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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Mind Control Hat Uses Light to Guide Mouse Behavior

Researchers at MIT have developed a hat that can control the minds of mice by using wireless optogenetics. The hat is really two circuit boards and an antenna that is wired directly to the mouse’s brain to control the animal’s behavior with flashes of light. Optogenetics is an emerging scientific field where light is used to control the behavior of cells and even entire animals.

Optogenetics works by loading cells (typically, neurons) with a protein that is light sensitive. This protein acts as a gatekeeper of the cell. When the protein is exposed to the light, it opens up and allows ions to enter the neuron, causing it to fire. By introducing the protein to exact sports, scientists can turn on certain parts of the brain or even individual neurons. Having control of the brain, and particular neurons gives researchers the ability to guide behavior.

In the past, optogenetics was limited by the mechanism for delivering the light to the altered neurons. The mechanism of choice was an optic fiber, attached to a laser or an LED. However, this method had serious drawbacks including only being able to work with a few animals over short periods of time because the fibers can tangle and break. Applying this mechanism also requires handling the animals at the start of the experiment, which can cause the individuals stress and alter their behavior. While useful for experiments, and even used to turn mice into psychopaths with the flip of a switch, researchers felt there had to be a better way.

To improve the ability to utilize optogenetics for mind control, researchers at MIT led by Ed Boyden created an optogenetics hat that runs off of wireless power. Designed by Christian Wentz, a nearby transmitter that isn’t connected to the mouse generates a magnetic field that is detected by the antenna on a hat that the mouse wears. The magnetic field creates an electrical current that can power a set of 16 LEDs in the helmet. This provides the light that is needed to trigger the firing of the altered neurons in the mouse’s brain.

In Wentz’s first design of the hat, the capacitor discharged the stored power, causing the LEDs to light up, but in newer versions this was redesigned so that software in the hat causes the capacitor to store the energy when it is not needed. The system is similar to a power grid for regular electricity in that it stores extra energy when there is extra available, and lets it out when there is a need for it.

The mind control hat is controlled by a base-station that plugs into a USB port. Controlling the mouse from his laptop, Wentz programmed a blue light to pulse on only one side of the mouse’s motor cortex (the part of the brain that is responsible for movement). This caused the mouse to turn toward that side as Wentz steered it remotely.

The researchers report no detrimental effects on the mice used in the experiment for having worn the mind control hat. The device is about a gram in weight, and is electrically insulated from the mouse itself so it shuts down if it gets a single degree hotter than the mouse’s normal temperature. The hat is also removable, so on days when experiments were not being performed the mouse was able to go hatless.

The wireless application of optogenetic technology for mind and behavior control could be useful for studying a variety of neurological conditions from epilepsy to Parkinson’s disease. The paper describing this research was published in the Journal of Neural Engineering.

MIT, Cambridge

MIT Time Of Your Life
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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Westside High grad completes special program at MIT

Houston native Kevin Rustagi will graduate from MIT this year with not only a degree in mechanical engineering, but also some additional preparation for the business environment.

Rustagi, who graduated from Westside High in 2007, is one of 10 MIT students this year to earn a "Certificate of Engineering Leadership" from the Bernard M. Gordon-MIT Engineering Leadership Program. The program aims to address a problem that spokesperson Bruce Mendelsohn describes this way: "Quite frankly, MIT students are renowned for being super-smart, but not quite as well-known for their ability to work productively and effectively in teams."

Mendelsohn says the program's exercises helped Rustagi and others to sculpt the "raw leadership talent" they displayed when they began the program. The "leadership labs" had students addressing a range of workplace issues, from dealing with different kinds of bosses to making effective, brief pitches for their ideas.
The course exists, Mendelsohn adds, because management and leadership roles in the engineering field aren't always the same as those in other industries. "Engineers aren't sitting in their ivory tower -- they need to get down to the shop floor and not only work with, but communicate effectively with, the people who are building these things."
Rustagi has been accepted into Stanford Business School, where he plans to pursue his MBA. But first, he and fellow MIT students Eddie Obropta and Gihan Amarasiriwardena will be working on a startup called Cartesian Brand. The company creates dress shirts that aim to be more comfortable than typical business attire, by drawing on the materials and design elements of athletic wear.

"The shirts are something we hope can bring engineering and innovation to bear on an industry often overlooked," Rustagi says. He thinks this will immediately require him to draw on what he learned from the engineering-leadership program: "Something we work on is leading teams in the midst of change and ambiguity to attain a clear and deliverable vision," he says.
Interview With Kevin Rustagi part 1

Interview part 2

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Why MIT matters

By: Bill Gates

When MIT was founded 150 years ago, it adopted a novel approach for the world of higher learning. It combined theoretical knowledge with hands-on learning and emphasized research and teaching equally. It was exactly what the United States needed to help ignite the country’s Industrial Revolution.

Today, MIT remains unrivaled when it comes to the basic and applied research needed to address the complex challenges of this century. It is on the forefront of advancements in areas such as energy, climate change, disease, and poverty alleviation. At 150 years old, it shows no signs of slowing down.

I was lucky enough to take a few courses at MIT when I was studying next door at Harvard. And over the past three decades, I’ve visited MIT many times and have always been impressed with the caliber of its students, professors, and academic leaders. It’s remarkable to think that 76 current and former MIT members are Nobel Prize recipients.

Many other MIT faculty and graduates have distinguished themselves in their fields. In the late 19th century, Ellen Swallow Richards, the first woman to graduate from MIT, pioneered water-quality testing in the United States. A.D. Little, a member of the class of 1885, discovered important uses for cellulose acetate and went on to establish the country’s first management consulting firm. Pierre S. du Pont, who earned a chemistry degree at MIT in 1890, played a key role in the growth of his family’s chemical company and the US automotive industry.

In the 1930s, MIT professor and administrator Vannevar Bush advanced the visionary concept of a database-like device called the memex “in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications.” During World War II, MIT scientists developed radar, a critical contribution to the Allied war effort that enabled the modern era of flight.
More recently, MIT researchers have been at the forefront of breakthroughs in molecular biology, biomedicine, and the study of cancer and genetic diseases. Breakthroughs in these areas could revolutionize health care and profoundly improve the lives of the world’s poorest.

Professor Donald Sadoway is a standout MIT educator whose courses I’ve enjoyed online. He’s also leading research to dramatically improve battery efficiency and develop commercial-scale batteries that can store energy from renewable sources such as wind and solar, making them vastly more useful than they are today. (In a spirit of full disclosure, I’m an investor in a company backing this technology.)

MIT’s OpenCourseWare Internet site makes videos, lecture notes, and sometimes even exams from 2,000 undergraduate and graduate courses available to the world, free of charge. These include the world-renowned physics courses taught by professor Walter Lewin, which have been viewed more than 5 million times and which I’ve watched repeatedly. OpenCourseWare has become a national model for delivering online education and democratizing learning.

