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Small Arms Survey: guided light weapons reportedly held by non-state armed groups 1998-2012

October 15, 2012

The Small Arms Survey has recently published new estimates of the number of guided light weapons held by non-State armed groups between 1998-2012. 

The information is presented in the form of a table which lists armed groups per country and shows whether the groups are still active as of September 2012. The database is declared to be ‘work-in progress’ and will be updated regularly on the Small Arms Survey website. 

The research focuses on guided light weapons which fall into two categories (i) man-portable air defence systems (MANPADS) and (ii) anti-tank guided weapons (ATGWs). 

MANPADS are short-range surface-to-air missile systems intended for protecting fighters from attacks by low-flying aircraft. They are designed to be carried and deployed by ground forces and tend to be mobile and light (15-20kg). While some are operated by multiple individuals, most can be handled and shoulder-launched by a single individual. They use a variety of guidance systems which include passive infra-red seekers, radio command line-of-sight or laser-beam rides (see here for more reading on MANPADS). 

ATGWs are small missile-launching systems which allow missiles to be guided to the target during flight. They should not be confused with rocket propelled grenades which are shoulder-launched unguided rockets. ATGWs were designed to be used against armoured vehicles but newer models are increasingly effective against other targets, such as hardened bunkers and buildings (see here for more reading on ATGWs) 

Key observations which emerge from the Small Arms Survey’s new statistics are as follows:- 

Between 31 and 52 currently active non-state armed groups are estimated to hold or have held guided light weapons; 

In the years 1998-2012, between 55 and 78 non-state armed groups are estimated to have held guided light weapons; 

Examples of currently active non-state armed groups which are very likely to hold MANPADS include: 

  • Taliban in Afghanistan;
  • Union of Forces for Democracy and Development and Rassemblement des Forces pour le Changement in Chad;
  • ELN and FARC in Colombia;
  • Oromo Liberation Front in Ethiopia;
  • Abkhazian Congregation of the Caucasus Emirate in Georgia;
  • – several unspecified groups in Iraq including Ansar Al-Islam and Islamic State of Iraq (including Al-Qaida in Iraq);
  • Al-Qaida Cell in Kenya;
  • Hezbollah and Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine in Lebanon;
  • Revolutionary Brigades in Libya;
  • Al-Qaida Organisation in the Islamic Maghreb and Mouvement National de Libération de L’Asawad in Mali;
  • United Wa State Army and Shan State Army in Myanmar;
  • Army of the Pure and Tahrik-i-Taliban in Pakistan;
  • Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) in the Palestinian Territories;
  • Chechen rebels/ Caucasus Emirate in the Russian Federation;
  • Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula in Saudi Arabia;
  • Al-Shabaab in Somalia;
  • Sudanese Revolutionary Front (Darfur’s rebels alliance) in Sudan
  • Free Syrian Army in Syria (and other opposition groups)’
  • PKK in Turkey; and
  • Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsular in Yemen 

Examples of currently active non-state armed groups which are very likely to hold ATGWs include: 

  • Taliban in Afghanistan;
  • – several unspecified groups in Iraq including Ansar Al-Islam and the Islamic State of Iraq;
  • Hezbollah in Lebanon;
  • Revolutionary Brigades in Libya;
  • Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) in the Palestinian Territories;
  • Al-Shabaab in Somalia; and
  • Free Syrian Army in Syria (and other opposition groups) 

The accessibility of the Small Arms Survey’s new statistics would be greatly heightened if they were accompanied by a report and some visual graphics (e.g. maps and charts). This would also provide those who compiled the statistics with a valuable opportunity to share their knowledge on this subject, provide an analysis of their significance and give further details of some of the uncertainties that remain (e.g.  instances where the armed group supposedly holding the MANPADS or ATGWs is ‘unspecified’ or instances where the ‘jury is still out’ as to whether the group really possesses the type of weapons in question). Such a report could also shed greater insight into how the picture has changed since the Small Arms Survey last published statistics on this subject in 2008. Hopefully such a report will follow!

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