- By Robert ZeligerRobert Zeliger is News Editor of Foreign Policy.
Say you’re a poorly trained rebel army battling the ruthless military and hired thugs of a dictator who has said he’d fight to the last drop of blood, you’d probably need some help. So, what would be on your wish list of supplies from the international community?
AK-47s, anti-tank weapons, night-vision goggles, body armor …and underwear.
Reports this week that France parachuted weapons in to rebel troops in western Libya re-energized the debate over supplying the anti-Qaddafi forces. The African Union and Russia both criticized the French move. So far, Qatar is the only other country that is known to have given weapons to the rebellion. The U.S. has shipped non-lethal aid, including medical supplies, uniforms, boots, tents, personal protective gear, and “more than 10,000 halal meals ready to eat,” according to State Department spokesman Mark Toner.
Le Figaro reported that the arms from France included rocket launchers, assault rifles, and anti-tank missiles (though France denied sending the latter; a French government spokesman said the supplies included only light arms such as machine guns and rocket launchers).
In Vienna yesterday, Mahmoud Jibril, the head of the rebel’s Transitional National Council (TNC), once again called on the international community to supply weapons.
“The rebels have only light arms,” he said. “We need weapons to bring the fight to a quick end.”
So, what kinds of weapons are the rebels seeking? In fact, the TNC actually has a shopping list. A State Department official said a third-party broker had approached the United States about supplying weapons, but the U.S. turned the request down because there is an embargo against shipping arms to Libya.
According to a source with ties to the TNC, who has seen the list, it consists of about 25-30 items. Some of the weapons the rebels are seeking include:
- Anti-tank rocket-propelled grenade launchers with range of more than 25 miles
- KPV heavy machine guns — price tag: $50,000 – $100,000 each
- SPG-9 Recoilless rifles — $30,000 – $40,000
- ZU-23 anti-aircraft artillery guns — $50,000-$100,000
- Towed Howitzer — $100,000
- DShK machine guns — $10,000
- PK machine guns — $5,000
- AK-47s — $300 – $500
- Plus, 20-30 million AK-47 ammunition rounds
All in all, not a bad list of items to jumpstart your rag-tag army.
Mansour El-Kikhia, a Libyan-American activist with close ties to the TNC and its military leadership, presented a second list to the Pentagon. He said the request came from the senior military leaders of the rebellion.
He asked for the following:
- Military fatigues
- Body armor
- Assault rifles
- Hand guns
- Grenade launchers
- FGM-148 Javelin anti-tank missile (third generation)
- Third-generation Nag anti-tank missiles
The Pentagon rejected the request, according to El-Kikhia.
The United States and other nations have been more compliant when it comes to providing non-lethal assistance. Nevertheless, there is still a massive need for all kinds of supplies ranging from food to clothing, according to the TNC’s envoy to Washington, Ali Aujali. He said supplies being sought for the rebel army range from the most high tech (surveillance equipment) to the mundane (underwear).
Aujali reviewed with Foreign Policy a list of supply needs he recently received from Benghazi. It includes:
- Laptops and color cartridges
- Body armor
- Satellite phones
- Surveillance cameras with monitors
- Medical kits
- Safety glasses
- Food supplies — halal, non perishable
- Night vision goggles
And then of course, there’s money.
“That’s the most important thing and that’s their primary concern,” said Dirk Vandewalle, who was recently appointed political advisor to the UN Mission for Libya.
They’ve asked the U.S. to unfreeze the $30 billion of Libyan assets seized from Qaddafi and release them to the National Council.
Vandewalle said, beyond weapons, they also need trainers. “Otherwise, the weapons can’t be used efficiently.”
Aujali said he has not tried to seek arms from the United States, though he made clear the rebels certainly have that need as well. “Qaddafi is not killing Libyan people with potatoes,” he said. “He’s using real weapons.”