Obama's top terrorism advisor has admitted the U.S. is very concerned that terrorists in Libya could get their hands on anti-aircraft shoulder-fired missiles -- weapons that could be used to attack NATO aircraft or a civilian jumbo jetliner.
John Brennan, the White House Advisor for Counterterrorism, told the Christian Science Monitor yesterday that the possibility of Qadhafi's extensive shoulder-fired missile stockpiles falling into terrorist hands remained a major concern for the U.S. and the Libyan Transitional National Council (TNC).
Brennan claimed the TSC is currently working with NATO partners to identify the means by which terrorists could acquire shoulder-fired missiles. Given that the Coalition in Iraq was unable to secure weapons depots despite a huge presence of U.S. boots on the ground, it appears the fledgling Libyan government is unlikely to prevent smugglers, rebels, or terrorists from acquiring Man Portable Air Defense Systems (MANPADS).
Here is Brennan, speaking to the Christian Science Monitor:
Brennan specifically referred to MANPADS in his speech like the Russian made SA-7. But that is a Soviet-era, 1960's version of what may already be in the possession of unknown parties. The bigger threat is that the advanced, more dangerous MANPAD systems in Qadhafi's stockpiles are or will soon be in terrorist hands.
The lack of government control and Libya's vast, wide-open borders mean that any weapons that do fall into the wrong hands could be easily transported out of the country.
Brennan cited al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in his speech, an al-Qaeda offshoot that operates primarily in lawless areas of the Sahara desert. The E.U.'s chief counterterrorism coordinator stated just yesterday that AQIM is spreading out across North Africa.
Also, a rebel who may not have any ties to terrorism could decide the lure of black market cash is reason enough to hand a few shoulder-fired missiles to an AQIM member on the back of a pickup truck.
Clearly, if the TNC is still figuring out ways the terrorists could get their hands on weapons, it is likely they already have.
Case in point: The New York Times already believes missiles may have already been stolen in Libya -- the only question is, by whom? The Times wrote yesterday that one of its reporters toured a weapons depot in Tripoli that had recently been pillaged.
Libyan authorities have since claimed that the site was guarded and anything missing must have been taken by TNC security forces.
But in the Times account there was also evidence that the highly advanced Russian SA-24 heat-seeking missile-- which can shoot a plane down at 11,000 feet-- was among stockpiles at the now unguarded Gadhafi weapons depot.
The reporter found crates with the Russian designation for the SA-24 written on them. And they were empty.