While we’ve been busy bombing the cr@p out of Libya, approximately 20,000 (that’s right, twenty thousand) man-portable heat-seeking surface to air missiles have gone missing.
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.
There go the horses! Someone shut the barn door! But don’t worry we have our best guy on it!
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. [emph. mine]
The system worked!
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. [emph. mine]
We don’t even have a clue of how many are missing, except in the grossest of estimates.
This has been known about for weeks now, but it’s unclear how much has actually been done to stop or at least ameliorate the problem.
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.” [emph. mine]
It’s not clear exactly what missiles are missing, but they are likely to be similar to (or actually are) the Russian-built 9K38 Igla (NATO designation SA-18 Grouse).
They’re not very big, but can really do a number on a soft target like a civilian airliner. Due to their size, they are relatively easy to smuggle into a country and once over the border would be almost impossible to find.
20,000 of these out in the wild is a nightmare scenario. It would only take two or three actual uses to bring civil aviation to a standstill anywhere even remotely near where they were used. If the bad guys were to then publish pictures of an arsenal of tens of them, civil aviation would be effectively ended.
Meanwhile, TSA is spending its time asking us our name to make sure we memorized our driver licenses, confiscating our bottles of soda or water, making sure we have nothing but lint in our pockets, and taking 5 minutes to x-ray a suitcase.
Sounds like the goal of all that would be to reduce the number of secondary explosions when an airliner is shot down while taking off from LAX, Dulles, Frankfurt, Sheremetyevo, Newark, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Atlanta, Houston, JFK, Paris, Chicago…