A potent stash of Russian-made surface-to-air missiles is missing from a huge Tripoli weapons warehouse amid reports of weapons looting across war-torn Libya.
They are Grinch SA-24 shoulder-launched missiles, also known as Igla-S missiles, the equivalent of U.S.-made Stinger missiles.
A CNN team and Human Rights Watch found dozens of empty crates marked with packing lists and inventory numbers that identified the items as Igla-S surface-to-air missiles.
Grinch SA-24s are designed to target front-line aircraft, helicopters, cruise missiles and drones. They can shoot down a plane flying as high as 11,000 feet and can travel 19,000 feet straight out.
Fighters aligned with the National Transitional Council and others swiped armaments from the storage facility, witnesses told Human Rights Watch. The warehouse is located near a base of the Khamis Brigade, a special forces unit in Gadhafi's military, in the southeastern part of the capital.
The warehouse contains mortars and artillery rounds, but there are empty crates for those items as well. There are also empty boxes for another surface-to-air missile, the SA-7.
Peter Bouckaert, Human Rights Watch emergencies director, told CNN he has seen the same pattern in armories looted elsewhere in Libya, noting that "in every city we arrive, the first thing to disappear are the surface-to-air missiles."
There was no immediate comment from NTC officials.
The lack of security at the weapons site raises concerns about stability in post-Gadhafi Libya and whether the new NTC leadership is doing enough to stop the weapons from getting into the wrong hands.
A NATO official, who asked to not be named because he was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter, said 575 surface-to-air missiles, radar systems and sites or storage facilities were hit by NATO airstrikes and either damaged or destroyed between March 31 and Saturday. He didn't elaborate on the specifics about the targets.
Gen. Carter Ham, chief of U.S. Africa Command, has said he's concerned about the proliferation of weapons, most notably the shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles. He said there were about 20,000 in Libya when the international operation began earlier this year and many of them have not been accounted for.
"That's going to be a concern for some period of time," he said in April.
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