition depots throughout Libya. This approach was likely intended to employ a "people's war" strategy where after an invasion arms would be distributed to the militias and the general population (in 2010 the Libyan armed forces were relatively weak with an estimated 76,000 regular personnel).4 The government had 400,000-1,000,000 firearms (mostly Kalashnikovs) under its control at the start of the war, according to a 2015 assessment by a Senior Researcher at the Small Arms Survey; and firearms in civilian possession were rare before 2011.5 Weapons were also supplied to opposition groups by states intervening in the 2011 war. It is likely that given the large stocks of infantry weapons amassed by the Qadhafi regime the external supplies were only a minority of the arms and ammunition circulating in Libya at the end of the 2011 war.

Trafficking from Libya

The Libyan civil war started in February 2011 and ended remarkably quickly in October. It featured widespread loss of state control over arms depots that were appropriated by opposition forces. According to the UN Security Council (UNSC) panel of experts, "The western borders of Libya, from Tunisia in the north to Niger in the south, were the focus points for illicit trafficking from Libya quite early on in the uprising, with Algeria reporting its first seizure of weapons coming from Libya in April 2011."6 Trafficking out of Libya mostly occurs in environments that are difficult for governments to monitor and control and there is a long history of smuggling goods across the Sahel.7 Trafficking routes are located in remote areas "which generally lack any kind of border control or institutional presence on the Libyan side and have generally weak control measures on the side of its neighbours."8 Porous borders can be found throughout the region, the UNSC panel notes that most "regional State border control capacities are limited; the few official entry points are incapable of regulating the traffic and are therefore easily bypassed by illicit traffickers" and "cross-border security cooperation between these states remains very limited."9

Press reports in English on 75 arms caches seized by government agencies in Algeria, Chad, Egypt, Libya, the Sudan, and Tunisia (the great majority from Algeria, Egypt, and Tunisia) provide an overview of trafficking from Libya. …

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