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Modern Shoulder-Fired SAMs Missing in Libya

by John Reed on September 7, 2011

Here’s some disconcerting news from Libya that confirms something we’ve all been worrying about for a while now — hundreds of shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles have been looted from Gadhafi’s old military stockpiles.

These aren’t just obsolete 1970-vintage Soviet missiles that barely work anymore. According to CNN,  dozens of SA-24 “Grinch” shoulder-fired SAMs have been looted from one base alone. The SA-24 is the latest variant of the Soviet-designed Igla SAM that’s been in production since the early 1980s. (the picture above shows a pro-Gadhafi fighter manning a multiple-launch SA-24 battery.)

There have already been cases of terrorists firing SA-7 Strelas but those missiles aren’t much of a threat against modern infrared countermeasures. Furthermore, many Strelas are quickly nearing the end of their service lives.  However, the Grinch, which entered Russian military service in 2004, is designed to defeat modern infrared countermeasures and can shoot down planes flying up to 11,000 feet.

There are roughly 20,000 shoulder-fired SAMs in Libya, according to this CNN piece. Most of them are unaccounted for since they are among the first things to be looted from former regime facilities in Libya. This situation could be a bonanza for terrorists and arms dealers.

The next few paragraphs from CNN reporters who discovered the empty missile crates arent very comforting:

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.”

Here are some earlier posts on this topic:






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{ 46 comments… read them below or add one }

@Get_It September 7, 2011 at 6:37 pm

Surprised? Not at all. I was expecting this since the first day. The special interest by weapon traffickers and terrorist groups in Libya's weapons caches isn't anything new.


Five September 7, 2011 at 8:04 pm

To much to hope the NATO troops who aren't (officially) on the ground got to some of the caches first & managed to take the more modern/dangerous equipment first.


Andrew September 7, 2011 at 7:25 pm

What the TNC needs to do is offer to buy any looted weapons at local value-e what the person could get for them on the black market-no questions asked, no repercussions. This would have 2 primary effects: 1. It would keep these weapons out of the hands of AQ or whoever else would want to buy them; and 2. Put money into the Libyan economy that would not be gained through looking for and seizing/confiscating these weapons if found. If I worked for the government I would even consider helping to fund this initiative. It would count as foreign aid, and would be much cheaper than dealing with a spate of SAM attacks or trying to find/destroy all of them.


blight September 7, 2011 at 8:23 pm

List of Igla users:

Angola, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Brazil, Bulgaria (former producer), Croatia, Cuba, Egypt, Ecuador, Eritrea, Finland, Hungary, India, Iran, Iraq, the Republic of Macedonia, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, North Korea, Peru, Poland, Serbia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Syria, Thailand, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Vietnam, Venezuela, Zimbabwe.

Recognize any "bad guys"? Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Cuba, North Korea…

As for the newer SA-24, I imagine Venezuela, Iran, Syria already have them.


Fahad Zafar September 9, 2011 at 8:55 am

You forgot to mention Pakistan another bad guy.


blight September 9, 2011 at 9:06 am

Working on confirming Igla in Pakistan…


blight September 9, 2011 at 9:09 am

Pakistan is predominantly equipped along /Western/ lines. Pakistan used Blowpipes a long time ago, and the wikipedia list is:

"Anza [local missile, Mk1, 2, 3)
SA-7 Grail
General Dynamics FIM-92 Stinger
General Dynamics FIM-43 Redeye
Bofors RBS-70 short-range SAM system
Mistral Man-portable air defense systems"


Kent Seering September 7, 2011 at 9:25 pm

This has me more worried about this weekend, the 9-11 ten year anniversary. We know of some nondescript threats dealing with aircraft. How many reports have we had of Al-queda dealing and fighting with the rebels?

Makes you think, doesn't it?


thekidfromtexas September 7, 2011 at 11:01 pm

OK ya'll hold your horses. One of the things I like about this site is that's it's not really political. Please keep it that way. USA Today, Fox News, and a hundred of other sites are 'great' places to do that.

Unless you have credible evidence of a politician deeply involved in any Defense, weapons, technology, or military/foreign projects then leave 'em alone. We all have our opinions (and I have strong one's with this Administration and this Congress) but posting them here won't change anybody's mind and does not change a single thing.

So in short, stick to the subject at hand and don't just rant about a single person. It gets old. Actually it's already old. Ranting about a what a person has done is stupid. You can point out failures and suggest alternatives but make it pleasant for the rest of us.


The Kid From Texas

P.s. That includes people who start calling other people stupid for their political beliefs – I know it's annoying but we don't want to see any more references to that subject. We have a thumbs down option for a reason.


kim September 8, 2011 at 7:28 pm



PullR September 7, 2011 at 11:04 pm

So we're probably lookin' at 10-14,000 rockets gone missing at minimum?

