Let’s Hope Gadhafi’s Weapons Don’t Fall Into the Wrong Hands

The New York Times’ C.J. Chivers this morning pointed out yet another angle to the revolution in Libya. While many people are rightly excited about the success rebels are having in holding their ground against Moammar Gadhafi’s forces, what’s going to happen to all those weapons from the arms depots that have been opened up in rebel controlled territory?

We’re not just talking AK-47s and pistols; the depots contain surface-to-air missiles which, Chivers points out, could very well make their way into the hands of terrorists:

Photographs and video from the uprising show civilians carrying a full array of what were once the Libyan military’s weapons — like the SA-7, an early-generation, shoulder-fired missile in the same family as the more widely known Stinger — that intelligence agencies have long worried could fall into terrorists’ hands.

They also show large groups of young men equipped with a complete suite of lightweight, simple-to-use and durable infantry arms, including assault rifles, machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, which have been a staple of fighting in Africa and Asia since midway through the cold war. Mines, grenades and several types of antitank missiles can be seen as well.

The piece goes on to point to situations like Iraq in 2003, where Saddam’s armories were opened up and the weapons held within were used against coalition forces for years afterward.

And here’s a choice line from the story:

The weapons that have emerged from storehouses in recent days confirm that despite international sanctions, Libya had acquired arms from multiple sellers in the former Eastern bloc, accumulating an arsenal that looks like the bounty of cold war clearance sales.

The rebels’ newly acquired equipment ranges from dilapidated tanks designed more than a half-century ago to relatively recent Russian assault-rifle variants.

Peter Danssaert, a researcher for the International Peace Information Service in Belgium who covers arms proliferation in Eastern Europe and Africa, said that now that the weapons were out of government custody, few would be recovered. “They are gone forever” from state accountability, he said.

Still, it’s the SAMs, particularly the shoulder-fired ones known as MANPADS, this are the major concern. I won’t insult your intelligence by telling you all the bad things they could be used for; from the battlefields of Afghanistan to right here in the U.S. You get the point.

“The danger of these missiles ending up in the hands of terrorists and insurgents outside of Libya is very real,” said Matthew Schroeder, the director of the Arms Sales Monitoring Project at the Federation of American Scientists in Washington. “Securing these missiles should be a top priority of the U.S. intelligence community and their counterparts overseas.”

The principal threat, the analysts said, is not necessarily that the rebels themselves, who want international sympathy and support, might use such weapons against airliners. Rather, the concern is that because these missiles can sell for at least several thousand dollars on black markets, opportunists will gather and offer them to third parties — pushing them into the underground trade.

We should remember that the heat seeking SA-7 is an ancient design. Shoulder fired missiles of its generation could even be thrown off a target by the sun. And, the missiles themselves are getting old. Here’s hoping they don’t work too well.

Oh, and good thing Gadhafi got rid of his nukes.

Here’s the rest of the piece.

Photo: Reuters.

  • blight

    To be fair, those arms have to /leave/ the country. Victor Bout is in jail…and I imagine it would not be easy moving large quantities of weapons out of the country unless you did it incrementally out of the southern deserts.

    Alternatively, if you pay bribes at the airport, land a few cargo jets and walk away with piles of small arms, you could resell them somewhere where guns are in great demand. However, it’s probably harder to do in real life.

    What’s more disturbing is the idea of Lebanonization of Libya, catalyzed by lots of small arms. Historically Libya was decentralized, and with enough weaponry floating around this might become a reality again.

  • jamesb101

    does this piece point to a quicker US/NATO involvment to get a clean up of those mentioned wqeapons?

    • Marcase

      Unlikely; it would mean boots on the ground and NATO is unwilling to go that far.

      Probably some half-hearted inspection effort with roaming teams may be set up after the revolution, but the new leadership will have to agree to that and may not.

  • mike

    okay this is not even a problem. put twenty operators on the ground with 15 million euros, cash. tell everyone it’s 150K euros for each launcher and 80K for a round, cash in a paper bag, no strings. that’s way too much, of course, but still cheaper than trying to find them later and waaaaaayyyyy cheaper than not finding them later.

    • blight

      And then the small arms make their way to another sub-Saharan conflict, where they are used to arm child soldiers killing each other.

      Who’s to say an AK-47 won’t find itself being used against peacekeepers (who occasionally are from NATO nations, to include the United States)? Anti-tank weapons are nice to have, but all the real dangerous players already have nation-states to supply them with weapons. Look at Hezbollah, which already has a magical pipeline of anti-tank missiles from Iran. So much in fact, that they can probably expend munitions in /training/ because they can expect reasonably cheap replacements.

  • Lance

    The SA-7 is not the same as a FIM-92 Stinger its the same as the older Red-eye SAM. The SA-14 replaced the SA-7 in Russian and east European arm’s. Since most of the rebels are radical Islamist they will use spare arms against the west like usual.

  • terry

    This article has to be a joke right??, weapons from Lybia have been falling into the wrong hands for decades and yes all the real bad ones also like this article is saying.

  • MadMike

    Libya went on a buying spree recently in Russia to the tune of several billion bucks. Fortunately, Russia favors the arms embargo and won’t be delivering the stuff. The arms ammo depot under rebel hands reminds me of the Khamisyah Ammo Depot in Iraq during the Gulf War.

    • Dirk

      You actaully trust the Russians? LOL.

  • Brok3n
  • Brok3n
  • Matt

    Didnt the Army just have a big program to equip its helicoptors with IR jammers to stop this exact threat? Besides it not like there arent already countries in the Middle East ready to sell weapons to terrorists *cough* Iran *cough*

  • Daniel

    We hope for the best;and that the political situation in Libya will be stable soon.My question is,why Africa?

    • blight


  • Alton

    Couple of years ago I was working at an Army depot someres and we were overhauling HAWK missiles (thought it was out of service but it is still being sold to foreign countries). Anyways a bunch of Egyptians came through to go to school on the overhaul of the missile one month (bunch more to this story here but I’ll make it short). So now Egypt is perhaps not our friend anymore, along with Iran (which also has it) and of course where did all those, oh a ‘quantity’ that belonged to Kuwait go to? Just asking..

  • NeoConVet

    Many of the weapons are as much a danger to the so-called Rebels as to those supporting the Big Gubby. Watched on a video as a group stood behind an RPG firing. I had to wonder if these arms supplies included running shoes.

  • Infidel4LIFE

    Maybe the Libyans will use most of them in this war, but theres no doubt if our side knows, AQ, Hamas Hezbollah know too. Getting them from A to B may be a problem.