FALs of the Libyan Civil War

FN-FAL 'FALO' squad automatic weapon observed near Misrata.

FN-FAL ‘FALO’ squad automatic weapon observed near Misrata. Click to embiggen. Small Arms Survey.

The Small Arms Survey Project has a report on the FN FAL rifles in use during the Libyan revolution. Qaddhafi’s Libya was in some years in the 1970s FN’s largest single customer, and it’s likely that the FALs observed there — and now being exported to jihadis everywhere — came from the vast stocks supplied directly from the Belgian factory. (We’ve previously observed FNCs in Libyan irregular use, and of course they’re copiously equipped with Combloc weapons like AKs and RPGs).

The report is a .pdf: http://www.smallarmssurvey.org/fileadmin/docs/R-SANA/SANA-dispatch1-FN-FAL.pdf. It’s not conclusive science (the author examined FALs in Libya, but only seven of them) but it is  a start.


After Kalashnikov-pattern rifles, Fusil Automatique Léger (FAL) rifles were among the most frequently sighted firearms during the 2011 armed conflict in Libya.1 A number of FAL rifles used during the conflict were subsequently re-circulated throughout the broader sub-region. Indeed, between 2011 and 2013 FAL rifles reportedly smuggled from Libya were seized or documented in several countries, including Algeria, Lebanon, Niger, Syria, and Tunisia.

Although factory markings, serial numbers, and technical characteristics do not provide conclusive proof of the age or end users of Belgian FAL rifles used in the Libyan conflict, they do allow useful inferences to be drawn. This report discusses the basis of such inferences and offers guidance on data gathering with a view to advancing our general knowledge of the use and circulation of Belgian FAL rifles and encouraging relevant authorities to step up tracing efforts.

It’s actually a good overview of the metric FAL in general, and of FN’s serial-number and marking policies. (Do you know when FN’s marking changed from Fabrique Nationale d’Armes de Guerre Herstal Belgique to Fabrique National Herstal Belgium? The answer’s in the link). To be sure, the technical information here seems to all have come from the Collector Grade books on the FAL, but they do have a half-dozen examples of FALs observed in the Libyan wild. It’s also a good glimpse of some basic (crude, maybe) technical intelligence techniques.

These FALs will be turning up for years, if what happened to the tiny supply of FALs bought by Cuban dictator Batista and delivered to Cuban dictator Castro is anything to go by. It’s not unusual to see FALs still serviceable after fifty years of hard use, much like AKs, especially when that hard use is more “carrying” and not shooting copious quantities of ammo on full-auto, which tends to wear out the barrels.

In our experience, FALs in guerrilla and third-world armies tend not to be properly sighted in, as the weapon requires a tool for sight adjustment, and the tools are much more subject to loss, theft or disappearance than the guns themselves. All it takes is one “generation” without the tool (in a draft army, a couple of years) and no one knows it ever existed, or that the sights are adjustable at all. (The manuals don’t even last as long as the tools, unless they’re locked away somewhere, where troop units can’t get them or learn of their existence). It would have been an interesting exercise to fire these Libyan FALs against a zero target.

Hat tip: John Richardson at No Lawyers.

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