U.S. Expands Search for Weapons in Libya

State Department: More teams, millions more dollars in search of weapons.

ByABC News
October 10, 2011, 10:32 AM

Oct. 10, 2011 — -- The U.S. government has expanded its search for thousands of dangerous, unaccounted for weapons in Libya to the tune of several million dollars and new search teams, a State Department spokesperson said.

"I'm frankly not in a position to speak to the sort of volume and scope of their success at the moment, but we are very, very committed to this effort," State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland told reporters.

Nuland said there are a total of nine Libyan search teams currently active in the war-torn nation, all with a single American representative. The U.S. government had initially put forward $3 million to assist in the effort to track down the weapons -- which could include thousands of shoulder-fired surface-to-air rocket launchers -- but has now increased its investment to $10 million.

PHOTOS: Libya's Missing Missile Nightmare

Last month, White House spokesperson Jay Carney told reporters the U.S. had a single government official, as well as five contractors, on the ground to deal with the weapons crisis.

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 in September the government does not have a clear picture of how many missiles they're trying to track down.

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

U.S. government officials and security experts have for weeks been concerned some of the thousands of heat-seeking missiles, along with smaller arms, could easily end up in the hands of al Qaeda or other terror groups.

"Matching up a terrorist with a shoulder-fired missile, that's our worst nightmare," Sen. Barbara Boxer, D.-California, a member of the Senate's Commerce, Energy and Transportation Committee, said in September.

The missiles, four to six-feet long and Russian-made, can weigh just 55 pounds with launcher. They lock on to the heat generated by the engines of aircraft, can be fired from a vehicle or from a combatant's shoulder, and are accurate and deadly at a range of more than two miles.

Peter Bouckaert of Human Rights Watch first warned about the problem after a trip to Libya more than 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."

Nuland said Friday it's too early to tell if the U.S. will expand the search beyond the nine teams in the future.

Click Here to Sign Up for Breaking News and Investigation Alerts From The Brian Ross Investigative Unit

Return to The Blotter homepage.