Deep in Libya’s Sahara Desert, in the sun-baked town of Sabha, a ragtag group of gunmen loyal to one of the country’s two rival militias agreed to show Timothy Michetti their most prized weapons. Michetti, an experienced investigator for a company that tracks small arms in conflict zones, traveled there on a hunch this past August. Local fighters, he reckoned, might have some of the shoulder-held anti-aircraft missiles that disappeared when rebels ousted Libyan dictator Muammar el-Qaddafi 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 airplane.
Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of working Libyan shoulder-held missiles remain unaccounted for, U.S. and United Nations officials say. And some have probably fallen into the hands of Islamic State militants, U.S. intelligence sources tell Newsweek.”
Despite the dangers these Libyan missiles pose, the Obama administration has effectively stopped trying to locate and destroy them, State Department officials tell Newsweek . The primary reason: It’s too dangerous to go looking for them in Libya.
On September 11, 2012, the manpads team suffered a major setback. Islamic militants attacked a secret CIA station in Benghazi, killing four Americans, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. The loss of the CIA post, which had been tracking the whereabouts of Qaddafi’s looted weapons, eliminated one of the team’s critical sources of intelligence. The team pulled out of Libya less than two years later, when the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli closed down as security in the country deteriorated.