Up To 20,000 Missiles Reported Missing From Libya

Earlier this month I took note of a report of a number of Russian made surface-to-air missiles that were missing from a weapons cache in Libya. It now appears that the problem is much worse than that:

U.S. officials had once thought there was little chance that terrorists could get their hands on many of the portable surface-to-air missiles that can bring down a commercial jet liner.

But now that calculation is out the window, with officials at a recent secret White House meeting reporting that thousands of them have gone missing in Libya.

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

The nightmare has been made real with the discovery in Libya that an estimated 20,000 portable, heat-seeking missiles have gone missing from unguarded Army weapons warehouses.

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.


“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.”

And in this case, the fear is that the weapons will end up in the hands of al Qaeda, or of pro-Gaddafi forces not at all reticent about they who target now that central authority in the country has collapsed. American officials are apparently now working with the NTC to secure the remaining stockpiles, which helps, but if this estimate of the missing missiles is even close to accurate and we’re unable to track them down, then the world could have a serious problem on its hands.

FILED UNDER: Africa, National Security, Quick Takes, Terrorism, World Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020.


  1. john personna says:

    Somebody check with Yuri Orlov.

  2. Hey Norm says:

    @ JP…
    Nice Nick Cage reference.

  3. Dave E. says:

    What are you going to do? Complaining about regime change that leaves weapons insecure is so 2003.

  4. mike says:

    good thing we didn’t screw this one up. Coming soon to an airliner near you. Isn’t this like the one job of our national government – to protect US – not them – US – so now we have to worry about 20,000 heat seeking, very mobile rockets – we have the manpower, money, planes, etc… to fly sorties, invade, and do everything else, in every other god forsaken place, but we couldn’t maybe go secure these?

  5. Can never think about probable but unintneded consequences —- never mind the experience of seeing a relatively modern army either disintegrate or fade away in 2003 leaving their arms depots open to any and all….