MIT has also been a leader in partnering with industry on research, and it encourages an entrepreneurial spirit, while asking faculty and students to consider the social relevance of their research and learning. A recent study showed that MIT alumni have founded nearly 26,000 companies, which collectively employ 3.3 million people and generate about $2 trillion in annual sales.

At a time when high schools and many colleges and universities are struggling to attract women and minorities to science and technology, almost half (48 percent) of MIT’s undergraduates are minorities and 45 percent are women.

This country has many extraordinary universities. But few excel as MIT does in combining rigorous academic inquiry, breakthrough research, an entrepreneurial spirit, and a social conscience – qualities that will ensure its stature and relevance far into the future.

MIT Sketching

Campus Tour

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Monday, June 27, 2011

Medical devices on fast forward

Pacemakers are smaller than they used to be, but not really that different from one that might have kept your grandfather alive decades ago. Ultrasound machines still look pretty much the same as they did when you or your children were born. Tests for strep throat still take days to come back from the lab.

While computers, phones, and even watches have been transformed at breathtaking speed, improvements to medical devices have arrived slowly and incrementally.

Now, a new center at MIT wants to bring the breakneck pace of consumer tech development to such devices, and cement the Boston region’s role in that transformation.

“Boston has a real opportunity, given the density of what we already do in the medical space,’’ said Brian W. Anthony, one of the directors of the new Medical Electronic Device Realization Center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “We really can be the Silicon Valley of medical devices.’’

As baby boomers age and as the struggle to contain health care costs continues, the need for improved medical technology grows, said Charles G. Sodini, an electrical engineering professor and codirector of the new center. He and his colleagues hope to spur radical change in the medical device industry, shepherding tools out of the hospital and into the doctor’s office, the wardrobe, and even under the skin. They envision clothes that can continuously monitor the wearer’s health status; implantable devices that can warn of impending problems; and diagnostic tools that are less expensive, easier to use, and more versatile than what are available now.

And there is no better place to do that than this region, according to Sodini. “We have Harvard, we have MIT, we have the hospitals, we have [businesses], we have all the pieces here,’’ he said.

The center, which officially launched last month, now hosts MIT researchers, doctors from area hospitals, and staffers from two companies: GE Global Research, headquartered in Niskayuna, N.Y., and Analog Devices Inc. of Norwood. The companies must agree to sponsor research and to assign a company employee to work on campus through the life of the project.

Among the challenges the center will address, said Patrick O’Doherty, health care group vice president at Analog Devices, are miniaturization — making the technology smaller and more portable — and improved sensing, to increase the ability to detect problems. “You need sensors that don’t interfere with your normal, everyday life,’’ he said. “We’re working on ways of measuring vital signs unobtrusively.’’

The group envisions embedding tiny sensing devices into clothing or straps to measure heart rate, pulse, sweat levels, body temperature, and activity level. The idea, O’Doherty said, is to detect when elderly people or postoperative patients aren’t moving around enough, suggesting they may be heading for a health crisis. Picking up a problem early could help avert one, he said, adding that athletic wear companies are interested in similar devices to help people track their condition as they exercise.

“Those are the kind of high-value products that people are going to want, and are going to change the face of home health,’’ O’Doherty said.
Center scientists would like to develop implantable devices that could track heart rate or brain waves and predict an impending heart attack or epileptic seizure, Sodini said. Others are working on simple devices that could be used to quickly measure whether someone has strep throat or high cholesterol levels, for instance — instead of waiting days for the test to come back from the lab.
Researchers plan to do this by using the burgeoning field of microfluidics — separating some substances from others, as a coin sorter splits nickels, dimes, and quarters.

“At MIT we have arguably the most activity in microfluidics of any university in the USA, (and maybe worldwide), and so we have the knowledge to take any starting fluid and make any measurement on it,’’ Joel Voldman, the electrical engineering associate professor heading up that work, wrote in an e-mail. “By collaborating with both industry and local clinicians, we are working to define applications that will have both high volume and fill a critical need.’’

One of the center’s first projects is aimed at advancing ultrasound technology. Over the last 20 years, ultrasound machines have shrunk from the size of washing machines to something more like a laptop, and from more than $20,000 each to around $8,000. Now they need to become even cheaper and easier to use, said GE chief technologist Kai Thomenius.

Anthony, the center’s codirector, was developing a next-generation ultrasound six months ago, when another center official introduced him to Dr. Anthony E. Samir, a radiologist working barely a mile away at Massachusetts General Hospital. Now the two are collaborating, with Anthony providing mechanical engineering expertise, and Samir offering real-world experience to help guide the work. Anthony didn’t realize until Samir told him that ultrasound technicians frequently suffer injuries from repetitive motions. The new device will take that into account.

“We had geographic proximity, but what we lacked were the social networks,’’ said Samir, director of ultrasound at MGH Imaging. “One of the things the [center] does is it creates the social networks to allow us to take advantage of our geographic proximity.’’

The ultrasound wand Anthony is designing can “feel’’ and respond to pressure. Currently, technicians must vary their pressure to get the image they want. It takes a lot of training and practice to use ultrasound equipment well, and even skilled technicians can’t get the exact same image twice, he said.

A “smart’’ wand that can be programmed to deliver a set amount of pressure will relieve strain on the technician and take more consistent images over time, allowing doctors to judge, for instance, if a tumor is growing. It will also be able to tell, say, if a blood vessel is getting dangerously stiff, Anthony said, and may be able to detect small tumors because of their rigidity, according to Thomenius.

The more reliable and versatile ultrasound becomes, the more it will be able to replace more expensive and more dangerous scans like X-rays and PET, Anthony said. An ultrasound with these capabilities that is also cheaper and smaller will have huge commercial potential, he added, which is why GE, a leader in the ultrasound field, is participating.

Permanent Pacemaker
Pacemaker of the Heart

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Sunday, June 26, 2011

Are We Giant Suckers? While the US Blows Money on the Military, Europe Spends Dough on Social Programs

Last week, during his final European visit before retiring, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates blasted our NATO allies for spending too little on their militaries.

“The blunt reality,” he told an audience in Brussels, “is that there will be dwindling appetite” in the U.S. “to expend increasingly precious funds on behalf of nations that are apparently unwilling to devote the necessary resources … to be serious and capable partners in their own defense.’’

It’s not uncommon for American hawks to whine about those soft Europeans not shelling out enough dough on weapons systems. But let’s take a look at what “defense” actually means in this context.

On average, wealthy countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development spend 2.5 percent of their economic output on their militaries. That’s not peanuts with very large economies. Europe is shielded by nuclear arms in the hands of the UK and France (not counting the nukes we “lend” to Germany, Italy, Turkey, Belgium and the Netherlands under a NATO agreement). There are no nation-states likely to attack the continent anytime soon.

