Thousands of Qaddafi Era Shoulder-Fired Missiles Missing in Action

The surface-to-air missile attack on a Malaysian jetliner flying over eastern Ukraine is a good reason to revisit my report from 2013 about the thousands of missing shoulder-fired missiles known as MANPADS (Man-portable air-defense systems).

As I reported, one major goal of U.S. in Libya prior to the September 11, 2012 terrorist attacks on the U.S. mission in Benghazi was to help try to locate and secure as many of the missing weapons as possible. Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi was thought to have purchased 15,000-20,000 Soviet MANPADS. Most of those went missing in the chaos surrounding his overthrow and death in 2011. The U.S. is worried about the possibility that terrorists could buy them on the black market and even use them to shoot down American civilian airliners.

A source indicated to me that the U.S. tracked hundreds of the missiles as having been transferred to Al Qaeda Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), an Algeria-based Sunni Muslim terrorist group fighting for control in Mali.

Unfortunately, according to my sources, the U.S. effort to recover a large number of the MANPADS in Libya was an abysmal failure. Only about 2,000 were accounted for prior to the September 11 attacks.

One source says that U.S. personnel told Libyans believed to have co-opted the MANPADS,

“If planes start dropping out of the sky, it will trace back to you and you’ll have the international reputation for terrorism.”

Mexican crime syndicates have attempted to purchase the Libyan MANPADS, according to those familiar with the incident.

Read more about the MANPAD risk to civilian airliners

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