U.S. officials have uncovered no evidence showing the Syrian military has lost control of large numbers of portable missile launchers and other weapons, a senior State Department official says. Meantime, Washington hopes a political settlement in Libya will lead militias to turn over similar weapons there.
At issue are so-called "man portable air defense systems," or MANPADS for short. U.S. officials are always concerned that when fighting breaks out in unstable nations with military arsenals, items like the mobile missiles and launchers could fall into the hands of terrorists.
Much of the focus and worry about Syrian weapons has been on President Bashar al-Assad's chemical arms arsenal. But U.S. officials also are worried items like MANPADS could "fall into the wrong hands," Assistant Secretary of State Andrew Shapiro told reporters at a Friday breakfast meeting in Washington.
"We haven't seen any evidence of MANPADS leakage in Syria," Shapiro says. "But it's clearly an area of concern and one we're thinking about."
On Libya, American officials have been trying to determine for months where former strongman Moammar Gadhafi's MANPADS currently are; some officials have estimated Gadhafi might have had up to 20,000 of the portable launchers. Shaprio said in early February that U.S. intelligence showed most of those mobile launchers are still in Libya.
At Friday's breakfast, Shapiro indicated Libya's various "militias have control of the MANPADS...and other loose weapons."
Showing extreme optimism, the State Department official said he is hopefully a political settlement in post-Gadhafi Libya will lead those militias to turn the MANPADS over to whatever government eventually takes power there.
John T. Bennett covers national security and foreign policy for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter.