Nuclear Weapons

Missile Watch: Somalia

07.09.08 | 2 min read | Text by Matt Schroeder

As part of its on-going efforts to track and call attention to the illicit trade in shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missiles, the FAS is launching a new e-newsletter called “Missile Watch.” Subscribers will receive periodic updates on the black market trade in shoulder-fired missiles, stockpiling and use of these missiles by non-state groups, and related topics. A comprehensive archive of “Missile Watch” updates will be available on the Strategic Security Blog and on the Arms Sales Monitoring Project’s website at /programs/ssp/asmp/MANPADS.html.

To sign up for this free service, go to /press/subscribe.html.

The latest report of the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia sheds new light on the SA-18 Igla missiles illicitly acquired by armed Somali groups in recent years. Since 2006, UN investigators and journalists working in Somalia have documented the transfer of dozens, possibly hundreds, of shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missiles to Islamic insurgents. The missiles range in sophistication from the relatively primitive SA-7b Strela to the third generation SA-18 Igla. In March 2007, two SA-18s were used to shoot down a Belarusian Ilyushin-76 cargo plane shortly after it departed from Mogadishu airport. All eleven crew members were killed.

Using the serial number from an SA-18 “found in Somalia,”* investigators were reportedly able to trace the SA-18 to a consignment of Russian Iglas manufactured in 1995 and “…shipped to Eritrea in the same year through the state company ‘Rosvooruzhenie,” according to a letter from Russia’s UN mission to the Monitoring Group. The letter also indicates that the original contract for the missiles required the recipient to seek permission before re-transferring the missiles and that “[t]he Eritrean side did not request this permission from us.” The letter concludes with a caveat: since the serial numbers are painted on the missile, “a [unauthorized] remarking is possible” and a “visual examination” by Russian specialists is required to definitively establish a linkage between the missile and the batch sold to Eritrea in 1995.

UN investigators also recovered an SA-7, which Russian authorities claim is not one of theirs. The SA-7 has been produced under license by several countries, and knock-offs have been produced by several more. The UN monitoring group has sent letters inquiring about the missile to four countries that have produced SA-7s under license – Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Poland, Romania and the former Yugoslavia – and is awaiting responses.

The trace results are the strongest evidence presented to date of Eritrean involvement in the transfer of shoulder-fired missiles to Somali insurgents, transfers that not only violated the long-standing UN arms embargo on Somalia but also international norms on the export of Man-portable Air Defense Systems. For more information on shoulder-fired missiles in Somalia, visit the Arms Sales Monitoring Project’s MANPADS Proliferation issue brief.

*The UN report does not indicate how and from whom the missiles were acquired.