Saturday, 2 April 2011

Have al Qaeda stolen SAM 7s from Libya?

Most people I know, regardless of political views, do not wholly welcome the toppling of the Gaddafi regime with NATO support. They are puzzled at the alacrity with which the west stepped in to support rebels hell bent on deposing a dictatorship which is no worse than most other governments in the that part of the world. The UK and USA even seem to advocate providing them with weapons. The apparent stupidity of this almost defies belief.

I use the word ‘apparent’ advisedly. All nation states, full of imperfect human beings, survive and co-exist via unwritten rules, espionage, military intelligence, secret think tanks, cross border police cooperation, legislative exchanges, diplomacy and negotiations behind closed doors. So there is always the chance that some vital factor of which most of us are unaware will emerge from the labyrinth in decades to come. 

Nevertheless, one would have expected that the governments involved in supporting these rebels would have at least tried to make it look rational, given the wrath evoked in the voting public.  The only rationale I can think of is that western intelligence sources and advisers knowledgeable about the Arab region believe that supporting the uprising would do a lot to cause moderate jihad and other Arab groups to support the west and let us help them set up democracies, rather than fall prey to aggressive fundamentalist groups. 

 I hope so. Nevertheless, it is not reassuring to hear that global jihad groups are on the loose both in Libya and  adjacent countries, e.g. Algeria, Niger and Chad, eager to take advantage of civil disorder and power vacuums.

In particular I came across this on the website of the Al Arabiya news channel. According to President Deby of Chad the offshoot of al Qaeda known as AQIM  was involved in the Libyan uprising and he said in an interview that they

'took advantage of the pillaging of arsenals in the rebel zone to acquire arms, including surface-to-air missiles, which were then smuggled into their sanctuaries in Tenere. This is very serious. AQIM is becoming a genuine army, the best equipped in the region.' (Tenere is a desert region of the Sahara that stretches from northeast Niger to western Chad.)

AQIM (al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb)  originated as an armed Islamist resistance movement to the secular Algerian government. Today, it operates mainly in Algeria, Mauritania, Mali and Niger, where it has attacked military targets and taken civilian hostages. It now has full allegiance to al Qaeda, sharing its aim of global jihad and raising funds through kidnapping, extortion, drug trafficking and donations. 
Other African leaders have expressed concern about the way Libya is being handled and a military source in Niger said that the arms stolen included SAM 7s, although in fairness it appears that this happened before the western intervention, in the early days of  the civil strife. These are shoulder launched missiles suitable for terrorists and, I understand, not difficult to use; so one alarming application that comes to mind is the shooting down of airliners. . It can only reach aircraft lower than about 2 miles, a fraction of an airliner's normal cruising height; so it is only likely to be a threat to aircraft that have just taken off or are on their final approach..

In Pakistan and Afghanistan the Taliban have the strategic advantages of suicide bombing, ruthless, deliberate attacks on civilians and the availability of hard-to-replace civilian infrastructure for easy destruction. Countering this the allies have superior technology for surveillance and targeting via helicopters and drones. Should the Taliban be able to deploy SAM 7s it could tip the balance in their favour.
Let’s hope the military source is wrong about the SAM 7s.
Author, 2077 AD