Editor’s Note: We’ve spoken of Gaddafi’s SAMs before, and the fantastic work performed by Wild Weasels to defeat them during Operation Odyssey Dawn and Operation Unified Protector. Not surprisingly, since Qaddafi’s execution at the hands of rebels, Libya has fallen into a state of utter lawlessness. Daesh is now the strong hand stirring the pot, and it is now in possession of Surface-to-Air Missiles that once belonged to the Gaddafi regime. That by itself is concerning, but more concerning is the lack of effort being put forth to locate and destroy the missiles.
Deep in the Sahara, in the sun-baked Libyan town of [Sebha], a ragtag group of gunmen agreed to show Timothy Michetti their most prized weapons.
Michetti, an experienced investigator for a London-based company that tracks the sources of small arms in conflict zones, travelled there on a hunch. Local fighters, he reckoned, may have some of the shoulder-held anti-aircraft missiles that disappeared when rebels ousted the Libyan dictator Gaddafi in 2011.
In the sweltering heat, the gunmen unveiled a small arsenal: four Russian-made SA-7 missiles and two later models of the SA-16 variety. The heat-seeking missiles are capable of shooting down a civilian airliner.
The fighters said they acquired the weapons from nomadic smugglers on their way to illicit weapons bazaars in neighbouring Chad. But after comparing the missiles’ serial numbers to those in his company’s database, Mr Michetti confirmed his hunch: these had been Gaddafi’s arms.
The missiles had no grip stocks or launchers, which rendered them unusable, but that wasn’t much of a relief. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of working Libyan shoulder-held missiles remain unaccounted for, American and UN officials say; some have probably fallen into the hands of ISIS jihadists, US intelligence sources say. They add that as Isis continues to exploit Libya’s four-year civil war between two main rival factions, the group is likely to use these weapons as it fights to widen its strategic foothold in Libya to include the country’s oil fields. There’s some evidence the group has already succeeded.
No one has downed a passenger plane using stolen Libyan missiles, known in military parlance as “MANPADS” or man-portable air defense systems, yet the likelihood that Isis now has these weapons in Libya means the group or its affiliates could be well-equipped to strike at civilian aircraft in Africa or Europe, US officials say. “These missiles are very portable and easily smuggled,” says a senior State Department official who leads a special team given the job of securing the Libyan missiles. “All it takes is for one to get through.”
The original article in its entirety can be viewed at the India Times here.
(Featured photo courtesy of MilitaryEdge.org)