July 15, 2019
IntelBrief: Playing a Dangerous Game: External Support to Civil Wars & Insurgencies
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has dumped weapons into conflict zones throughout the Middle East. In Yemen, for example, the UAE has been accused of allowing rebels linked to al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) to obtain American made vehicles, including armored vehicles. And while much of the very recent focus is on the withdrawal of Emirati forces from Yemen, the damage inflicted by Abu Dhabi's intervention and provision of weapons and training to rebel groups is already substantial. In Sudan, the Emiratis and Saudis have backed the military junta guilty of violently suppressing a democratic, civilian-led political opposition. And in Libya, Abu Dhabi has interfered frequently over the past several years, supplying weapons and training to rebel groups, further destabilizing an already complex civil war.
Under the Trump administration, the U.S. continues to sell weapons, equipment, and military vehicles to the UAE, including antitank missiles and Apache helicopters. Given how unstable the situation in Libya remains and the more external actors involved, the more prolonged and bloody the conflict is likely to become. Even without countries providing arms to the warring sides in Libya’s ongoing civil war, the country already has a crisis of unaccounted for weapons. Following the overthrow of Muammar Qaddafi in 2011, significant quantities of MANPADS (Man-Portable Air Defense Systems) were looted from Libyan military depots and warehouses. MANPADS are surface-to-air missiles that are light, easy to carry, and can be fired with just a moderate amount of training.
These weapons present a serious threat to civil, commercial, and military aviation, and are often referred to as ‘shoot and scoot’ weapons because of the ease in which they can be fired while allowing for a quick escape. Approximately 5,000 missiles have been located and destroyed, but there could be as many as 15,000 MANPADS that are still missing. Most of these weapons are believed to have fallen into the hands of Libyan rebel groups, although the possibility remains that dozens made their way to groups including al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Ansar al-Sharia, or the so-called Islamic State’s affiliate in Libya. MANPADS have also surfaced across North Africa and the Middle East in Algeria, Egypt, and Gaza.
Supplying weapons, ammunition, and training to non-state actors and proxy forces is as old as warfare itself, but some nations seem to be oblivious to the potential for blowback and other negative consequences that often arise from these practices. The U.S. famously supplied the Afghan mujahideen with Stinger missiles in their war against the U.S.S.R, only to have many of these same militants set their sights on Washington once the Soviets were expelled. More often than not, when external actors attempt to tip the balance of power in a civil war by providing assistance, the net result is more suffering and misery, primarily for a civilian population caught in the crossfire and increasingly under siege.
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