Reason #429 we should be all-in or all-out.


Cunninglinguine September 7, 2011 at 11:20 pm

Article discusses shoulder-fired SAMs.

Picture shows non-shoulder-capable launcher mounted on truck.

DT. Paragon of defense reporting.


saberhagen September 7, 2011 at 11:43 pm

same weapon, just different platforms, foool


MandB September 8, 2011 at 4:23 am

Actually you are the fool. This model cannot be demounted and cannot be used as a MANPAD. Discussed at length in Aviation Week back in March – http://www.aviationweek.com/aw/blogs/defense/inde


dude September 7, 2011 at 11:41 pm

Not much to convert those to shoulder fired man. Not much at all.


marvel September 8, 2011 at 1:23 am

Time to up the ante on airport perimeter security in North Africa. I think a good question to ask is whether "warlords" and rebel leaders like those in Mali will outbid terrorist groups like Al Qaeda. If that is the case, then we need not worry as much about civilian airliners falling victim to a Grinch. If I were a rebel, I would save them for government aircraft. Just a thought.


Curt September 8, 2011 at 5:10 am

This is not a new issue. The Russians, who should know, reported months ago that the SA-24s sold to the Libyans included only the vehicle mounted launchers but not the launchers for shoulder firing. Now, while I am sure someone could get shoulder mounted firing units, its probably just as easy to get the missiles when you get the launcher and and other stuff (like batteries) needed to fire the missile. A variety of MANPADS have been widely available for years but have rarely been used by any terrorist organizations. A concern yes, but no reason to panic.


Chimp September 8, 2011 at 7:29 am

Going to be interesting when / if the Afghan airforce starts flying around in turboprop COIN planes.
SAS had fun with Stingers against Argie turboprops once upon a time.


TLAM Strike September 8, 2011 at 10:51 am

Among the Taliban and Tribal warlords having a stinger type missile is a status symbol. They tend not to use them because of that.


blight September 8, 2011 at 11:59 am

Don't Stingers require argon bottles and special batteries?


yeen September 8, 2011 at 10:19 am

It’s just some human rights group saying they’re missing. The CIA could already have picked them up without broadcasting the fact to the world.


IronV September 8, 2011 at 12:38 pm

One would think that visitors to this website would have some basic understanding of the geometric complexity and difficulty of war fighting and the decision making that attends it. One would be wrong.


LaTrine October 20, 2011 at 10:14 pm

"geometric complexity"…….????????? huh?


Lance September 8, 2011 at 4:40 pm

That's what you get for letting AL Qaeda take over Libya now they sell a whole arsenal to terrorist against the US and Israel not surprised.


orly? September 8, 2011 at 4:44 pm

Why are you blaming the US for the sale of Russian weaponry?


Jay September 9, 2011 at 2:27 pm

because we supported the Al Qaeda linked faction instead of the crazy dictator faction and our interference allowed the former to defeat the latter.

to be fair in the early days the AlQ guys among the Libyan rebels kept a very low profile and we didn't know who we were supporting.


Chuck September 9, 2011 at 12:04 pm

MANPADS went missing in Iraq but I don't remember seeing similar vitriol against Bush on sites like this. The double-standard is alive and well.


LaTrine October 20, 2011 at 10:15 pm

I seen a lot of dudes wif dem big bushy beards.


Jayson September 7, 2011 at 7:33 pm

eh? I don't see how Obama is in on this. They were Russian missiles so they sold them to Ghadafi. Who knows which forces grabbed them. If it's Ghadafians, then it's in their little convoy making a run for it south, if it was the rebels then they most likely used them as rpgs.

Obama supported UN / NATO who supported the rebels. Focus on who to complain about. These 'radicals' are the people fighting back against oppressive muslim leadership / dictatorship.

I hate having to write a WoT as a rebuttal but no way around it.


PMI September 8, 2011 at 2:10 pm

Do you realize you just pimped Gadaffi?


Whoa September 7, 2011 at 10:49 pm

people are like that everywhere dude.


orly? September 8, 2011 at 8:18 am

Yeah, like this shit didn't happen in history like Castro and Noriega (Bush was CIA chief during that time).

Keep in mind, Bush supported Quaddafi.


