Weapons of the FMLN by Lawrence J. Whelan

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Feb 4, 2006, 11:09:48 PM2/4/06
The civil war in El Salvador provides an excellent example of the
evolution of the intricate covert logistics network required to support
an insurgency. Tracing the flow of arms through a covert network
supporting an insurgency presents a challenge to investigators. Country
of origin or manufacturer often can be determined by the physical
evidence provided by captured weapons themselves, but identifying the
route to the final destination remains difficult. The challenge lies in
tracing the route of the weapons without a normal paper trail. In
February 1990 the Institute initiated an independent study to document
the extent of external support and examine the logistical support
network of the FMLN (Farabundo Marti Liberation Front) in El
Salvador.The FMLN is the product of an uneasy alliance of the five
major revolutionary groups operating in El Salvador in the late 1970's.
This alliance allowed Cuba to consolidate logistical and training
support and coordinate the movement of arms by a variety of delivery
routes. The quantities and mixture of weapons provides an insight into
Cuba's ability to support insurgency movements in Latin America.An
uninterrupted supply of small arms is an important factor in
maintaining any active insurgency. The flow of arms to an insurgency
can determine the armed pressure that it can place on the target
government. In the case of El Salvador, the FMLN possess a tremendous
variety of weapons.

Out of the 10,525 weapons the government has seized since 1981 the
Institute examined and documented a sample numbering 314, recording the
serial numbers, manufacturer, and country of origin of captured FMLN
weapons stored at eight locations throughout El Salvador. Our sample
and Salvadoran government documents show that the guerrilla forces have
been receiving weapons ranging from bolt action rifles to man-portable
surface-to-air missiles.

FMLN soldiers have been using the M16 assault rifle since the early
1980's. According to government records, 4,730 M16s have been captured
over the past nine years. US Defense Intelligence Agency summary trace
data on serial numbers for captured M16s in 1985 and 1983 revealed that
a large percentage of these weapons were originally supplied by the us
government to the Republic of Vietnam or issued to us troops sent in
Vietnam during the Southeast Asian conflict. In examining a sample of
94 of the M16s captured in El Salvador, the initial trace data showed
that 75, (or 80) percent, of the weapons examined were Vietnam era
weapons, 11 had been issued at one time to Salvadoran government
forces, and eight were of undetermined origin.

It was also evident from our investigation that the number of
"Communist Bloc" weapons has steadily increased over the last two years
News photographs taken as early as 1984 showed FMLN members carrying AK
series assault rifles as a badge of leadership. Larger numbers of
AK-47s and AKMs began to appear in 1989 and by the end of the year AK
assault rifles accounted for 24 percent, (i.e. 761), of all weapons
captured.The first six months of 1990 show little change in this
pattern. Government forces captured another 176, (or 19 percent),
during that period.

The AK series assault rifle represents 24 percent, (a total of 76) , of
the sample weapons documented in this survey. Hungarian manufactured
AKM assault rifles represented 45 percent, (or 33), of the sample of AK
weapons and lake up 10 percent of the total sample of weapons in this
study. All of them had wooden stocks instead of synthetic stocks,
standard selector markings and the rear sight marking "III". Serial
numbers for the Hungarian models ranged between 611,000 and 638,000
Only one of the AKMs bad an illegible serial number.

In May, 1989, the Salvadoran National Police seized over 300 AKM
assault rifles in a raid on an FHLH cache in San Salvador. A number of
these were East German MPiKMS-72s with side-folding stocks. The serial
numbers revealed that they were manufactured in 1934. The study sample
contained 27 MPiKMS-72s, which represented 8.6 percent of the total
weapons documented. All of these weapons have the standard D/E selector
markings, "N" rear sight larding and were generally in good condition
showing little or no evidence of either wear or long term storage .

Our sample also contained examples of a Soviet-manufactured AK-47 and
AKM, three North Korean AK- 47s, eight North Korean AKMs and one
Chinese Type 56. The receiver on the Soviet-manufactured AK.47 was in
good condition with only light surface rust. Factory markings were
easily visible which showed a 1954 date of manufacture. The weapon
furniture, wood stock, front handgrip and pistol grip, appeared to have
been replaced recently. The North Korean weapons were reported to have
been captured within the last six months. There was no data available
for the Chinese Type 56.

