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The Stingers of Benghazi
Public reports corroborate some, but not all, of a stunning accusation about Benghazi.

Stinger missile launcher

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Jim Geraghty

Earlier this week, Roger L. Simon of PJ Media broke a story with shocking revelations, contending that slain U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens was in Benghazi on September 11 to buy back Stinger missiles from al-Qaeda groups that had been originally provided to them by the U.S. State Department.

Simon cited two former U.S. diplomats:

Stevens’ mission in Benghazi, they will say, was to buy back Stinger missiles from al-Qaeda groups issued to them by the State Department, not by the CIA. Such a mission would usually be a CIA effort, but the intelligence agency had opposed the idea because of the high risk involved in arming “insurgents” with powerful weapons that endanger civilian aircraft.

Hillary Clinton still wanted to proceed because, in part, as one of the diplomats said, she wanted “to overthrow [Qaddafi] on the cheap.”

This left Stevens in the position of having to clean up the scandalous enterprise when it became clear that the “insurgents” actually were al-Qaeda — indeed, in the view of one of the diplomats, the same group that attacked the consulate and ended up killing Stevens.

A careful review of reports from Libya over the past few years corroborates some parts of that account, but contradicts others:

Some Libyan rebel leaders, including at least one who had spent time in a training camp in Afghanistan and who was in that country in September 2001, specifically asked Western countries to send Stinger missiles.

Qaddafi’s intelligence services believed that the rebels were having the missiles smuggled in over the country’s southern border — but they believed the French were supplying the missiles.

There is no evidence that the U.S. supplied the weapons, but it appears they gave their blessing to a secret Qatari effort to ship arms across Libya’s southern border in violation of a United Nations arms embargo.

Anti-Qaddafi forces also obtained a significant number of anti-aircraft missiles from the regime’s bunkers early in the conflict.

Enough Stinger missiles disappeared from regime stockpiles during the civil war to become a high priority and serious worry for the administration.

(Note that in much of the coverage of Libya, “Stinger” has turned into a catch-all term for any shoulder-mounted anti-aircraft missile.)

To save Eric Holder and the Department of Justice the trouble of reading my e-mail or collecting my phone records, all of the information in this report is gathered from public and open sources, both in the U.S. and overseas, and none of it can be considered classified or sensitive.

Before the war, Qaddafi’s regime in Libya possessed more of these kinds of missiles than did any other country except where they’re produced. On April 7, 2011, General Carter Ham, then recently promoted to head of U.S. Africa Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that “we do estimate that there were as many as 20,000 of these types of weapons in Libya before the conflict began.”

In March 2011, Ambassador Chris Stevens became the official U.S. liaison to the Libyan opposition. He first entered Benghazi on April 5, 2011, joined by a USAID team, while the war was still raging, to meet with rebel leaders.

On March 2, 2011, Mike Elkin of Wired reported as rebel forces cleaned out the Salmani weapons-maintenance depot in Benghazi, and mentioned “30-year-old rockets” and “anti-aircraft weapons.”


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