Those military advisors from France, Britain and Italy can’t reach Benghazi fast enough. While Libya’s rebels might have the zeal to fight Muammar Gaddafi, the weapons in their arsenal are laughable, pitiful or outright useless.
When the civil war started in February, anti-Gaddafi forces raided military depots in liberated areas like Benghazi. They emerged with lots of wheezing weapons: a Shilka ZSU-23 anti-aircraft gun that the Soviets stopped making in the 1970s and Dushka cannons straight out of the ’80s era occupation of Afghanistan. Undeterred, rebels improved ingenious artillery delivery systems, like hooking up Grad rocket pods to a car battery and firing them using a recycled doorbell.
Then they got trounced by a far more professional loyalist military. Even while NATO planes still buzz overhead.
All this is enough to demoralize C.J. Chivers, the former Marine and badass New York Times reporter who’s risking life and limb to report on the Libyan uprising. He tallies up such an thorough inventory of the rebel arsenal that he’s practically auditing their quartermasters. And his findings are cringe-inducing.
Rebels don’t have cartridges for the archaic Carcano cavalry carbine, pictured above, “probable refuse from Italian colonization in Libya between the world wars”. But they’re carrying them anyway. They’re using French MAT-49 submachine guns – without magazines. They’re taking PKT machine guns out of the tank systems the Soviets designed the PKT to accompany and carrying it like an infantry weapon, despite a complete inability to fire it.
It would be inaccurate to say the rebels are “using” these guns. They’re simply displaying them. Chivers notes that one Libyan brandishing a magazine-less MAT-49 would be “more dangerous with a sling and stone“.
What the working artillery they possess they use terribly. They don’t use forward observers to direct fires. They don’t adjust their aim. Chivers can’t help sounding like an instructor: “In tactical terms, this is indiscriminate fire – the very behaviour rebels and civilians have decried in the [Gadhafi]forces, albeit on a smaller scale.”
Ammunition stocks and anti-tank weapons are coming into rebel-held ports from Qatar. That complements the mines, rockets and shoulder-fired missiles the rebels took from Gadhafi’s depots. But Chivers notes that in the hands of an undisciplined force, they’re all proliferation risks – in an area wracked with political and security turmoil.
Still, at least that poor discipline has a solution: advisers. The foreign advisers on their way from Europe might represent mission creep. But they can at least teach the rebels how to shoot straight. What they can’t teach them is how to fire a gun with no trigger. No wonder defence Secretary Robert Gates fears getting bogged down.
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