Man-Portable Weapons on the Loose

“Many thousands” of the man-portable air defense systems and other weapons in the stockpiles of Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi’s regime before its collapse “remain unaccounted for,” said Army Gen. Carter Ham, head of US Africa Command, last week. “It’s very clear” these MANPADS and other weapons have spread in two directions: western Africa and the Middle East, Ham told the Senate Armed Services Committee on March 7. “We thought initially that most would transit into northern Mali, and certainly have seen significant evidence that that has been the case” as al Qaeda-affiliated groups and other terrorist organizations “are significantly better armed now than they were before,” he said. “What we didn’t see quite so quickly, but now believe certainly to be the case, is movement of weapons in the other direction, some of which we believe have ended up in Syria,” he added. Ham said a State Department-led initiative to secure these weapons by buying them back has had “modest success.” Ham, who has led AFRICOM since March 2011, is retiring. Army Gen. David Rodriguez will succeed him. (Ham’s written testimony) (See also Tracking Mideast Weapons and On the Hunt for MANPADS in Libya.)