P U B L I C E Y E — A R M I N G T H E E N E M Y
MILF VICE CHAIRMAN Ghazali Jaafar, for his part, says they also buy much of their ammunition from government sources. One time, he says, someone offered to sell a tank to the MILF. The rebels laughed off the offer; the rebels had neither the logistics nor the use for a tank in middle of the jungle.
Another MILF insider says that when the government resupplied its troops during the siege of Camp Abubakar in 2000, the MILF also got a shipment of its own… courtesy of government arsenals.
The guns the rebels purchase are mostly used, since there have been very few new guns down the military pipeline in the last decade. In fact, most of the 20-something-year-old soldiers now carry 30-year-old M16 rifles that have been rebarelled, if the soldiers are lucky, or unrefurbished, which is often the case.
Rey says that the rebels have since learned that it is far easier and cheaper logistically to buy weapons and ammunition locally than to import them from abroad. The first batch of imports for the NPAs were Chinese AK-47s, which fired the heavier calibre 7.62mm round. But the use of the AK-47 brought with it a whole set of logistical problems: where to get spare parts like firing pins and barrels, cleaning kits, and most importantly, bullets. Eventually, the AK-47s lost favor with the rebels, who began to rely more heavily on government-manufactured M-16s.
The Abu Sayyaf appears to have less of a problem with logistics. With only a small core group and with finances backed up by ransom money, the group has reportedly been upgrading its equipment with newer and better guns, and even night vision devices.
In 2001, the bandits were supposed to have received a new batch of rifles, the AK-108, which fired the same round as the M-16, but had the ruggedness and dependability of the Kalashnikov. It was not clear if the delivery pushed through. But footage taken around that time by the TV station ABS-CBN had Abu Sayyaf Commander Robot showing off and test-firing a new shipment of high-powered and sophisticated firearms that the ordinary soldier could only have wet dreams about.
The bulk of the group's firearms, however, still appears to be government-manufactured M-16s. How much of it was purchased from government arsenals, though, is also unclear.
Gen. Garcia brushes aside all these as propaganda by government's enemies. "What do you expect them to say?" he asks. "That they like us?"
Garcia says the rebels probably have two major sources of ammunition: captured equipment, as well as arms shipments from abroad. After all, he concedes, the rebels don't have factories churning out bullets in the scale of government's Bataan arsenal. The MILF had an armory in the old Camp Abubakar, but several reports indicate that, rather than the mass production of bullets, that armory was used more for the manufacture of rocket-propelled grenades that were not organic to the Armed Forces, and therefore harder to source.
Garcia's assertion, however, seems to fail on a simple test: volume. Theoretically, an M16 fires at a rate of 700 rounds a minute. On full automatic, the gun can empty a 30-round clip in less than 10 seconds. If the NPA, for instance, relied solely on the occasional raids for captured ammunition, it would never have had the firepower to go on a "regularization" program, as it did in the late 1980s, when it started forming company-sized units to confront the military in the battlefield. Even if rebels pick up bullets from dead soldiers, it would not amount to much. The regular combat load for a soldier is 320 rounds of ammunition. After a heated firefight, much of that load would have already been depleted.
Relying on imported ammunition, meanwhile, is more unwieldy and financially nonviable. The government itself has long stopped relying on imports, finding it much cheaper to produce its own bullets and guns locally, even under license.
Asked to explain how the rebels could have sustained three decades of fighting, Garcia himself seems at a loss. "That is what we have to find out, where they get their bullets."
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