TRIPOLI // A major Western defence firm was upgrading military equipment for an elite Libyan security brigade just before an uprising against Colonel Muammar Qaddafi, documents show.
Less than a month before the start of the revolt, the British arm of US-based General Dynamics was making arrangements to improve communications systems for tanks, artillery and armoured troop carriers for the Khamis Brigade, which played a lead role in cracking down on the revolt, according to documents found at a brigade base.
General Dynamics said the upgrade was never completed. But the documents illustrate in detail for the first time what weapons were involved in the deal and that the firm was doing business with Col Qaddafi's forces on the eve of the uprising.
It said the equipment might have been included in the British subsidiary's contract with Libya from May 2008, an £85 million (Dh500m) deal to provide a tactical communications and data system as part of what it termed at the time "the United Kingdom's initiatives to improve economic, educational and defence links with Libya."
This was after Col Qaddafi, widely ostracised abroad for much of his 42-year rule because the West accused him of supporting terrorism, abandoned his programme of mass-destruction weapons in 2003, returning Libya to mainstream international politics.
The Khamis Brigade, led by and named after one of Col Qaddafi's sons, was the best equipped of Libya's security forces and was directly involved in putting down the uprising in cities such as Misurata and Tripoli, where thousands of people were killed.
Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director with Human Rights Watch, said the brigades commanded by Khamis, and another Qaddafi son, Mutassim, were able to become so strong thanks in part to procurement from Western countries.
"These elite brigades had access to the most modern weapons," he said. "We've documented arms sales from not just the usual suspects but also Western companies.
A letter from a General Dynamics UK project manager, Simon Kirkham, to Libya's defence ministry dated January 25 was found this week in the Khamis Brigade's bullet-scarred compound near Tripoli.
The note, and an Arabic document accompanying it, listed 40 T-72 tanks, eight Palmaria artillery pieces, four BTR-60 armoured personnel carriers, 10 Shilka anti-aircraft systems and two M-113 armoured personnel carriers to be upgraded.
A spokesman for General Dynamics, Rob Doolittle, said he could not comment specifically on the documents without seeing them, but said the equipment might have been included in the 2008 contract.
A statement released at the time said that deal would: "provide communications and data handling capabilities, together with technical and training support, to the Elite Brigade of Libya's armed forces."
Mr Doolittle said the firm did not finish deploying the system, involving a process sometimes referred to as "conversion" - switching from one communications system to another - and did not train Libyan forces in its use.