Albania sends surplus guns to new army in Afghanistan

On Tuesday last week, a Greek Air Force C-130 took off from Rina Airport in Tirana for Kabul. It was carrying several containers that had been loaded under the supervision of three military officers – the US and Greek military attaches in Tirana, Colonel Robert Gale and Captain Dimitris Petromanolakis, respectively, as well as the Albanian army’s Lt. General Sokrat Papadim. During the transfer to the airport security was tight – the containers were escorted by armed police officers and soldiers. The containers were not filled with food and medicines for the beleaguered population of Afghanistan or supplies for the international military mission, but held Albanian weaponry destined for Afghanistan’s new national army. The shipment included 600 Kalashnikovs, 10,000 loader magazines and heavy artillery. More is likely to follow at a later date. One doesn’t usually associate Albania with the allied military and humanitarian operation in Afghanistan; on its own it is not in a position to offer such assistance. However, it has no shortage of arms, now being sent under the supervision of the international community. Weapons looted from army warehouses during the people’s uprising of 1997 were only a drop in the bucket. The previous regime of Enver Hoxha is believed to have amassed over 3 million Kalashnikovs, which the current Albanian leadership does not know what to do with, given that according to NATO regulations, Albania’s army may not consist of more than 20,000 men. For 40 years, Albania was little more than a large army training camp and a huge military munitions dump, particularly for its size. All adults in this country of 3 million souls had their own gun. All men and women over the age of 16 had to be at the ready to repulse a possible invasion by the country’s neighbors, particularly Titoist «revisionists,» Greek «fascists» or US-British «vampires.» Every school had its own weapons cache, as did every factory, neighborhood and village. Everyone had to know how to use a Kalashnikov, to throw a grenade, to set a mine. At primary school, the use of weapons was part of the regular syllabus. Poor grades in this subject meant failing the class. In high school, children had a month’s training in the use of all kinds of weapons. Every person had to defend one of the 400,000 bunkers built throughout Albania to intercept the invaders, irrespective of whether the latter possessed air power and guns that could have shattered these concrete gunning towers in a few seconds. Albanian leaders amassed weapons, buying from the Soviet Union and then China, but also making them themselves in factories at Grams and at Politsani, near Berati. When the Hoxha regime fell, the weapons were still in the military storage areas and secret hiding places in the northern and central Albanian mountains, and the Politsani factory continued to produce Kalashnikovs, now able to launch rifle-grenades.

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