The Explosive Role of the Romanian AK in the Liberian Civil War

Liberia and Romania are literally worlds apart. The distance between the two countries on different continents is over 3,400 miles. However, during the darkest period of Liberia’s history between 1989 and 2003, a slice of Romania played a violent role in the West African country in the former of the Romanian AK.

An NPFL fighter executes a man on the ground with a Romanian AK during the Liberian Civil War.

For 14 years between 1989 and 2003, Liberia was torn apart by a horrifying civil war. With a population of just over 2 million at the outbreak of the war, over 250,000 Liberians were killed in a conflict that featured child soldiers, cannibalism, and mass murder.

Alongside naked warlords and drugged-up cross-dressing militia fighters, one of the more overlooked aspects of this broken war is the prevalence of Romanian AK variants. Fighters of various warring factions in Liberia were often seen armed with the Romanian md63.

“The biggest weapon of mass destruction in history is the AK-47.”

– Guy Lawson

Now, this is where it gets confusing. Relations between Liberia and Romania are dull, to say the least. Neither country has a diplomatic office in the other’s states, so why was Liberia flooded with Romanian guns? The answer lies not with Romania, but in fact with the regime of Colonel Muammar Gadaffi.

Colonel Gadaffi and Liberia

In 1980, the height of the era that Colonel Gaddafi was funding as many terrorist groups, coups, and terror attacks as he could, Liberia underwent the coup led by Samuel Doe. In true form, the Gaddafi regime became the first African nation to recognize the Doe regime.

Map of Libya (orange) and Liberia (green).

After the recognition of the new Liberian government, Gaddafi invited Doe to Libya in what was certainly an attempt at grooming him. Naturally, this worried the U.S. government who strongly backed Doe due to his anti-Soviet position. Luckily for the U.S., Doe was not so keen on rubbing shoulders with Gaddafi.

See, Doe suspected Gaddafi of attempting to make Liberia an ally of Libya under the Pan-African ideology. To ensure he didn’t change his mind, the U.S. flew $10 million to the Doe regime in a private jet to make them financially secure.

To show his appreciation, Doe closed the Libyan embassy in Liberia and kicked out their diplomats. However, this decision would spark a bizarre chain of events that would see Doe overthrown, mutilated, and murdered in a coup led by men trained and armed by Gaddafi.

The Seeds of the Liberian Civil War

Naturally, Gaddafi did not take kindly to the actions of the Doe regime. Nor did he to various statements Doe made in 1983 that ranged from calling Gaddafi a terrorist to a threat to Liberia. A threat he was indeed, two years later Gaddifi’s chance for revenge fell into his lap in the form of Charles Taylor.

An armed forces full hornor arrival ceremony for Liberian head of state, General Samuel Doe, takes place at the Pentagon. Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger is the host.

Taylor, who had fled to the U.S. after embezzling almost $1 million dollars from Doe’s regime, had turned up in Libya after escaping from a U.S. prison. In Libya, he received extensive training in guerrilla warfare from the Gaddafi regime and founded the National Patriotic Front of Liberia.

By 1988, Doe had grown dissatisfied with the U.S., and relations between the two countries had gone South. The $10 million in cash didn’t go far, and Doe eventually visited the Libyan capital of Tripoli to discuss investing in Liberia with Gaddafi.

Former Liberian leader, Charles Taylor, celebrating with rebel troops in the height of his power. Photo credit: Pascal Guyot.

However, unknown to Doe, the seeds of carnage in his country were being planted in an Al Mathaba terror training camp not far from Tripoli. It was there that Taylor was receiving the guidance to set Liberia ablaze.

Taylor was sent to the Ivory Coast with a lethal stockpile of arms, ammunition, and cash. There, he laid the groundwork for an invasion of Liberia with just 100 men that would trigger a civil war of horrific proportions that would kill hundreds of thousands.

The Romanian AK in the Liberian Civil War

During the Cold War, various countries of the Warsaw Pact received orders to begin the manufacture of their own version of the Kalashnikov. With its iconic ”donkey dong” grip, few were as instantly recognizable as the Romanian AK otherwise known as the Pistol Mitralieră model 1963/1965 or MD. 63.

Romanian President Nicolae Ceausescu with Colonel Gaddafi during an official visit of friendship to Libya, 1974.

The leader of Communist Romania through the height of the Cold War was a man named Nicolae Ceausescu. As well as holding less savory milestones such as the first Eastern Bloc dictator to be executed by his own people, Ceausescu was the first leader of a Warsaw Pact country to make a diplomatic visit to the anti-Communist Gaddafi regime.

As leaders of two socialist countries, the pair seemed to get along very well. Before long, diplomatic relations between Romania and Libya were established. Libya supplied oil to Romania, and Romania supplied engineers and technical expertise to Libya. There’s even a bizarre modern Romanian tribute to the friendship on Youtube:

The first diplomatic chain between Libya and the East Bloc opened up the opportunity for Gaddafi to purchase large quantities of Eastern Bloc weapons fresh from the source. In particular the Romanian AK. However, the bulk of these weapons were not intended for the Libyan military.

Related Romanian AK Articles

The bulk of the arms provided to Charles Taylor and the NPFL consisted of Romanian AK variants. Numerous photos from the war in Liberian show NPFL rebels armed with the donkey dong drip AK. As the war progressed, various warring factions were seen armed with the weapon as it began to change hands over the course of the war.

2003: A Romanian AK being held by a rebel fighter (left) under the command of Black Diamond, center in red, a leader of Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) fighters. SAURABH DAS, ASSOCIATED PRESS

In the end, Gaddafi got his revenge on Doe. Although Charles Taylor failed to capture the capital, a rival warlord got to Doe first. Doe’s reign ended as it began: violently. He was tortured and mutilated on camera by rebels under Prince Johnson before being executed.

A Romanian AK that found its way into the war in neighbouring Sierra Leone.

The Romanian AK variants provided by Gaddafi were not out of retirement with the death of Doe. They played a significant role in the outbreak of the second Liberian War and soon found their way into neighboring Sierra Leone as an increasingly ruthless Taylor began to export his country’s civil war into the country’s next door.

The Liberian Payback

Long after the end of the Liberian Civil War and with Charles Taylor serving a 50-year prison sentence for war crimes, Gaddafi was not done with Liberia yet. Under the leadership of Africa’s first female president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberian-Libyan relations were re-established.

An African man suspected of being a mercenary is apprehended during the Libyan Civil War.

Gaddafi and Sirleaf got along well with Gaddafi visiting Liberia in 2009 and Sirleaf visiting Tripoli in January 2011. However, a month after she left, Libya erupted into revolution. Four months later, Liberia joined the growing list of countries severing all ties with the Gaddafi regime.

As the situation around him worsened, Gaddafi needed outside help to combat the NATO-backed Libyan rebels in Libya and recruited up to 10,000 mercenaries from the African continent to fight for his regime. Many of them came from Liberia as well as countries like Sudan, Chad, Mali, and Niger.

”Everything that comes from the earth eventually returns, even a 40-ton Antonov 12 cargo plane.”

When the Gaddafi regime eventually fell, many of these African mercenaries faced torture and summary execution when captured. Those who managed to escape were said to have taken everything they could to supplement their now non-existent salary.

According to the BBC, one truck full of fleeing African mercenaries was loaded with a military helicopter dismantled in scenes reminiscent of the plane recycling scene in Lord of War when his Antonov 12 plane is dismantled by locals after an emergency landing in Africa.

Prove it, Warlord! (Sources)

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