Missing Libya Missiles: UN Calls On Libya, Neighbors to Find Weapons

Resolution warns al Qaeda could use missiles, other weapons.

October 31, 2011, 4:44 PM

Oct. 31, 2011 — -- A resolution calling on Libya and its neighbors to secure unguarded Libyan weapons stockpiles and prevent terrorists from acquiring them was unanimously adopted Monday by the 15 members of the United Nations Security Council.

The resolution called on "Libyan authorities to take all necessary steps to prevent the proliferation of all arms […], in particular man-portable surface-to-air missiles" to keep the weapons from falling into the hands of terrorists, including al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, a North African offshoot of the terror group. It also called upon neighboring nations to "consider appropriate measures to prevent the proliferation" of these weapons, but stopped short of suggesting concrete measures to help secure the munitions.

A UN Security Council diplomat told ABC News this resolution would allow greater international cooperation in securing the weapons and would put in place a reporting and tracking mechanism that would help better monitor the situation.

Since the fall of Tripoli in late August, multiple weapons depots with stockpiles of heat seeking surface-to-air missiles, heavy machine guns and ammunition have been discovered unguarded by journalists and NGOs. The Gadhafi regime once had as many as 20,000 Russian surface-to-air missiles, and U.S. military contractors are now in Libya trying to find thousands that are unaccounted for.

In the past month, some of the SAMs have turned up in Egypt and at the Israeli border. Egyptian authorities say they have arrested weapons smugglers bringing the weapons east from Libya toward Israel. According to the Washington Post, so many of the weapons were being sold in Egyptian black markets that the price had dropped from $10,000 to $4,000 per weapon.

It would take only one of the shoulder-fired, heat-seeking anti-aircraft missiles, which have a range of two miles, to bring down a commercial aircraft.

In a report aired on ABC News last week, a month after U.S. officials told ABC News they were moving quickly to secure unguarded weapons in Libya, human rights investigators filmed a huge cache of unprotected weapons, including bombs, tank shells and dozens of surface-to-air missiles, in the city of Sirte.

"Anybody want a surface-to-air missile?" asks Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director of Human Rights Watch, in a video shot last week near where Moammar Gadhafi and his son Mutassim made their last stand. Though the U.S. is rushing more and more specialists to Libya in a race to find the weapons that have gone missing since the start of the Libyan uprising, Bouckaert beat them to Sirte.

Assistant Secretary of State Andrew Shapiro told ABC News that there was "obviously" a race to find the weapons before they fall into the hands of terrorists, "and that's why we're deploying people as quickly as we possibly can." Shapiro said the U.S. plans to increase its presence on the ground from 10 teams of weapons specialists, or less than 35 people total, to 50 teams.

"We believe that based on our examination of the numerous sites that thousands of missiles were actually destroyed during the NATO bombing campaign," said Shapiro, "and [that another] thousand missiles have been disabled or damaged."

But Shapiro also said the U.S. still doesn't know how many of the 20,000 surface-to-air missiles once held by the Gadhafi regime are unaccounted for. "We're in the process of visiting sites and putting together the information about the scope of the problem," said Shapiro.

Last week, Bouckaert found dozens of Russian SA-7 missiles scattered across the ground in Sirte, along with empty crates.

"These facilities are still uncontrolled," said Bouckaert. "We could literally have come here with a convoy of 18 wheeler trucks and wheeled away whatever we wanted without even being noticed."Bouckaert says despite his warnings to the U.S. State Department and the CIA since February, real progress in securing the weapons has been slow.

Aaron Katersky contributed to this report.

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