Category Archives: Press Releases

U.S. to proceed with sale of arms to Bahrain despite ongoing violations


No Investigation into Past Misuse of US-origin Helicopters, Armored Vehicles, and Rifles

[Manama] On 11 May 2012, the US State Department announced it would proceed with an arms sale to Bahrain.  The sale is reported to include patrol boats, air defense systems, fighter jet parts, and night-vision equipment.  The sale also includes refurbishment for Bahrain’s fleet of Cobra helicopters.  The Bahrain Defence Force (BDF) opened fired on protesters from Cobra helicopters last year.

Arms sales to Bahrain’s Government are problematic, as the Government has failed to address continuing human rights violations and implement promised reforms.  Bahrain Watch’s Government Inaction project details the Government’s continuing noncompliance with most of the recommendations of the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI).

Bahrain Watch has also documented the deployment and use of various US-origin weapons over the past year by both the police and BDF.  US law limits the permitted uses of certain US-origin weapons, and requires that buyers submit to investigation, including on-site inspection, to verify compliance.  Bahrain Watch believes that misuse of US-origin weapons in Bahrain may have been responsible for at least three deaths and numerous injuries.  The US Government has not announced any investigation or on-site inspection relating to the misuse of US-origin weapons in Bahrain.

Details are included below about US-origin weapons that were deployed or used against protesters in possible violation of their permitted uses.  Given the evidence presented, Bahrain Watch believes that the US Government should conduct an investigation to understand whether Bahrain has broken its obligations to the US before continuing with any arms sale.

Bell AH-1 Cobra Helicopters

The New York Times reported that the BDF opened fire on protesters from helicopters made by US company Bell Helicopter last year.  New York Times journalist Michael Slackman and his cameraman also came under helicopter fire while reporting near the Pearl Roundabout last February.  The US Government granted a number of Bell AH-1 helicopters to Bahrain between 1994 and 2005.  The helicopters were granted at little or no cost to Bahrain under the DoD’s Excess Defense Articles program using 22 USC § 2314 grant authority (22 USC § 2314 is also known as Section 505 of the Foreign Assistance Act).

According to 22 USC § 2314 (d) and 22 USC § 2032, any weapons transferred under this grant authority may only be used for “internal security,” “legitimate self defense,” or peacekeeping and economic purposes consistent with the charter of the United Nations.  As a condition of receiving the helicopters, Bahrain had to agree to permit future US investigation, including on-site inspection, to verify compliance with this regulation.

In this case, the DoD’s Golden Sentry program is empowered to conduct such an investigation, including an on-site inspection known as an “End Use Monitoring investigation visit.”  As explained in a DoD policy memo, End Use Monitoring investigation visits may be “prompted by intelligence reports and/or other sources that indicate a host nation may be using U.S.-origin defense articles and services in ways that do not comply with U.S. laws and policies.”

M113 Armored Personnel Carriers

Bahrain Watch has determined that the BDF deployed a large number of M113 armored personnel carriers around Bahrain between 17 and 18 February 2011, and during the State of National Safety between 15 March and 1 June 2011.  The standard weapon fitted on the M113 is the .50 caliber M2 Browning machine gun.  The Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry (BICI) notes that typical BDF deployments around Bahrain during both periods included armored vehicles equipped with “.50 [caliber M2] Browning machineguns [sic]” (BICI 250, 252, 1101).  Video footage of several BDF deployments during these periods shows that BDF units’ armor consisted exclusively or almost entirely of M113 vehicles.

According to a review of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s Arms Transfer Database, the United States is the sole supplier of M113 vehicles to Bahrain.  The US Government granted the vehicles to Bahrain at little or no cost using the same process as for the Bell AH-1 Cobra helicopters.  Bahrain took delivery of the M113s between 1991-1993 (about 115 vehicles), again in 2001 (19 vehicles), and finally in 2008 (100 vehicles).  Note that the Netherlands supplied Bahrain with similarly-named “M113 C&R” vehicles, which are substantially dissimilar to the M113.