Rufus McNabb September 12, 2011 at 4:14 pm

David you must be drinking the fluoridated water in some small town. I hope that it leaves uou sterile so the ignorance will end with uour worthless seed To actually say that Obamas administration is soleley to blame and. The Cheney / Rumsfeld war criminals couldn’t Ooops I mean didn’t go after Husseins munitions while all the while knowing there were none while letting Mubarak and Quadafimeister were free to collect. Gotta love this country Dave


nsl September 7, 2011 at 11:09 pm

Agree with most of your points but not everyone is fighting for a democratic state. We still don't know a whole lot about this guys. I know on the Dru dge Repor t there was a story about rebels rounding up anyone who was bl a ck. I mean, radical you-know-what is still what it was. Not all of those rebels are, but you should really do you research on who's who


Musson September 8, 2011 at 8:53 am

This was a war for European OIL. They thought deposing Ghadaffi would allow them to negotiate cheaper contracts with the next group of fascists. But, now they have laid an egg and will have to chase the Moslem Brotherhood chicken!

And, I remember when the POTUS looked into the camera and said it would last 'Days and not Months.' Obama screwed the pooch on this one from the first day. Whether or not you blame him for terrorists getting AA missiles – you cannot deny this was a genuine JANFU!

And, if the media had not fallen all over itself ignoring the situation, there might have been consequences.


nsl September 7, 2011 at 11:12 pm

Ahh, I doubt that will ever get reviewed. Anyways the essence of what I said is that not all the rebels in libya are good guys. Just remember that. Yeah, they didn't like gadhafi, nobody else did either. While many libyans are hoping this is a revolution, it may just turn end with the same result as a coup.


blight September 9, 2011 at 12:20 am

More specifically, they "profiled". We profile "foreigners" in Iraq or Afghanistan, and generally assume they are connected to Al Qaeda.

For the Turareg of course, they tend to get executed because Gaddafi supported their insurgency for many years, and thus they became another Varangian guard style unit.


saberhagen September 7, 2011 at 11:41 pm

"NATO who prosecuted most of the air war"?

Oh, come on man, dont make yourself look stup!d. You really think a bunch of European losers can run such a huge air campaign on their own?


Boofa September 8, 2011 at 4:23 am

No one is saying that the US didn't play a role. Despite your bias, many other militaries around the world are as competent, or more competent then the US, purely because they have to do more with less.


Kevin September 8, 2011 at 11:23 am

National Composition of NATO Strike Sorties in Libya Atlantic Council http://www.acus.org/natosource/national-compositi
France: 33%, approximately 2,225 strike sorties (out of 6,745 total sorties by August 4)
US: 16%, 801 strike sorties, (out of 5,005 strike sorties by June 30)
Denmark: 11%, dropped 705 bombs (out of the 7,079 missions by August 11)
Britain: 10%, 700 strike sorties (out of 7,223 total sorties by August 15) (Nb : see updated data at link)
Canada: 10%, approximately 324 strike sorties (based on 3,175 NATO strike sorties by May 25)
Italy: 10% (Not applicable until April 27 when Italy committed 4 Tornados for strike sorties)
Norway: 10%, 596 strike sorties (out of the 6,125 missions by August 1, no longer active)
Belgium: 8th ally participating in combat missions, no public data available on number of strike sorties


Jay September 9, 2011 at 2:22 pm

Well, the Euros flew very well. Kudos to the Fr carrier wing especially.

However, this op revealed that their logistics is horrible. They were running out of bombs and parts after a couple week and we had to provide them (that means we paid). They just don't have the stocks available for a real conflict.

We also flew most of the ISR apparently. I expect the Euros to learn their lessons and invest more in those capabilities.


blight September 8, 2011 at 11:04 am

"Days and not months" is not as bad as "Mission Accomplished" and "Bring 'Em On"


IronV September 8, 2011 at 12:35 pm

I do deny it. Categorically. I wish the causal factors and solutions were as simple as you make them out to be in your fantasy conspiracy world…


Jay September 9, 2011 at 2:17 pm

Actually Ghadaffi threatened to stop selling to Europe and get a better deal from China – he was trying to get more money really.

Europe is dependent on the light sweed crude out of Libya because they don't have the equipment to refine heavy sour. So threatening their lifeline was a bridge to far. Gadafi got greedy.

Now the rebels are mad at Russia and China for supporting the colonel, so looks like the Euros will get a good deal after all. It doesn't matter who runs Libya, they have to sell the spice in order to eat.

The media reaction to this is pretty different to the Iraq coverage. No one even mentions the UN resolution on Libya called for a no fly zone. The politicians made it a no driving and no shooting zone also – but only for one side.


blight September 8, 2011 at 11:58 am

The question is how to properly judge nations involvement. It's probably a mix of sorties, number of planes, types of planes…


Jay September 9, 2011 at 2:12 pm

"not as bad" in terms of rhetoric or in terms of being a lie?

The "Mission Accomplished" banner was on the carrier because the carrier's mission was accomplished and it was going home. The war to depose Hussein was over, so that mission was accomplished too.
The mission to secure Iraq from the terrorists was just getting started though, so yeah, bad optics.

Obama's "Days and not months" has turned out to be a complete lie.


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