In the course of researching the al-Shabaab attack on Puntland Security Forces at Af Urur on 8 June 2017, a couple of interesting little details emerged. These were not specific to the task of geolocating the town and base, which was covered in this post, but were nonetheless worth pursuing in a bit more detail in this followup post.
The first observation was drawn from the set of pictures posted on social media, showing a Puntland Security Forces aid delivery to Af Urur in March, earlier in the year. In one of the images, a man in distinct camouflage can be seen with his back to the figures opening boxes of aid. He is seemingly the owner of a suppressed weapon leaning against a chair, and appears to have notably lighter skin, visible on his exposed wrist. Western forces are known to have been acting in support of Puntland State security forces, so this is not exactly a groundbreaking discovery – but is interesting to see that Western forces were present at the site not that long before al-Shabaab conducted its attack.
The second observation is drawn from a 16 June release of imagery showing the attack by al-Kataib – the media arm of al-Shabaab. Those images were instrumental in verifying the presumed location of the PSF base and of Af Urur town itself.
Those images showed al-Shabaab fighters storming and looting the Puntland Security Force positions on the hill to the east of Af Urur. Those positions appeared to consist of little more than a few small fighting scrapes, made from piled rocks, and covered with plastic or tarpaulins. Several vehicles were interspersed among the positions which the militants subsequently captured or destroyed. The collection of images showed militants firing their weapons, apparently in combat (whether actual combat was still taking place at the time the footage was shot is debateable), and in other sequences, shooting at the bodies of PSF troops. Several images show the militants looting the PSF positions, one of which is of particular interest.
In it, a fighting position can be seen – really little more than a small stone shelter. If you look closely, you can see a few interesting details such as a mobile phone, tins probably containing water and food, a knife, and several spent cartridges. The light machine gun is the primary focus here however. While we can’t see the whole weapon, we can see a few key features for identification purposes, notably:
- the folding bipod (attached to the barrel – the weapon also appears to have been mounted on a tripod but has been knocked over, two of the legs can be seen)
- the muzzle cone
- the front sight
- the distinctly shaped stock
The weapon appears to be a Chinese-manufactured Type 67 GPMG. The stock appears to be wood, which would likely make it an original Type 67, and not one of the later revisions that used polymer stocks. The Type 67 has served as a frontline weapon for the PLA since 1967, and has remained in service even after the 1983 limited adoption of the Type 80 (PKM clone). The weapon is noteworthy for being rarely seen outside of Chinese use, and especially so in Puntland, Somalia. On first assessment, I was ready to say that this was the first time it had been seen in the country – however a recent search did turn up the below image, showing a group of Puntland Security Force personnel, posing with various Kalashnikovs, a PKM, and in the centre, another Type 67.
(A 2012 image showing PSF personnel pose after seizing a shipment of RPG rounds and explosive materials from Yemen, allegedly destined for al-Shabaab militants – source)
In 2016, Armament Research Services posted an article on just this weapon, making appearances in the Syrian conflict, and also in Yemen. It stands to reason that that would be the most likely route by which these weapons came to be in the hands of Puntland Security Forces. Its worth noting that Norinco does export the weapon, but it is not clear if any sales were made (or could legally be made) to the PSF. It is conceivable that these weapons found their way into an illicit arms shipment from Yemen, and were subsequently confiscated and pressed into service.
We can also speculate about the ultimate fate of the Type 67 seen captured at Af Urur. It uses the popular 7.62x54mm rimmed cartridge – the same Soviet-era round used by the ever present PKM. The Type 67 also has quick-change barrels – but it is unknown how many, if any, were seized along with the weapon. Assuming it has not been discarded, lost or destroyed in combat, the weapon will likely be used until it breaks down from wear and tear. Having seen how al-Shabaab machine gunner treat their weapons, it is unlikely to take much time.