Libya's missing missiles: a threat to US airline passengers
If terrorists get hold of some of Qaddafi's 20,000 shoulder-fired missiles and manage to bring down an airliner in the United States, the economic repercussions would be huge. Antimissile systems exist, but so far US airlines have balked at the expense.
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The Obama administration has assured Americans that most of Muammar Qaddafi's cache of 20,000 shoulder-fired missiles (man-portable air defense systems or MANPADs) is still in Libya. However, House Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Rogers is not so sure.
In a CNN interview Nov. 14, the Michigan Republican expressed doubt that “very undisciplined” Libyan troops “will be able to secure the weapons sites” until the country is stable. That same day, one of al Qaeda’s North African commanders confirmed that his terrorist group (Al Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb) had obtained weapons looted during the bloody fight for control of Libya. Mr. Rogers’s concern was underscored by NATO’s military committee chairman, Adm. Giampaolo di Paola (now Italy’s new defense minister), who said Libyan MANPADs could be scattered “from Kenya to Kunduz [Afghanistan].”
How many of Libya’s shoulder fired missiles have been stolen is unknown. However, if only a single missile – 4 to 5 feet long, weighing between 32 and 42 pounds – found its way from the Middle East or Africa to Asia, Europe, or the United States (smuggled in through, say, a tunnel from Mexico) and brought down a passenger aircraft, the economic impact would be huge. Some estimates put the direct costs of just one downed US passenger plane at $1 billion.
These days, when the US economy is struggling already, the downing of a passenger plane by a MANPAD would lead not only to the grounding of the entire nation's passenger fleet, but to the devastation of the air-travel dependent US economy. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, for example, it took four years before US passenger traffic returned to pre-9/11 levels.
As if the threat from missing Libyan MANPADS were not enough, there are additional concerns. Spreading destabilization in the Middle East and Africa, Iran’s growing reach in Latin America, the US withdrawal from Iraq, rising violence in Afghanistan, and worsening relations with Pakistan, are enabling easier movement of stolen missiles, increasing the dangers to commercial carriers.