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Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Missing Libyan Shoulder Fired AA Missiles (Updated)

You may remember about a year ago, there were multiple reports about how thousands of shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles went missing in Libya. For instance, this September 7, 2011, article from CNN states:
A potent stash of Russian-made surface-to-air missiles is missing from a huge Tripoli weapons warehouse amid reports of weapons looting across war-torn Libya.

They are Grinch SA-24 shoulder-launched missiles, also known as Igla-S missiles, the equivalent of U.S.-made Stinger missiles.

A CNN team and Human Rights Watch found dozens of empty crates marked with packing lists and inventory numbers that identified the items as Igla-S surface-to-air missiles.

The list for one box, for example, written in English and Russian, said it had contained two missiles, with inventory number "Missile 9M342," and a power source, inventory number "Article 9B238."

Grinch SA-24s are designed to target front-line aircraft, helicopters, cruise missiles and drones. They can shoot down a plane flying as high as 11,000 feet and can travel 19,000 feet straight out.

Fighters aligned with the National Transitional Council and others swiped armaments from the storage facility, witnesses told Human Rights Watch. The warehouse is located near a base of the Khamis Brigade, a special forces unit in Gadhafi's military, in the southeastern part of the capital.

The warehouse contains mortars and artillery rounds, but there are empty crates for those items as well. There are also empty boxes for another surface-to-air missile, the SA-7.

Peter Bouckaert, Human Rights Watch emergencies director, told CNN he has seen the same pattern in armories looted elsewhere in Libya, noting that "in every city we arrive, the first thing to disappear are the surface-to-air missiles."

He said such missiles can fetch many thousands of dollars on the black market.

"We are talking about some 20,000 surface-to-air missiles in all of Libya, and I've seen cars packed with them." he said. "They could turn all of North Africa into a no-fly zone."
 Also, this Sept. 27, 2011, story from ABC reports (warning, video starts automatically, so you may want your sound down):
The White House announced today it planned to expand a program to secure and destroy Libya's huge stockpile of dangerous surface-to-air missiles, following an ABC News report that large numbers of them continue to be stolen from unguarded military warehouses.

Currently the U.S. State Department has one official on the ground in Libya, as well as five contractors who specialize in "explosive ordinance disposal", all working with the rebel Transitional National Council to find the looted missiles, White House spokesperson Jay Carney told reporters.

"We expect to deploy additional personnel to assist the TNC as they expand efforts to secure conventional arms storage sites," Carney said. "We're obviously at a governmental level -- both State Department and at the U.N. and elsewhere -- working with the TNC on this."

ABC News reported today U.S. officials and security experts were concerned some of the thousands of heat-seeking missiles could easily end up in the hands of al Qaeda or other terrorists groups, creating a threat to commercial airliners.

"Matching up a terrorist with a shoulder-fired missile, that's our worst nightmare," said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D.-California, a member of the Senate's Commerce, Energy and Transportation Committee.

Though Libya had an estimated 20,000 man-portable surface-to-air missiles before the popular uprising began in February, Assistant Secretary of State Andrew Shapiro told ABC News today the government does not have a clear picture of how many missiles they're trying to track down.

"We're making great progress and we expect in the coming days and weeks we will have a much greater picture of how many are missing," Shapiro said.

The missiles, four to six-feet long and Russian-made, can weigh just 55 pounds with launcher. They lock on to the heat generated by the engines of aircraft, can be fired from a vehicle or from a combatant's shoulder, and are accurate and deadly at a range of more than two miles.

Peter Bouckaert of Human Rights Watch first warned about the problem after a trip to Libya six months ago. He took pictures of pickup truckloads of the missiles being carted off during another trip just a few weeks ago.

"I myself could have removed several hundred if I wanted to, and people can literally drive up with pickup trucks or even 18 wheelers and take away whatever they want," said Bouckaert, HRW's emergencies director. "Every time I arrive at one of these weapons facilities, the first thing we notice going missing is the surface-to-air missiles."
So, how did that project go? Well, at an October 10, 2012, Congressional hearing, the State Department's former regional security officer, Eric Nordstrom, was unsure about the exact number missing, but that it was 10,000 to 20,000. (See story here; also here). In other words, based on his testimony, it is possible that the Libya's entire stockpile of shoulder-fired missiles went missing.

It's too bad Obama was so busy partying in Brazil to bother keeping his warmongering Secretary of State on the leash. Of course, he was too busy campaigning in Nevada to take interest in what just happened in Benghazi. We better hope he's not in the middle of a golf game the next time something bad happens.

 Update:  The BBC is reporting Russian General Nikolai Makarov as stating that the Syrian rebels have American made weapons, including shoulder fired anti-aircraft missiles. However, the story mentions that "[r]ecent footage has emerged of Syrian opposition fighters using old Soviet SA-7 heat-seeking missiles, which can destroy a plane flying at up to 14,000ft."

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