Thursday, July 7, 2011
Old Italian Carcanos Used by Rebels in Libya
On the subject of scarcity, the article soon to be published noted the shortage of rifles among the rebels. This is a theme this blog and At War have both covered often.
I won’t dwell further today on the issues raised by either supporting or opposing efforts to arm the rebels for their war. Instead I’ll note an unexpected impression.
Since arriving in Libya’s west, we’ve seen many rebels carrying old Italian Carcano bolt-action rifles and carbines. We had seen several of these likely remnants of Italian colonization in eastern Libya, and a few more in Misurata. But in a few days in the west I think we’ve seen a dozen. These two gentlemen, below, who we encountered on the road out of town as we headed back to Zintan for a hospital check late in the afternoon, fit the bill for a photo, as one carried a Carcano rifle and the other a Carcano cavalry carbine.
There may be a reason for the relatively larger presence of Carcanos here in western Libya. It’s this: these rebels seem to have at least a modicum of ammunition for them — ammunition that had apparently been kept in people’s homes for decades.
Earlier in the day, as we waited outside Al Qawalish as the Qaddafi forces shelled the hills nearby to cover their withdrawal, another gentleman offered a glimpse of his cartridges.
Where did you get these? I asked him.
“From my grandfather,” he said.
You can read that statement many ways. As it applies to this war, you might say, “So much for robust sources of rebel military supply.” And that would be true. But as it applies to notions of post-conflict disarmament, it’s a reminder of how items used in an uprising more than a half a century ago can still have martial currency, at least until the ammunition runs out.
If a Carcano from almost a century back can still find a useful place on the battlefield in 2011, how long do you think the Kalashnikovs and FN FALs set loose in Libya since February will be circulating through African wars?
After the gentleman with the Carcano showed me his cartridges, he insisted on demonstrating that it worked. Before I could stop him, he chambered a round, pointed the carbine slightly overhead and pulled the trigger. The muzzle was about a foot away from our ears. As interview gestures go, the man gets points for being emphatic that he likes and relies comfortably on his dated carbine, no matter its age. Ten hours later, my ears still ring. That was just the beginning. Once the rebels moved on Al Qawalish, the celebratory fire began. It didn’t let up for hours, never mind the rebels’ poor state of supply.