So Gates isn’t talking about being “capable partners in their own defense” at all – not as long as the word “defense” maintains its meaning. Whatever one thinks about the intervention in Libya, for example, one can’t argue that we’re actually defending ourselves. What he’s saying is that they’re not ponying up enough to engage in far-flung conflicts in service of Western hegemony. In this, he is accurate – they enjoy the fruits of an international system dominated by the West without paying through the nose for it.

We do. The U.S. devotes 5.1 percent of its economic activity to “defense,” but that only counts the Pentagon’s annual budget. It doesn’t include military and homeland security spending tucked into other areas of the federal budget. Just a few examples: the costs of maintaining our nuclear arsenal are part of the Department of Energy budget; caring for veterans is in the Department of Veterans’ Affairs budget; foreign military assistance falls under the State Department’s budget. It also doesn’t include the costs of maintaining troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those conflicts will run us $170 billion this year — enough to offer insurance to 35 million low-income people or provide renewable energy to 100 million households, according to the national priorities project.
American hawks accuse Europe of essentially using the United States’ enthusiasm for spending a fortune on its military to subsidize Europe’s more generous social safety net. And it is true that in 2008, the EU accounted for 26 percent of the world’s military spending, while the U.S., with an economy that‘s around 7 percent smaller, accounted for 46 percent of global military spending. And in 2007, we forked over 16.2 percent of our economy to finance our social safety net, which was 3.1 percentage points below the OECD average.

For their tax dollars –or euros — they get universal health care, deeply subsidized education (including free university tuition in many countries), modern infrastructure, good mass transit and far less poverty than we have here at home. That may help explain why we have Tea Partiers screaming for cuts while Europe is ablaze with riots against its own “austerity” measures.

And while we outspend everyone on our military, among the 20 most developed countries in the world, the United States is now dead last in life expectancy at birth but leads the pack in infant mortality—40 percent higher than the runner-up. We also lead in the percentage of the population who will die before reaching age 60. Half of our kids need food stamps at some point during their childhoods. There’s certainly a modest difference in priorities dividing the Atlantic, but common sense suggests that we’re the ones who have it all wrong.

But interestingly, conservatives simultaneously argue that lavish U.S. military spending subsidizes Europe’s social welfare programs, andthat we’re the smarter party in this deal. Our kids get the wonderful opportunity to die in distant lands, while theirs are burdened with the horrors of decent retirement security and free health care.

Max Boot, a prominent and utterly pathological neoconservative, went so far as to lament that we, too, are spending too little on the military these days, writing, “It’s hard to remember now, but there was a time when the federal government spent most of its money on the armed forces. In 1962, the total federal budget was $106 billion of which $52 billion—almost half—went for defense. It wasn’t until 1976 that entitlement spending exceeded defense spending.”

For Boot, however, the really frightening prospect is that we’ll go the way of Europe. “Last year government spending in the 27 European Union nations hit 52% of GDP,” he wrote. “But most of them struggle to devote even 2% of GDP to defense… When Europeans after World War II chose to skimp on defense and spend lavishly on social welfare, they abdicated their claims to great power status.”
On that last point, it’s worth noting that in a 2010 poll of citizens in 27 countries, 53 percent of respondents said the EU had a positive influence on the world, while 46 percent felt the same about the United States. Europe is unquestionably a global power.

Boot asked, “What happens if the U.S. switches spending from defense to social welfare? Who will protect what used to be known as the ‘Free World’? Who will police the sea lanes, stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, combat terrorism, respond to genocide and other unconscionable human rights violations, and deter rogue states from aggression?”

What he doesn’t say is that the American Right has long opposed the kind of international security cooperation that might shift some of the cost of policing the world to other states. If we didn’t insist on doing it ourselves, perhaps we wouldn’t have to.

But I suppose that when Americans are waiting in line for food stamps—or waiting to pay their respects to a soldier who died in some godforsaken country thousands of miles away—they can take an abstract pride in being the world’s only superpower. The argument has always seemed to me like the biggest loser in Las Vegas saying that the house is a sucker.
So remember to take pride in American power, and remember that it comes at a very high price.

U.S. Military


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Libyan civilians build weapons to fight Gadhafi

By HADEEL AL-SHALCHI, Associated Press

MISRATA, Libya (AP) — Aref Abu Zeid used to be a heavy equipment engineer at the Libya Steel Company. Now he runs an 80-man team working 12 hours a day turning out rockets and weapons to fight Moammar Gadhafi's forces.

In this rebel stronghold in western Libya, civilian engineers, mechanics and tradesmen are pumping out materiel to arm the uprising against Gadhafi's rule that has become a civil war.

"None of us here have anything to do with the military," said Abu Zeid, 50, a short man with a thick salt and pepper beard and an easy smile. "Our need to protect our homes, our lives and our city forced us into this war work."

Misrata, the country's third-largest city located 125 miles (200 kilometers) southeast of the capital, is home to the largest steel company in the country and metal is always available here.

"Owners of carpentry and mechanical supply warehouses would just open their doors," Abu Zeid said. "They told us 'Take what you want.' Others bring us piles of money to buy what we need."
At the beginning of the war in Misrata, mechanics were repairing arms in their homes and garages. But as it raged on, the engineers realized they needed bigger operations and a more organized force.

That's when about eight schools across the city turned into weapons' workshops. Volunteers flooded in to help.

Abu Zeid's operation — the Complete Industrial Skills College — is a sprawling campus with shops fitted with welding gear and machinery where youngsters formerly learned engineering and machine making.

Now the weapons-making crews receive request forms from the front lines that ask for specific machinery and weapons.

Clanging metal and sparking welders fill the main workshop. The floor is strewn with electrical wiring and scrap metal. Old instructional and safety posters still hang on the walls, a reminder that this was once a school.

Two men worked on installing Grad rockets onto the back of a pickup truck. Scavenged car parts, scrap metal and captured rocket launchers made up the rest of the project.

The truck itself was one of hundreds the rebels found stored in Gadhafi's government and military buildings. They are Chinese knockoffs of a popular Toyota 4-wheel drive called the Chao Yung Highlander.

"Without these Chinese cars we wouldn't have won this war in Misrata," said Abu Zeid. He caressed the side of the truck.

Once fitted with a weapon, the truck is painted black — the words "Feb 17 Revolution" spray- painted in white. The tricolor rebel flag emblazons the side of the vehicle.

In another workshop, the wooden butts of AK-47 automatic rifles are repaired and replaced.

Across the workshops, there are mechanics, engineers, and welders who've been tested as they turn their civilian knowledge into weapons and ammunition design and the trajectory of rockets.

Homemade, rust-brown steel rockets lean in a pile against a wall. Near them are rockets captured from Gadhafi troops.

"We had no time to learn, we had to just become creative," said Ali Ibrahim, who used to drive trucks and now builds rockets.

