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: