Weapons: How To Survive In The Libyan Desert


September 2, 2016: ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) is short of cash and weapons in Libya and one way they have coped is to dig up some of the millions of German and Allied landmines planted during World War II and never removed during or after the war. This was mainly because many of the mines were in desert areas where people didn’t live and rarely moved through. Local governments in Libya and Egypt, where most of these abandoned World War II mines resided never got around to removing them and concentrated their mine clearing efforts on populated areas near the coast. The presence of these mines was known to some desert tribes and given the dire state of the Libyan economy since 2011 some enterprising tribesmen saw and opportunity. That’s how you survive in the desert.

European nations removed their millions of World War II land mines by the 1950s. Millions of Cold War era mines were cleared from Europe during the 1990s. But it's taking longer in Asian and African nations because their demining efforts depend a lot on money and equipment donated by wealthier (usually Western) nations. Libya had the money (because of huge oil income) but the Kaddafi dictatorship saw the old mines as a cheap way to control smugglers using these remote areas to move their people or goods. Of course the smugglers were often locals or regular desert travelers and it didn’t take long for the general location of “safe routes” was and what areas were still dangerous. That knowledge also indicated where the relatively well preserved mines could be found.

ISIL wasn’t first group to find and disassemble these well preserved (in the dry desert climate) World War II mines. It was considered a risky business to find these mines and extract the explosives and other still functional components. These could be sold to terrorists and criminals who had no legal way to obtain explosives. But ISIL was in a hurry and willing to pay top price.

Confirmation of the use of these ancient explosives came from evidence collected at the scene of ISIL bombings in Libya. Western nations pioneered the analysis of sites where terrorist bombs had been used in order to identify the components of the bombs. Chemical analysis could identify the type of explosives used and often the vintage and source. Islamic terrorist bomb fragments collected as far back as 2004 indicated the use of World War II landmines still found in many parts of the Middle East.




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