He said that at the beginning, rebels weapons makers were just working from intuition. Now they can copy and take ideas from the old Soviet and former East Bloc weapons taken from Gadhafi soldiers.

But many of the men at this workshop have nothing to do with mechanics or engineering at all.

Before the war started, Mohammed al-Ahmar ran a women's clothing store called 'The Princesses' Palace' off Tripoli Street. Some of the fiercest battles between Libyan rebels and Gadhafi's army rattled along that street for days.

"Gadhafi's troops destroyed my shop and I lost 12 friends in the fighting," he said. "How could I just repair and open my shop again and go back to business?" he asked.

Al-Ahmar, 38, said he wanted to honor the memory of his dead friends. So he showed up one day at the college where he heard mechanics and engineers were maintaining weapons.

Today, wearing a gray mechanic's uniform, he balanced a cigarette between his lips as bored a hole into a slab of metal. It's destined to be part of a machine gun.

"The guys here are easy on me. They know my skills are limited in this kind of work, so they teach me something new everyday. I do small things like weld and cut metal," he said. "I am definitely going back to the clothing business as soon as Gadhafi falls."
Gadhafi loyalists

Libya Assult

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Africa Regional Police Chiefs' Organizations Meeting

The first Africa Regional Police Chiefs' Organizations Meeting on the project "The Fight against the Illicit Accumulation and Trafficking of Firearms and explosive materials in Africa" was held in Kigali Rwanda from 26th to 27th May 2011.

The meeting brought together delegates representing Police Chiefs from EAPCCO, CAPCCO, SARPCCO, WAPCCO and ECOWAS including the host country, Rwanda. In attendance were also representatives from the AU, EU, Interpol and RECSA

2011 Executive Visits to Member States

The Executive Secretary and the Deputy Executive Secretary are undertaking a series of visits to the Member States to brief Ministers in charge of security on the progress of the implementation of the Nairobi Protocol in the region. Also on the agenda are discussions on the outcome of the 7th TAC meeting and the upcoming 6th Council of ministers meeting scheduled to take place in Djibouti.

RECSA Represented in the Fourth Biennial Meeting of States (BMS)
The Regional Centre on Small Arms was represented at BMS4 held in New York from 14th to 18th June 2010.
On Wednesday 16th June, RECSA made a statement outlining progress in the Great Lakes Region, the Horn of Africa and Bordering States in the implementation of the United Nations Plan of Action on Small Arms.The statement touched on arms marking, record keeping, regional and international cooperation, public awareness, among other key areas of implementation of the Plan of Action.
In addition, the Secretariat gave input at a number of side events on the status of implementation of the UN Programme of Action on Small Arms in the Great Lakes Region, the Horn of Africa and Bordering States.
Among other commitments, BMS4 promised better cooperation in international assistance to regions and countries affected by the proliferation and misuse of small arms and recognised the need for a comprehensive approach to border controls to reduce the illegal flow of arms between countries.

Bilateral Discussions on MANPADS and Brokering

RECSA is running a number of national discussions on Man-Portable Air Defence Systems (MANPADS) and brokering of small arms in a number of its Member States.

MANPADS, commonly described as shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, are short-range surface-to-air weapons designed to be fired by an operator on the ground. The failed attack on an Israeli airliner in Mombasa, Kenya in 2002, and successful attacks on international aviation elsewhere over the years illustrate the danger posed by the proliferation of illegal MANPADS and the need to control these weapons.

RECSA Technical Advisory Committee Meeting

The RECSA Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) had its 6th meeting in Djibouti on March 14th at the Kempinski Palace hotel. The meeting considered and approved the draft Gender Policy completed in December 2009. The Policy will be forwarded to the Council of Ministers in their next sitting.

Inter-Regional Disarmament Project Launched

RECSA has received funding from the Japan Government through UDNP to implement a one-year regional disarmament project.

The project Enhancing human security in the Great Lakes Region and Horn of Africa by preventing proliferation of illicit small arms through practical disarmament is expected to produce best practices in disarmament to enhance cross-border cooperation between countries in disarming illegally armed groups.
A baseline survey will be conducted in Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan and Ethiopia to inform the development of the guidelines. Under the project, RECSA will develop a small arms and light weapons information management software for its member states

Small arms project regional meet

RECSA, in collaboration with SADC, hosted a regional seminar for the Southern Africa region under the three-year RECSA EU-funded small arms project. The meeting held on 14th and 15th March in Windhoek, Namibia brought together representatives from SADC, SARPCCO, members of parliament, civil society, police, Interpol, among others. Participants reviewed the activities under the project and prioritized areas of intervention for security services, parliamentarians and civil society in the SADC region. This was the fourth regional seminar to be held under the EU-funded small arms project. Similar seminars were held in the RECSA, ECOWAS and ECCAS regions.
RECSA TAC Holds its 7th Ordinary Sitting

The RECSA Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) held its 7th Ordinary meeting in Djibouti on 13th and 14th February. The meeting considered reports from the Planning and Operations, Human Resource, and Finance and Audit sub-committees that met prior to the TAC meeting. The sub-committees considered issues arising from key documents presented by RECSA before submitting reports to the TAC meeting. The documents will be forwarded to the Council of Ministers (COM) by TAC for approval. COM is expected to sit in May in Djibouti.

EU Project Consolidation Seminar

The RECSA managed trans-regional project entered its second year of implementation with the holding of a regional meeting at the African Union Complex in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The aim of the meeting was to consolidate priorities identified by Regional Economic Commissions (ECOWAS and ECCAS) and RECSA partners in regional seminars held in the first year.

RECSA signs Funding Agreement for Small arms Work with European Union

The European Union is providing a grant of EUR 500,000 to the Regional Centre on Small Arms (RECSA) to coordinate a project aimed at enhancing the role of civil society and national efforts in the prevention, control and reduction of illicit Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW). This grant is in addition to the EUR 3.3 million provided to RECSA in March 2010 for the 1st Pan-African Project on SALW funded by the European Union, aimed at supporting the Africa-EU strategic partnership in the fight against illicit accumulation and trafficking of firearms and explosive materials.
Ethiopia Arms Destruction

A team comprising Federal Police of Ethiopia and two RECSA officials undertook an small arms assessment mission to three sites, namely Federal Police armoury in Addis; Kolfe (Crime Prevention Department); and Akaki main Prison between 23rd and 28th August, 2010. The main objective of the mission was to determine the stockpile destruction requirements and options and the general infrastructure required for the exercise.

