Street FIGHT:Tactics
Is Al-Shabaab Using Heat-Seeking Missiles?
Possible SA-18s Fired in Elasha Biyaha
By NOOR ALI FARAH 03/04/2012
Shabaab Militants Carrying SA-18
Shabaab Militants Carrying SA-18
On Sunday in Elasha Biyaha, outside Mogadishu, al-Shabaab militants attacked two helicopters with sophisticated rockets. The helicopters were flying low over Elash Biyaha in the Lower Shabelle region in Somalia, when rockets were fired at them from which they barely escaped. The rockets are thought to be SA-18s, otherwise known as MANPADS – although given the uncertainty over the description of the rockets, they may yet be standard rocket-propelled grenades, or RPGs.

“The helicopters were flying over us all day today, but when a group of al-Shabaab militants shot rockets at them, they started to speed up and disappeared quickly,” said a local resident who asked not to be named.

According to witnesses, the missiles were chasing the helicopters. “It really gave us a surprise, because what they shot was chasing the helicopter with every angle it turned, but the helicopter only just managed to escape, and we haven’t seen them since,” a witness told Somalia Report.

At first, the internally displaced people (IDPs) were frightened over what the helicopters' intentions were, but this fear turned into awe over the rockets' behavior which became the focus of conversation and rumor.

“The pilot of the helicopter struggled, and ultimately managed to just barely escape with their lives, and we think that caused the missile to fail to explode the helicopter. The rocket detonated without damage, in the end,” said a man who gave his name as Mohamed.

The civilians were speculating about what might have made the rocket follow the helicopter. If these rockets were indeed SA-18s, then they would have a heat-seeking capacity and would be seeking the helicopter's engine heat signature. Man-portable air defence systems, or MANPADS, are surface-to-air missiles intended for use against low-flying aircraft. Most models utilize an infrared (IR) homing device that locks onto aircraft at altitudes ranging from 2,000-8,000 meters, depending on the model.

Al-Shabaab have been seen carrying SA-18 launchers in footage going back to 2007, but their use on the battlefield has not been proven as yet. The number of the rockets and how al-Shabaab are trained for their use is unconfirmed, but al-Shabaab spokesman Abu Mus'ab has already said that they had acquired modern weapons and tested them in Kismayo, but didn’t mention where they received them from.

Other people told Somalia Report they think these missiles were brought from Yemen, but no evidence was provided. It is also thought that diaspora funds were used to acquire missiles bought from Russia by Somalis in Eritrea, where there are sympathizers with al-Shabaab, but this is speculative. The IDPs in the area told Somalia Report they often see aircraft overhead, and are worried about their flights.