According to White House spokesman Jay Carney, the United States is preparing to deploy additional forces on the ground in Libya to “secure conventional arms storage sites” as well as to try to track down missing surface-to-air missiles (SAMs).
In the wake of the rebel invasion of Tripoli, large arms depots across the western half of the nation were looted, and it is estimated that some 20,000 shoulder-launched SAMs were among what had gone missing, many of them wound up on the arms markets in neighboring nations.
Though weapons of all shapes and sizes were looted, the shoulder-launched SAMs are of particular concern to the US, as they could pose a threat to US warplanes the world over now that they are out of the warehouses and in general circulation.
20,000 is a lot of missiles too. One rights group cautioned that the SAMs coming out of Libya were enough to turn all of northern Africa into a no-fly zone. Though some regional groups like al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) are likely to be keen on acquiring many of these weapons, it is unlikely they will be restricted to northern Africa either, with groups in Yemen, Iraq and Afghanistan likely keen on their own acquisitions.