ECOWAS Regional Seminar on AU-EU Small Arms Project

RECSA, in collaboration with ECOWAS, hosted a regional seminar for the West African sub-region under the Africa Union-EU small arms project. The meeting held on 6th and 7th September in Accra, Ghana brought together representatives from the African Union, the UN, ECOWAS Parliament, Security Services, and Ghana National Commission on Small Arms and the West African Action Network on Small Arms (WAANSA). Participants reviewed the activities under the project and prioritized areas of intervention for security services, parliamentarians and civil society in the ECOWAS region. This was the second regional seminar to be held under the AU-EU small arms project that is to run for three years. Similar seminars are to be held in the Southern and Central regions to enable these regions to prioritize interventions in the area of small arms to be funded under the project.

Small Arms In Africa

Small Arms Circulation

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Strengthen rules on arms trade

Every day around the world, armed violence kills approximately 2,000 people. In the Philippines, reports estimate the casualties at between 16 and 22 each day.

The Philippine Action Network to Control Arms (PhilANCA) is pleased that the Philippines is supporting an Arms Trade Treaty in the United Nations. The treaty aims to diminish and prevent the obscene human cost of the irresponsible trade in arms.

However, we do not need just any Arms Trade Treaty. We need a strong Arms Trade Treaty that would cover small arms and light weapons (SALW) and ammunitions within the scope of conventional weapons to be regulated. We need an Arms Trade Treaty that will ensure that no transfer is allowed if there is substantial risk that it will be used to: commit serious violations of international human rights law or humanitarian law; commit acts of genocide or crimes against humanity; facilitate a pattern of gender-based violence; promote violent crime or organized crime; or seriously impair socio-economic development.

In 2010, the Philippines was ranked 130th out of 149 countries in the Global Peace Index. According to reports, we scored badly because of the prevalence of violent crimes, intensity of internal conflicts, violation of human rights, terrorist acts and ease of access to small arms and light weapons. Supporting a strong ATT is an opportunity to tell the world and the citizens of this country that this government is sincere in its aim to protect its people from armed violence.

Stronger Arms Trade With Russia

Support An Arms Trade

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Friday, June 24, 2011

AQIM armed with explosives and missiles in Libya

imagePARIS - They had Kalashnikovs and rocket launchers. Now, with the plundering of Libyan barracks AQIM fighters have military explosives and no doubt formidable anti-aircraft weapons.

The interception April 12 in the desert of Niger of arms smugglers carrying 640 kg of explosives, including Czech Semtex and 435 detonators has confirmed the worst fears of Western and regional services: the transfer to the strongholds of Al Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) of large lots of military weapons recovered thanks to the Libyan crisis.

According to the Nigerian security services, many of AQIM fighters were in the convoy.

"This confirms that the role of the Libyan Islamic radicals is not only to fight against Gaddafi but also to channel the flow of missiles and explosives. The goal is to revitalize the AQIM arms network," said in Algiers Mohamed Mokeddem expert, author of "France and armed Islamism".

"With the weapons looted from army barracks in Libya, they passed to the next level: the terrorists of Al Qaeda now have sophisticated weapons of war, and it's very worrying," he says, reached by telephone from Paris.

Since the occupation by the Libyan opposition of all the barracks in the east and the disappearance into unknown hands of thousands of tons of weapons, the alarm was raised in the region.

Last week, an official of the fight against terrorism in the region told AFP: "There is a great danger to see AQIM become one of the strongest armies in the Sahel. Many weapons have fallen into the hands of terrorists, mostly ground-air missiles."

Trafficking in small arms has always existed in the vastness of the Sahara and Sahel, intended for the tribes, rebellions, mafia groups and twenty years of Islamist actvities.

But the prospect of scattered including anti-aircraft missiles Russian-made SAM-7, of which hundreds have been stolen in Libya, changes the game and gives nightmares to the security forces in the region and beyond.

"The international intelligence services are very worried. This is a massive infusion of weapons in the international trafficking networks," says Eric Dénécé, director of the French research on intelligence, co-author of a report on the recent rebellion in Libya.

"Traffickers will first try to sell the goods as close to their area, to reduce the risk of being intercepted by the police and services, but nothing tells us that in a few months we do not find this material in Uzbekistan, Corsica and elsewhere ..." he told AFP.

The report, entitled "Libya, an uncertain future", published May 12, said: "Members of AQIM have acquired multiple copies of portable surface to air missiles of SAM-7 type from Libyan smugglers".

"On the SAM-7, there is no much doubt," says Eric Dénécé.

"Services in Mali and in Algerians say the same thing. Where did they go? It is another question ... And there's all what was exported by sea directly from Benghazi: Benghazi mafias are traditionally very active".

According to Mohamed Mokeddem, a U.S. delegation visited Algeria last week "to work on the traceability of such missiles. They are very concerned."

For if the SAM-7 would not be very useful for katibas (groups) of the Sahel AQIM, rarely threatened from the air, they could allow a shooter set in the end of an African airport to destroy almost certainly an airliner.


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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Obama’s Marines in position for Afghan offensive

Ben Sheppard, Agence France Presse

aleqm5hjtfs5lejzyq-bunsg2pfpqhsfewprocessedlargeCAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan (AFP) — A new wave of US Marines sent to Afghanistan by President Barack Obama to turn the table on Taliban insurgents is in position and ready for action, according to the military.

About 10,000 fighters of Second Marine Expeditionary Brigade have arrived in Helmand, an opium-growing southern province where the Taliban have widespread power despite being ousted from government by US-led forces in 2001.

“All the Marines being deployed have now got here,” Lieutenant Abe Sipe, spokesman for the brigade, said Friday. “Our overall troop number is 10,700, of which 7,000 are at Camp Leatherneck and about 3,000 elsewhere in Helmand.

“These Marines form the major part of the US troop increase.”

A total of 17,000 US troops and 4,000 military trainers have been pledged for Afghanistan as part of Obama’s new strategy to defeat the Islamist Taliban, who have been gaining in strength over the past few years.

A Combat Aviation Brigade was the first to deploy, moving into the southern province of Kandahar by mid-May. A Stryker Brigade Combat Team is also heading in to complete the fighting reinforcements.

Camp Leatherneck is a collection of tents and cabins that has sprung out of the flat desert of central Helmand to accommodate Marines, who are at the spearhead of what has been dubbed the “Afghanistan surge”.

But the Marines’ commander rejected the surge tag, saying the influx was not an attempt to replicate the successes of the 2007-08 surge of US troops into Iraq.

“We don’t use the term, it is word for Iraq,” General Larry Nicholson told AFP in a brief interview. “There is no end date for us here.”

The plan combines the “hard power” of boosted US troop numbers with a major effort to improve the Afghan army and police force, and an emphasis on neighbouring Pakistan’s role in region.

The Marines in Helmand are expected to move south in the coming weeks ahead of presidential elections due to be held on August 20.

The Dutch commander for southern Afghanistan said Thursday that the NATO-led forces were seizing the initiative against insurgents.

Major General Mart de Kruif, who oversees more than 30,000 international troops, said the force was “now entering a new stage, in which we will have the operational initiatives on our side and maintain it”.

