ALGIERS - Most of Libya's missing stocks of shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles are still in the country but they need to be secured before they are smuggled to militants outside Libya, a US official said on Monday.
Former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi had about 20,000 of the missiles. Many of them were looted during the conflict that ended his rule, prompting concern that they could end up in the hands of al Qaeia's north African branch.
The weapons, often referred to as MANPADS or 'man portable air defense systems', are favored by militant groups because they are light and portable, relatively simple to use and can in theory bring down a civilian airliner.
Derrin Smith, an adviser to the US government's inter-agency task force on MANPADS, said predictions that large numbers of the weapons would be taken out of Libya to al Qaia's desert strongholds have not been realized.
"It appears at this point that most of the Libyan MANPAD stocks continue to be in the hands of Libyan personnel. So we'll work with the government to recover those into centralized government inventory control," Smith told a news conference in the Algerian capital.
"The bad news is that no one is certain what the exact number is that is outside government control and it will take some months of effort to come up with a reasonable number."