Over the last eighteen months 31 RPKs have captured. This study
documented 18 RPKs, 16 made in Yugoslavia, two in Romania. The receiver
markings on all of the Yugoslavian weapons were in good condition. The
two Romanian weapons were in fair condition. Receiver markings noted
included "FA/FF" selector markings but showed no indication of the date
of manufacture.

As the list of captured weapons in Table 1 shows, the FMLN uses the SVD
sniper rifle. All but one of the nineteen SVDs had been seized since
January, 1989 according to government documentation. Three of the four
weapons in the sample had been "sanitized;" all serial numbers had been
removed as was the date of manufacture on the four weapons examined.
All of them were in fair condition and had the standard Soviet selector
and rear sight markings.

Also among the weapons in the sample were eight FN-manufactured FAL
assault rifles with holes drilled in the magazine wells where the
identifying national crest is normally located. serial number traces
revealed that these weapons were manufactured in 1959, produced during
the period when FN had a contract with the Batista regime in Cuba.
Nearly all of these weapons were in poor condition, showing much wear
from service.

A number of Czechoslovakian vz.23 and vz.25 submachine guns had also
been captured. Our sample had 19 vz.23s and vz.25s. All of them showed
signs of long ten storage. The fixed buttstocks of the vz.23s had been
removed. In an attempt to establish the possible routes of transfer,
serial numbers on these weapons are being compared with data available
on those vz.23s and vz.25s captured over the past several years in
Grenada, South Africa and the Middle East.

Other communist Bloc weapons found in the survey sample included
Soviet-made RPG-7s, Chinese-made RPG-2s and Soviet-made SA-7s. A total
of 61 RPG-18s had been captured since January, 1989. Although the
instruction panels had been removed from those weapons examined, all
lot numbers and March, 1966 date of manufacture were still readable.
The RPG-7 launchers examined were made in the Soviet Union in 1966.

Of the total captured support weapons, 24 SA-7s, one US FIM-43A Redeye
and one SPG-9 73mm anti-tank rifle were found in the wreckage of a
plane shot down by government forces in November 1989. The SA-7s were
recently manufactured and all of them had serial numbers in the same
range. The SPG-9 was manufactured in 1966. Also included on the list of
captured weapons is the 30mm M26 grenade launcher which is a
single-shot, 30mm grenade launcher. It has a cast receiver with no
markings other than a serial number on the pistol grip. It operates in
a manner similar to the us M203 40mm grenade launcher. Ammunition is
the Soviet-made 30mm grenade rounds of the Soviet AGS-17 automatic
grenade launcher. The Sandinista Army is the only known force in Latin
America that currently fields the AGS-17.

In addition to the vz.23 and vz.25s, other submachine guns captured in
El Salvador included Israeli Military Industry and FN-manufactured Uzi
submachine guns, Steyr MPi69 submachine guns, Egyptian-manufactured
Port Said submachine guns and assorted other 9mm and .45 caliber
submachine guns. The Steyr MPi69s encountered were in good condition
with serial numbers for these weapons ranging from 37,644 to 38,122
(See Table 3). In the course of this study we also documented several
Thompson submachine guns, a single M3Al "Grease gun" and a single Star
Model Z-62.

While this report represents only a preliminary evaluation of the data
collected from the government-supplied data and our own sample, from
the variety and quantity of captured weapons that the FMLN has been
receiving is evidence of extensive external assistance. The mixture of
weapons captured indicates an intricate logistics network has been put
in place with the ability to procure weapons from as far afield as
Austria and Vietnam, ship them to Central America and deliver them into
the hands of the guerrillas in the field. This initial evidence
provides a starting point for our continuing investigation into this
and other Latin American insurgent logistical support systems. This
attempt to unravel the complex webs spun in support of the
anti-government insurgency in El Salvador may ultimately serve as a
model to study small arms transfers in the terrorist/low-intensity
conflict logistics support systems in other parts of the world.

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