With the influx of US Marines and Army combat troops, “significant operations” would be launched “in a very short time” in Helmand province and the city of Kandahar, he said.

One of the concerns for the military is a feared rise in attacks in the run-up to August 20 presidential elections as the insurgents try to destabilise an internationally funded drive for democracy.

“One of the goals of establishing a presence here is to instill a reality that this province is stable enough to hold meaningful elections,” Sipe said.

But elections were just one factor in the Marines’ battle plan for the summer, he said.

“The overall mission of the brigade here is to secure Helmand province in co-operation with Afghan national security forces,” he said.

Parts of Helmand, which borders Pakistan in the south, are firmly in Taliban hands and the region provides much of the heroin that funds the insurgents.

The international military warned this month that violence in the country, and Helmand in particular, had reached record highs.

NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said insurgent-initiated attacks from January to May this year across Afghanistan were about 60 percent higher than those for the same period last year.

And Helmand was “in particular experiencing the highest increase” an ISAF spokesman said.

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Afghan Soldiers Teach Policemen at RPG Range

Regional Command Southwest

Story by Cpl. Adam Leyendecker
HELMAND, Afghanistan (June 16, 2011) – At the Joint Sustainment Academy Southwest here, Afghan National Security Forces typically get their military training from Marine instructors.

On June 14, for the first time, Afghan Uniformed policemen attending the course received training from Afghan National Army soldiers from the Afghan Small Arms Weapons Instructor’s Course, during a rocket-propelled grenade range.

The intent of the event was to show the Marine instructors that the ANA soldiers taking part in the weapons course can conduct instructional operations, and that the policemen can use that knowledge and be successful.

The soldiers set up the range by organizing training lanes with cones and preparing a shaded area for the students on a day where temperatures exceeded 100 degrees. Afghan student instructors gave a detailed brief to ensure safety.

“We are happy the ANA are here to teach us, because some of us don’t know how to shoot the RPG,” said policeman Mahamad Hoqini, class leader for the AUP course.

Once the policemen were ready to fire, the ANA were there to conduct the live-fire training operation.

The RPG, which has been around since the Vietnam War, can shoot up to 900 meters but is most effective between 300-400 meters. Rocket-propelled grenade launchers are the weapon of choice for Afghan security forces for attacks on armored vehicles.

“I feel well that I am helping teach my brothers of Afghanistan so we can help bring peace to our people together,” said Sgt. Nimatullah Wafadar, a student from the small arms instructor’s course. “This is my first time running a shooting range.”

The message and instruction provided by the ANA got across to the students as they successfully completed the range without incident, and the policemen gained experience firing the RPG.

“This is a big deal due to the fact that the ANA and soon the AUP will be able to provide vital weapons instruction to their units, ensuring that the ranges are conducted efficiently and in a safe manner to which the most instruction can be maintained,” said Staff Sgt. William A. Genochio, operations chief at JSAS an Independence, Mo., native.

The AUP class will now prepare for their graduation, while the ANA small arms instructors will continue learning more about weapons systems and how to eventually take over as instructors themselves.


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Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Tracing small arms key to preventing their diversion for illicit use – UN chief

25 April 2011 – Keeping track of small arms in conflict, post-conflict and conflict-prone areas is a key to identifying where such weapons and ammunition may be diverted for illicit use, and thus improve the security of stockpiles and shipments, says Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

“The Security Council may wish to encourage States to strengthen their tracing capacity and to enhance international cooperation regarding tracing in these contexts, including with the United Nations,” he writes in a report to the Security Council on the trade in illicit small arms and light weapons.

In his recommendations to the Council, which discussed the report in a closed-door meeting today, Mr. Ban states that in post-conflict weapons collection programmes, weapons should be recorded in sufficient detail to ensure accountability and to facilitate their tracing in the event of diversion.

He says that the International Small Arms Control Standards currently being developed by the UN will provide practical guidance on the appropriate collection and record keeping of small weapons gathered in post-conflict environments.

In the biennial report, submitted to the Council in line with requirements of the implementation of the UN Programme of Action to Prevent, Combat and Eradicate the Illicit Trade in Small Arms and Light Weapons in All Its Aspects (PoA-ISS), Mr. Ban recommends that expert groups monitoring arms embargoes could be aided in their work if they have basic information on the ammunition marking practices of States.

He recommends that the Council encourages Member States to provide the UN, on a voluntary basis, with public information on the markings applied to ammunition for small arms and light weapons by manufacturers under their jurisdiction, as well as the markings on ammunition recovered from illicit use.

The Secretary-General notes that unsecured or poorly monitored national ammunition stockpiles account for a substantial amount of the global diversion into illicit markets, a key factor in the prolongation and escalation of armed conflict, as well as in terrorism, crime and other forms of armed violence. They are also an important source for the assembly of improvised explosive devices, he added.

“The destruction of surplus arms and ammunition is cost-effective when compared with the costs of properly securing and maintaining stockpiles, and should be pursued vigorously by States, United Nations country teams and peacekeeping missions,” writes Mr. Ban, adding that the Council may wish to encourage States to apply, on a voluntary basis, the international ammunition technical guidelines once they are finalized.

To effectively combat armed violence in conflict, post-conflict and conflict-prone settings, peacekeeping and peacebuilding activities and development assistance should require planning for armed violence reduction as a priority, the Secretary-General notes.

“In such contexts, it is vital that traditional arms control measures be integrated into interventions that target the demand for weapons and enhance the ability of security providers and governance authorities to strengthen community security, manage conflict and mitigate violence,” he adds.

The Secretary-General also recommends that in line with his 2009 report on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, the Council may wish to further identify ways to increase compliance by non-State armed groups with international norms relating to the use and stockpiling of weapons and ammunition in times of conflict.

He also reports that coordination with the UN on the issue of small arms has improved significantly over the past three years, with the world body’s Coordinating Action on Small Arms mechanism having grown from 16 participating UN entities in 2008 to 23 currently.

States are also being provided with such tools as a legislative guide, a technical guide and a model law on the UN Firearms Protocol.

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New law soon to tackle knife and small arms crime: Dubai Police chief

Dubai: People carrying knives, swords, daggers or any other weapon on their person or in their vehicles at "suspicious times and places" will face prosecution, once a proposed law to control the use of sharp weapons is passed, said Dubai Police chief.

Lieutenant General Dahi Khalfan Tamim said people with criminal records will particularly be prosecuted for carrying knives, swords or daggers.

"I believe they [who carry such weapons] should be convicted, because there is absolutely no need for normal people to carry weapons with them while they are out and about," he said.

A number of recent incidents of youths using sharp objects, including knives and swords, in fights has prompted the authorities to work on the new law to control the use of such objects.

