Playing Hide and Seek With Libyan Missiles

Here’s a comforting thought: Somewhere out there are thousands of heat-seeking surface-to-air missiles… perfect for shooting airplanes out of the sky… and, at present, unaccounted for.

Up to 20,000 of them were under the close guard of Libya’s Col. Gaddafi… until the Arab Spring began to bloom in the desert in his backyard.

Now? “People can literally drive up with pickup trucks or even 18-wheelers and take away whatever they want,” says Peter Bouckaert of Human Rights Watch, who was in Libya at the time… and took pictures. “I myself could have removed several hundred if I wanted to.”

Libyan Surface to Air Missiles
A Libyan shoulder-fired missile launcher, six months ago: Good luck finding it now

According to US State Department figures, more than 40 civilian planes have been hit by surface-to-air missiles since the 1970s.

The White House is promising to “deploy additional personnel” to track down the Libyan missiles. Right now there’s one State Department official and five contractors on the job. Tracking down as many as 20,000 missiles.

“We expect in the coming days and weeks we will have a much greater picture of how many are missing,” a State Department flunky tells ABC News.

Actually finding them? He makes no promises.

The mainstream media are abuzz with concern these rockets will fall into al-Qaida’s hands. The real story is more covert: This isn’t the first time US intervention has ended up arming Islamist militants.

It happened in Somalia too. Four consecutive US presidents have been unable to resist trying to arrange affairs there in a way more to their liking.

The most recent one shipped in 40 tons of weapons and ammunition during late spring 2009, trying to prop up a puppet government.

Many Somali soldiers immediately turned around and sold the weapons to traders… who sold them on to rebel groups, including the hard-line al-Shabaab.

The trade continues to this day. “The U.N. estimates,” according to war correspondent Robert Young Pelton, “that one-third to a half of all ammunition supplied by the United States to [African Union peacekeepers in Somalia] ends up in the hands of al-Shabaab.”

In a perverse development, this will have the effect of padding Pentagon budgets and contractors’ bottom lines, as Washington creates more enemies it then has to knock down.

This is the logic behind the staggering growth in the use of pilotless drone aircraft. To date, the US government has used them to carry out attacks in six countries: Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and Libya.

Now the Pentagon is building what The Washington Post describes as a “constellation of bases” to support routine drone strikes in the Horn of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. The aim? “To create overlapping circles of surveillance in a region where al-Qaida offshoots could emerge for years to come,” US officials said.

The number of US drones has exploded 100-fold in a decade. They number more than 6,000 today. Drone strikes that numbered in the single digits in 2007 numbered 118 last year.

Addison Wiggin

for The Daily Reckoning