The latest report from the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia contains additional information about the shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missiles used by Islamic insurgents to shoot down a Belarusian cargo aircraft in March. Below is an excerpt from the UN report:
On 23 March 2007, at approximately 1700 hours, an IL-76 cargo plane
belonging to Transaviaexport, a Belarusian company, was shot down after a missile
fired by Shabaab fighters hit the left wing. The plane, with 11 crewmembers and
passengers, was hit at low altitude following take-off. It had earlier delivered
logistics and spare parts for another aircraft that had made an emergency landing at
Mogadishu International Airport. The missile used to shoot down the plane was an
SA-18 (MANPAD, Man Portable Air Defence System). The SA-18 was reported to
be part of a consignment of six SA-18s that had been delivered by Eritrea to
ICU/Shabaab. Two missiles were fired at the plane; one hit the target and the other
missed. The Monitoring Group showed the Committee a video of the actual firing of
the missile, during the midterm briefing on 27 April 2007.
On Friday, the Washington Post posted an Associated Press story with a video still of a man in civilian clothes holding what appears to be an advanced SA-18 Igla man-portable air defense system (MANPADS).* To date, the only MANPADS reported to be in the arsenals of the Somali insurgents were the less sophisticated SA-7.** The video was reportedly obtained by the Associated Press from an individual associated with Shabab, the militant wing of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), which controlled much of Somalia before it was routed by Ethiopian troops in December 2006. Last October, UN investigators reported that the ICU had received six weapons shipments containing several dozen shoulder-fired missiles.
In a recent article on the resurgence of Islamic rebels in Somalia, Associated Press reporter Chris Tomlinson provides new information on the shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missiles allegedly supplied to Somali Islamists last year. Tomlinson claims that the Shabab – the military wing of the Council of Islamic Courts – received 200 shoulder-fired missiles from Eritrea, one of three countries that allegedly shipped missiles to Somalia last year in violation of a long-standing UN arms embargo.
With the war against Islamist fighters drawing to a close, Somalia’s transitional government and its foreign allies now face several Herculean tasks: bringing to heel the warlords and militias that have terrorized the country for fifteen years, winning over the various clans and sub-clans that dominate Somali politics, rebuilding the nation’s devastated infrastructure, etc, etc, etc.
In the interest of international security, I would add one more: recovering the dozens of shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missiles reportedly distributed to the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC), and sanctioning the suppliers.
The latest report from the UN group that monitors the arms embargo on Somalia has caused quite a stir, generating extensive news coverage and eliciting vehement denials from governments accused of violating the embargo. But, as underscored by declassified US intelligence documents from the 1990s, such disregard for the embargo is nothing new.
The documents, which were obtained by the FAS under the Freedom of Information Act, reveal a disheartening similarity between sanctions-busting in the mid-1990’s and sanctions-busting now. From the countries involved to the weapons shipped, little appears to have changed over the last decade.