Article continues below

The police chief made his remarks after a graduation ceremony of 26 officers from the third Criminal Investigation Department's Detective Programme, attended by Major General Khamis Al Mazeina, Deputy Dubai Police Chief, and police department heads.

Aiming for efficiency

The programme aims to create a generation of efficient officers in criminal investigation, "because security is achieved only with a strong and capable crime-combating body," Lt. Gen. Dahi said.

He asked all graduating officers to identify the negatives and positives they encountered during their training and to submit their remarks to help develop the programme and update it.

"This programme is the first of its kind in criminal investigation developed indigenously in the UAE. Earlier, we used to rely on programmes we received from other countries, but now we are using the intellectual capital of our own Dubai Police officers," he said.

Patriotic education is also being introduced to the curriculum because, according to Lt. Gen. Dahi, he could not find any subject in the national curriculum that ignites a sense of loyalty for the nation.

"The criminal investigation curriculum should not be static because this science is developing along with criminals' methods. It should not be theoretical but include field training and prove its effectiveness in the field and with statistics," he said.

"Our aim is to be leaders in combating all crimes, from murder to rape and theft. We don't lack knowledge, capabilities or expertise."

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Monday, June 20, 2011

SA denies selling sniper rifles to Libya

Defence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu has denied claims that South Africa sold sniper rifles and other small arms to Libya late last year.

The DA’s spokesman on defence, David Maynier, has said South Africa might have approved the sale of 100 sniper rifles and 50 000 rounds of ammunition to Libya in late 2010.

The South African company alleged to have sold the weapons and ammunition listed Libya as a “target market in Africa” and had exhibited the rifles at an arms fair in Libya in 2008, Maynier said.

IOL pic jan26 lindiwe sisulu“We understand that the export of the sniper rifles and ammunition was authorised by the National Conventional Arms Control Committee.”

Maynier would not reveal the name of the company.

Reports from the troubled North African country suggest government forces or government-sponsored mercenaries have used sniper rifles in a bloody crackdown in Tripoli and Benghazi on demonstrations calling for President Muammar Gaddafi to go.

Sisulu said in Cape Town yesterday that - to her knowledge - South Africa had not approved the sale of sniper rifles to Libya.

“Have we sold any sniper rifles to Libya? Not that I am aware of. We have a committee that oversees the sale of any arms or ammunition from South Africa to any country.

“A report is provided of our activities by the arms control body and I am not aware that Libya is on the list of those countries that we have sold sniper rifles to.”

Justice Minister Jeff Radebe - who chairs the arms control body - confirmed in August 2009 that South Africa had approved the sale of “various weapons” to Libya in the past.

In March 2009, the arms control body approved the sale of an unknown number of C130 aircraft and 40mm multiple grenade launchers. In May 2008, a permit was issued for the “demonstration of fuses and various kinds of ammunition”, according to a statement issued by Radebe in 2009.

The arms control body has since authorised the sale of armoured personnel carriers to Libya.

Meanwhile, the government has revealed that no contact has been made with the Libyan authorities since protests began there last week.

It is not known how many South Africans are trapped in Libya.
Deputy Minister of International Relations and Co-operation Ebrahim Ebrahim said as far as he was concerned there was no need to engage with the Libyan authorities.

“We have not been in touch with anyone from the administration in Libya. I didn’t think it was necessary for us to be in touch with the ruling administration and the ruling elite in Libya - at least from the side of the department,” he said.

Ebrahim said the government had been in touch with its ambassador in Libya, Muhamad Dangor, to “get a report of exactly what is taking place in Libya so we can get first-hand information”.

“I am told communication is not very good because there is some problem… but we hope to get a full report soon from our ambassador.”

Ebrahim could not say how many South Africans were stranded in Libya or if any were in danger.

Asked if the South African government was prepared to condemn the state-sponsored violence in Libya, Ebrahim said the government “has always condemned the use of force against peaceful demonstrations and civilian populations, no matter where it takes place”.

But he stopped short of singling out Gaddafi’s government for rebuke.

“In this whole uprising in the Middle East we have been of the view that these demonstrations are peaceful and whatever problems there are should be resolved peacefully,” he said.

Cope said that it was “baffled” by South Africa’s silence in the face of the “brutality of the Libyan government towards peaceful demonstrations”.

“The silence of our government, a close Gaddafi friend and ally, and the Southern African Development Community in condemning the state-sponsored violence is deafening,” Cope said, adding that the reported killings “can only mean that Gaddafi now leads a murderous regime and must be held to account”.

Cope called for South Africa’s ambassador to Libya to be “recalled” and for the government to “suspend all diplomatic relations with that state”.

The African Democracy Forum, which represents about 450 human rights organisations in the continent, called on the AU to “investigate gross human rights abuses and the loss of life” in Libya.

The World Alliance for Citizen Participation (Civicus) said the international community “cannot afford to look the other way while Gaddafi’s henchmen mow down unarmed civilians on the streets”. - Political Bureau

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Libyan Rebels Get Organised

Muhamed Makram, a member of the Omar Mukhtar brigade, displays his new rebel army ID card [Evan Hill, Al Jazeera]
A hundred yards inside the bombed-out western gate to Ajdabiya, Husain Ahmed Bukatwa stands around a smoldering fire smoking a cigarette and waiting for a tea kettle to boil.

His blue keffiyeh matches his beret, on which he's pinned a revolutionary button bearing the image of the adopted opposition flag and Omar Mukhtar, the hero of Libya’s anti-colonial resistance.

Before the uprising against Muammar Gaddafi, Bukatwa studied computer science at Omar Mukhtar University in Derna, around 450 kilometres to the east.

Now he chats with his plain clothes rebel comrades next to a gun-mounted pick-up truck, hoisting a Belgian-made FN light automatic rifle that’s half his height.

Bukatwa is 18 years old. After a week of the most basic military training, he's now on the front line.

In recent days, the rebels' tactics and organisation have improved, and they have begun to resemble something like a trained militia, if not an army.

But months into the fight to overthrow Gaddafi's regime, their forces remain a hodgepodge of civilians like Bukatwa, pressed into service and made to rely on scavenged weapons and an aging fleet of captured armoured vehicles they are barely able to repair.

"We know each other, we know who's bad and who's good, we know who wants to fight for freedom," Colonel Ahmed Bani, a rebel military spokesman, told Al Jazeera recently.

"The view is so different now. Now there are leaders, there is organisation, it's not like at the beginning."

Fading chaos

In the first days of the revolt, rebel fighters in the east were a truly all-volunteer force: Men who had kept personal weapons for years joined those who had taken guns from Gaddafi's abandoned and destroyed military garrisons and set off west down the coastal highway, confident they'd reach Tripoli in days.

Those who came from the same neighbourhood or city organised themselves into squads, but hierarchies appeared and disappeared day by day and broke down completely during lightning advances and massive retreats prompted by heavy government artillery fire.

