Nightmare in Libya: Thousands of Surface-to-Air Missiles Unaccounted For

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Tommy Vietor, spokesman for the National Security Council, told ABC News in a statement similar to Carney's remarks that, "Since the beginning of the crisis, we have been actively engaged with our allies and partners to support Libya's efforts to secure all conventional weapons stockpiles, including recover, control, and disposal of shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles."

Boxer: U.S. Passenger Jets at Risk

Adding to the urgency is the fact that America's passenger jets, like those of most countries, are sitting ducks, despite years of warning about the missile threat. Since the 1970s, according to the U.S. State Department, more than 40 civilian planes around the world have been hit by surface-to-air missiles. In 2003, Iraqi insurgents hit a DHL cargo plane with a missile in Baghdad. Though on fire, the plane was able to land safely. Four years later, militants knocked a Russian-built cargo plane out of the sky over Somalia, killing all 11 crew members.

Now there are calls in Congress to give jets that fly overseas the same protection military aircraft have.

"I think we should ensure that the wide-bodied planes all have this protection," said Sen. Boxer, who first spoke to ABC News about the surface-to-air security threat in 2006. "And that's a little more than 500 of these planes."

Boxer sent a letter today to Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano urging the two to establish a joint program "to protect commercial aircraft from the threat of shoulder-fired missiles."

According to Boxer, it would cost about a million dollars a plane for a system that has been installed and successfully tested over the last few years, directing a laser beam into the incoming missile.

"For us to sit idly by and not do anything when we could protect 2 billion passengers over the next 20 years [with] a relatively small amount of money [from] the Department of Defense, I think that's malfeasance," said Boxer. "I think that's wrong." And it could be more practical than trying to round up all the missing Libyan missiles.

"Once these missiles walk away from these facilities, they're very difficult to get back, as the CIA realized in Afghanistan," said Bouckaert.

When the Afghan mujahideen were fighting the Soviets more than two decades ago, the CIA supplied the Afghans with 1,000 Stinger surface-to-air missiles, which had a devastating effect on Soviet military aircraft. After the Soviets had retreated, however, the CIA spent millions of dollars trying to buy back the remaining missiles from the Afghan fighters.

According to Bouckaert, the CIA spent up to $100,000 a piece to reacquire the Stingers.

"In Libya we're talking about something on the order of 20,000 surface-to-air missiles," said Bouckaert. "This is one of the greatest stockpiles of these weapons that has ever gone on the loose."

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