“They knew that Gadhafi had a large stockpile of SA-7 and SA-14 MANPADS when we armed the Libyan rebels,” Gen. Boykin said. “Many of us warned them openly that this was going to be a problem once these thugs took over. [The missiles] are likely on the international arms market right now. They were trying to collect those things before the world became aware of the tremendous threat that these pose to commercial aviation globally.”
A Pentagon spokesman declined to provide information on the numbers and locations of Libyan surface-to-air missiles, saying the topic is classified.
A State Department official said the U.S. has helped Libya secure about 5,000 MANPADS and components.
“We continue supporting the Libyan government in their efforts to secure these weapons and stabilize their country by providing technical assistance, including in the areas of border security and disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration,” the official said.
Complicating the matter is Saudi Arabia, which is buying arms for the Free Syrian Army.
A military source briefed by the administration said Washington has put pressure on the oil-rich kingdom not to follow through with plans to provide MANPADS, adding that Saudi Arabia already has sent anti-tank missiles.
The U.S. has begun to supply the Free Syrian Army with guns, food and medical equipment, but no types of precision-guided missiles.
“The Saudis have been giving the moderate rebels weapons for over a year, and to anybody’s account none of those weapons found their way into jihadists’ hands,” said the source, who asked not to be named because his discussions are confidential. “There are shoulder-fired missiles in the hands of the rebels. They’re not ours. They’re not as good as ours. They’ve had some success with them.”
Meanwhile, there are unconfirmed reports of Libyan MANPADS showing up in Algeria, Mali and the Gaza Strip, which is governed by the U.S.-designated terrorist group Hamas.
Besides Syria, there are confirmed reports that Libyan missiles showed up in Lebanon and Tunisia.
The U.N. group monitoring an arms embargo on Libya reported that weapons merchants have set up large operations in Benghazi with no interference from the country’s weak central government.
Its report told of Lebanese authorities seizing an arms shipment originating from the Libyan city of Misrata and carried by the freighter Letfallah II. Among the weapons were SA-7s destined for rebels fighting the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad. A container included 10 SA-7 missiles, six batteries and one grip stock, as well as two more advanced SA-24s.
The report also said the Tunisian government last year intercepted an SA-7 smuggled from Libya.
“The enormity of the task means they are not going to get every weapon,” Mr. Schroeder said. “There is just not good documentation to say how many they are not getting.”
In his 89-page report, “The MANPADS Threat and International Efforts to Address It,” Mr. Schroeder says the biggest threat may come from Syria’s own stockpiles of more highly sophisticated, portable missiles already looted by rebels.