Recently, that chaos has begun to fade as rebels organise themselves. At the front, fighters now carry paper badges in plastic slips that list their name, number, and "brigade". Newer identification cards are smaller, made of plastic, list blood type and feature a barcode.

Weapons carry individual numbers – Bukatwa's rifle had "309" painted on the wooden stock. These are recorded and linked to the fighter's ID number when a brigade supply centre distributes arms.

Rebel commanders have begun confiscating guns from those who don't belong to the military force or who are deemed unreliable. Poor or trigger-happy fighters are sometimes "retired", either sent home or given a menial task, such as sweeping floors.

Those with prior military experience, on the other hand, are often placed in "lightning" or "sa'iqa" units, the so-called special forces who probe forward ahead of the main rebel body and secure frontline areas.

"We know who is able to have weapons, and even the leaders of the tribes, we are calling the sheikh," Bani said.

"One comes in and says, 'I think it's better to take the guns from them,' and we send military police, and they take guns from them. We ask about his tribe, who is responsible from his family. Old people, they cannot lie. He has nothing more than five or ten years [left] of life. He will lie for what, and for who?"

This effort to control the flow of weapons is due in part to the realisation that supplies are finite.

Musa al-Shawafi, a 55-year-old bakery owner who was volunteering at a military technical college in Benghazi that had been converted into a weapons-repair shop, said he was made to sign for an AK-47 every time he wanted to take one to the front and had to return it when he came back.

"There's not a lot of guns here; maybe someone else will use it," he said. "If they have a lot, then they'd give us one, everyone would have one."

'Command and control'

Despite the opposition's pleas for advanced, foreign weaponry, none have been seen on the front in recent days, and rebel commanders in Ajdabiya on Monday said they had not received any.
Fathi al-Sherif, a former major in the Libyan army who was directing troops at the town's western gate, said rebels needed heavy, long-range missiles to counter the government's frequent Grad rocket attacks, as well as anti-tank rockets to take out Gaddafi's armour.

Boys in Ajdabiya wearing new, Qatar-provided camouflage [Evan Hill/Al Jazeera]

He said he had heard of Qatar's promise to supply such weapons but none had come.

"Everything we get, we use right away, nothing is in storage," he said.

But other foreign supplies have arrived. Around a dozen rebels at the western gate could be seen wearing new, black body armour supplied by Qatar and made by well-known Colombian manufacturer Miguel Caballero.

Rebel trucks carried new communications equipment, including tall, roof-mounted radio antennas.

Sherif said the new radios had been effective, allowing rebels for the first time to coordinate their movements and quickly call for reinforcements or redeployments.

They also help the rebels communicate swiftly with NATO: At around 1:30pm on Monday, around two dozen rebel vehicles pulled back to the western gate, saying they had received word from the Transitional National Council in Benghazi, who are in direct contact with international forces, that NATO wanted the rebels to clear the roughly 40 kilometres of desert between themselves and government forces to allow room for air strikes.

But even the new equipment was limited. All the radios were being used by front-line troops, Sherif said, so he was employing the old method in use since the uprising began – sending trucks tens of kilometres back and forth down the road to deliver messages in person.

Perhaps more important than guns and armour, many experts argue, is "command and control", the ability to direct troops efficiently on the battlefield, with a clear chain of command. The rebels' lack of such control has made it easy for Gaddafi's troops to force them into wild retreats through flanking maneuvers, and Grad rocket and mortar barrages.

On Monday, there was evidence that rebel command was improving. Fighters described how they have been organised into brigades sanctioned by the Transitional Nation Council.

At the Ajdabiya front was the Omar Mukhtar Brigade, composed primarily of men from Derna, Benghazi and Ajdabiya. The brigade is made up of about 200 men and 10 trucks, the fighters said.

Another brigade, based in Baida, has been named after slain Al Jazeera Arabic cameraman Ali Hassan al-Jaber.

The Omar Mukhtar brigade commander, until he was killed on Friday in an attack on Brega, was Abdelmonem Mukhtar Mohammed, a man with long experience in the armed opposition movement known as the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group who had also spent time in Afghanistan and had met Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, according to the Los Angeles Times.

At one of the brigade's bases, a primary school in Ajdabiya, Mohammed's deputy, Abduljawad al-Bedin, said he was waiting for the council to decide who would become the new commander. Mohammed al-Rajili, the council's liaison with the brigade, was due to arrive any minute to discuss the issue with Bedin.

Like most of the rebel fighters, Bedin lacked much prior military experience. Military service is mandstory in Libya, and he had spent some time in the army, but before the uprising broke out, he was a student in Arabic literature at Gar Younis University in Benghazi.

Bedin's troops didn't lack fuel or food – both were being provided by wealthy donors, he said – but they needed heavier artillery and anti-tank weapons.

The current state of affairs, with Gaddafi recruiting foreign fighters and reportedly continuing to buy arms from outside the country, made it hard for the rebels to keep pace, he said.

Bedin hesitated when asked whether a military victory against Gaddafi was impossible unless things change.

"It's hard, but it's not impossible," he said.

'We are what we are'

The rebels' armoured force is also limited. Personnel carriers have not been seen on the front lines, and rebels seem wary of using tanks for fear of provoking an accidental NATO air strike. Earlier this month, twelve rebel tanks were knocked out of commission after being hit by a NATO attack outside Brega, said Awad Brayiq, an engineer at a vehicle-repair base outside Benghazi.

At the base, at least 10 Russian-made BMP armoured personnel carriers and 15 T-55 tanks in various states of disrepair sat inside and outside a large warehouse, empty of any workers. At least three or four of the tanks worked, the rest were out of commission.

A slightly more advanced BTR personnel carrier, also made in Russia, sat near one entrance, covered in camouflage and red, green and black opposition spray paint.

The BMPs and tanks that sat in repair bays appeared to have had no serious work done on them. A layer of reddish-brown dust still covered most of the interior surfaces, and engines that had been removed from two of the tanks and set on mounts were receiving no attention.

Engineers at the base needed supplies and spare parts, and vehicles lacked the necessary batteries and gas, Brayiq said. Hopping on top of one tank, he pointed to a piece of paper taped to its turret – a long list of everything the base lacked, including small arms and ammunition.

At the weapons-repair base, men with little engineering experience had come to volunteer.

Standing next to a helicopter rocket pod jury-rigged to the back of a pick-up truck, Mohamed Bashir Mohamed, a medical student, explained how he had come with his neighbour Muftah to help weld and do simple electrical work.

In another garage, 37-year-old Atim Muhammed, an ex-army officer who had fought in the war against Chad and for Idi Amin in Uganda, helped teenage boys fix machine guns.

Out on the tarmac, Shawafi, the bakery owner, squinted through his glasses in the bright sunlight and quoted Bob Marley, one of his favourite musicians: "We are what we are, that's the way it's going to be."

Libya's Weapons

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