Washington: A number of sophisticated shoulder-fired missiles looted from Libyan armories have already been smuggled out of the North African country and we don’t know where they’ve gone, a top U.S. general said today.
Africa Command chief Gen. Carter Ham said his organization picked up “worrying indicators” that some of the unaccounted for Libyan stockpiles of Grinch SA-24 and SA-7 shoulder-fired rockets are already gone, Ham said today at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
The Grinch is considered similar to the famous Stinger anti-aircraft missile that the United States supplied to the Afghans defeat the Soviets.
A State Department-led task force is already in Libya to help members of Libya’s new Transitional National Council locate and secure the weapons that are still in the country, and to keep more from slipping out, Ham said.
Africa Command is reassigning its unmanned intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance aircraft to fly patrol missions along the Libya’s borders, in an attempt to keep more missiles from leaving the country, Ham said.
Those ISR drones flying these border missions in Libya had been used to provide targeting information for NATO warplanes, during the U.N.-mandated peacekeeping operation in the country.
While Ham did not have any information on where the missiles already smuggled out of Libya were headed, he did say one of his biggest concerns is that the weapons will fall into the hands of terror groups headquartered in Africa.
Al Qaeda has two active cells on the continent already, one in East Africa and one in the Sahel region. That second cell, known as Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, poses the largest threat to U.S. and partner nations should they get a hold of those Libyan missiles, Ham said.
Indigenous groups like Al Shabab in Somalia and the Boko Haram in Nigeria also pose a significant threat should they get the missiles themselves or have AQIM or the East African cells provide them, according to the four-star general.
Late last month, the White House convened a secret meeting to discuss the loss of over 20,000 Libyan-owned shoulder-fired missiles.
Weeks before that White House meeting, the administration’s top counterterrorism official made clear his concerns that Al Qaeda could get its hands on the missiles. At that time, there were already reports then of large numbers of missiles being looted as the regime of former Libyan dictator Col. Muammar Qaddafi collapsed.