Since 2011, Bulgarian Arsenal 5.56 x 45 mm AR-M9 and AR-M9F self-loading rifles have been documented in the hands of Libyan, Yemeni and Sudanese armed forces. In each of these cases, sources indicate that the weapons in question may have been provided by the United Arab Emirates (UAE). According to EU annual reports, Bulgaria has exported significant quantities of small arms and light weapons to the UAE since 2007 (when Bulgaria joined the EU). Media reports have noted Bulgaria’s important role as a supplier of small arms and light weapons to Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Some 30,000 assault rifles formed part of a 2010 deal between Bulgaria and the UAE.
In mid-2013, the Libyan 11th “Lightning” Battalion (Bn )posted a series of images to their official Facebook page showing members armed with AR-M9F rifles (see Photo 1), which feature folding metal buttstocks. The 11th Bn was, at the time, described as having “rapid response” duties as well as conducting close personal protection (CPP) details. The page has been inactive since mid-2014. A handful of modern Arsenal firearms were identified in Libya towards the end of the 2011 Civil War. Images on the 11th Bn Facebook page also show members of the Lightning Battalion operating several NIMR AJBAN 440 light tactical vehicles, which are manufactured in the UAE. Sources within Libya told ARES that the 11th Bn was directly supported by the UAE, receiving camouflage uniforms, equipment, body armor, weapons, communications devices and vehicles.
On November 23, 2015, the UAE’s The National newspaper published a series of images (see Photo 2) showing the training of a “new batch of pro-government Yemeni resistance fighters” conducted at a facility within Al-Anad airbase near Aden, Yemen. It is unclear exactly how many fighters were trained during this phase of the program, but a later series of images taken at the same camp and published December 17, 2015, notes that more than 1,000 fighters graduated in what is described as the “second batch [of the] UAE-trained Yemeni resistance.” The fighters are pictured armed with AR-M9 rifles, which feature a fixed polymer buttstock. Several observers incorrectly identified these weapons as AK-101 rifles.
Yemeni Major General Ahmed Saif Al Yafei, described as the commander of the fourth governorate in Aden, is also pictured in the series. He is armed with a UAE Caracal Model F self-loading handgun. Caracal pistols are believed to have been supplied to Libya by the UAE, being especially common within the Supreme Security Committee (SSC). Model F handguns have previously been the subject of arms diversion within Libya as documented by ARES and are also circulating illicitly on the country’s black market, with several examples recently offered for sale via social media.
An image posted to the official Facebook page of the General Command of the Sudanese Armed Forces on 30 January 30, 2016 (see Photo 3), shows a Sudanese soldier armed with an Arsenal AR-M9F rifle. The image shows what are likely to be three more AR-M9F rifles and dozens of troops in the background. It is not clear whether Sudanese armed forces have been equipped with these weapons or whether the soldier in question is posing with a weapon from another force. According to the information provided, he was killed in action in Yemen on January 29, 2016. Sudan has been supporting the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen.
AR-M9F rifles have also been offered for sale via social media in Libya, priced around the 2,000 to 2,500 LYD (approximately $1,450 to $1,800 USD) mark. ARES has documented the serial numbers of limited numbers of AR-M9F rifles circulating illicitly in Libya.
Special thanks to Alex Wambugu & Sami Tarhuni.