According to the BICI report, at least 3 deaths (Bahiya Alaradi, Stephen Abraham, and Jawad Shamlan) are attributed to.50 caliber bullets fired by the BDF from M2 Browning machine guns mounted on armored vehicles (BICI 548, 953, 1021, 1045).  Two of these deaths (Bahiya Alaradi and Stephen Abraham) occurred near the area known as “Burgerland Roundabout” on 16 March 2011.  The BICI report determined that a single BDF unit was responsible for both deaths (BICI 1020).  There is extensive protester video footage of the Burgerland Roundabout area, hours before the two deaths.  Highlights of the footage include:

  1. A video that shows at least four M113 armored vehicles and a tank in the area.  Two of the M113s are located below a flyover, and identifying markings are legible on these vehicles.  The identifying markings on two M113s positioned atop the flyover are illegible.
  2. A video that shows BDF personnel firing 3 shots at protesters from the weapon mounted on an M113 with a legible identifying marking.  The protesters are standing a few meters from where Bahiya Alaradi’s car was found the following day.  Her car was pictured facing the wrong way on the road with a single bullet hole in each of the front and rear windows.
  3. A video that shows BDF personnel firing several volleys from what sounds like a machine gun.
  4. A video that shows bullet holes in the windows of nearby buildings.

Additionally, Bahrain Watch has determined that at least one M113 was at the site of the 18 February 2011 shooting of unarmed protesters approaching the Pearl Roundabout.  BDF investigations of this incident revealed that troops opened fire from various weapons, including .50 caliber M2 Browning machine guns mounted on armored vehicles (BICI 252).  One protester (Abdulredha Buhamaid) was killed by the BDF in this incident, and several others were injured.

The DoD’s Golden Sentry program is empowered to conduct an End Use Monitoring investigation visit to determine whether Bahrain misused its US-origin M113 armored personnel carriers.

M4 Rifles

Bahrain’s riot police were spotted carrying what appear to be M4 rifles during the State of National Safety last year.  According to the BICI report, up to three protesters died of non-shotgun gunshots at the hands of the police (BICI 862, 863), although no further information is available on the type of guns used.

The United States sold M4A1 rifles to Bahrain as part of a 2008 package.  The M4A1 rifles were sold to to Bahrain under the Foreign Military Sales program rather than transferred using grant authority.  However, the DoD’s Golden Sentry program is still empowered to conduct an End Use Monitoring investigation visit to determine whether Bahrain misused its US-origin M4 rifles.

M16 Rifles

Both government and protester video footage shows the BDF firing from what appear to be M16 rifles.  The BICI report concluded that typical BDF deployments featured soldiers equipped with M16 rifles (BICI 1101).  Further, BDF investigations revealed that the BDF opened fire with M16s during the 18 February 2011 shooting of unarmed protesters approaching the Pearl Roundabout (BICI 252).

The M16 rifle is manufactured both inside and outside the US.  Bahrain Watch has no information on which country supplied Bahrain with its stock of M16 rifles.

Footage of the BDF using M16 rifles includes:

  1. Two videos from Burgerland Roundabout that show BDF personnel firing several shots from what appear to be M16 rifles in semi-automatic mode on 16 March 2011.
  2. Government footage from the 18 February 2011 shooting of unarmed protesters heading toward the Pearl Roundabout that shows a BDF soldier apparently firing into the air with what appears to be an M16 rifle.
  3. A video that shows an individual sustaining a gunshot to the leg on 16 March 2011.  The author of the video told Bahrain Watch that the individual seen in the video was shot from close range by a BDF soldier who knelt and fired a single round from a rifle described as similar to an M16.

Tear Gas

Bahrain’s police use an assortment of tear gas, including CS gas from US manufacturers Defense Technology and NonLethal Technologies.  Physicians for Human Rights believes that up to 34 people may have died in Bahrain from the use of tear gas.  Bahrain Watch has not tracked whether specific canisters manufactured in the US were responsible for any deaths.

US-origin tear gas is sold to Bahrain under the State Department’s Direct Commercial Sales program.  Direct Commercial Sales are handled differently than Foreign Military Sales or grants.  Restrictions on the use of weapons obtained by Direct Commercial Sales may be included in the classified Bahrain-US defense pact.

On or before March 22, 2012, the State Department was required by law to provide a report to the US Congress detailing crowd control items including tear gas shipped from the US to a number of countries that may include Bahrain.  Another report is due in September.  This was a special provision inserted into the FY2012 State Department Appropriations Act (Public Law 112-74).  Bahrain Watch has so far been unable to obtain this report.

Bahrain Watch is a monitoring and advocacy group that seeks to promote effective, accountable, and transparent governance in Bahrain through research and evidence-based activism.  About Bahrain Watch:


Twitter: @bhwatch