Ben Knight, a foreign correspondent with the Australian Broadcasting Company, said on a program a few days later (March 7, 2011) that the rebels had shown him Stinger missiles:
TONY EASTLEY: And I guess on top of that, Ben, the rebels really are not as well armed as the government forces?
BEN KNIGHT: Well, clearly not. . . . What they do have we saw some Stinger missiles today, which are missiles that are capable of locking onto a jet fighter and shooting it down. In fact, they are claiming to have shot down another jet fighter today as well as another helicopter.
By July 2011, C. J. Chivers of the New York Times
reported on more anti-aircraft missiles’ being removed
from storage bunkers in Ga’a, Libya:
On a recent day, 43 emptied wooden crates — long, thin and painted in dark green — had been left behind on the sand inside the entrance. The boxes had not been there during a visit to the same spot a few days before, and the weapons were gone.
The stenciled markings showed each crate had contained a pair of lightweight missiles called SA-7s — early Soviet versions of the same class of weapon as the better known American-made Stingers, which were used by Afghan fighters against the Soviets in Afghanistan. It was not clear who had taken them. The rebel guards variously blamed Qaddafi forces and misinformed opposition fighters.
Interviews with anti-Qaddafi leaders at the time indicated that one of their top priorities was obtaining anti-aircraft missiles. In light of the PJ Media report’s claims, one of the most intriguing reports from this time period is a March 11, 2011, Canadian Globe and Mail article that interviewed insurgent leader Abdul Hakim Al-Hasadi:
“We need Stingers,” he said, referring to shoulder-mounted missiles. “We don’t need your stupid words.” . . .
Abdul Hakim Al-Hasadi, 45, [was] recently appointed chief of security in the rebel-controlled town of Darnah. Al-Hasadi says he taught history and geography at a local high school until 1995, when he escaped Libya and spent a few years travelling. He finally settled in Afghanistan in 1999. He acknowledged that he lived in a camp and received training in guerrilla warfare, but would not say who controlled the facility.
The rebel commander said he witnessed the awe-inspiring power of U.S. air strikes when bombs hit Taliban and al-Qaeda positions in 2001. “We felt extreme rage,” he said. “They were killing women and children. It made us hate the United States.”
Hasadi was detained as a hostile combatant by U.S. forces in 2002, according to an interview he gave with an Italian newspaper: “I’ve never been in Guantanamo. I was captured in 2002 in Peshawar, Pakistan, while returning from Afghanistan where I fought against foreign invasion. I was handed over to the Americans, held a few months in Islamabad, delivered to Libya, and released in 2008.”
Hasadi was not the only rebel leader imploring the West for Stinger missiles. A March 23, 2011, Reuters report quoted Fawzi Buktif, described as “an oil project engineer” then running “a training base outside Benghazi,” as saying, “We need Kalashnikovs, stingers, anti-tanks, all types of anti-tanks.”
Despite all the focus on anti-aircraft missiles, the Libyan Air Force ceased to be a significant factor in the war in March 2011. The United Kingdom’s Air Vice Marshal Greg Bagwell declared March 23 that the Libyan Air Force “no longer exists as a fighting force” and that NATO forces now flew over Libyan airspace “with impunity.”
Despite Libya being awash in anti-aircraft missiles, not many were fired at NATO aircraft:
A senior U.S. military officer who follows Libya closely said it was puzzling that there had been so few documented instances in which Libyan loyalist troops launched shoulder-fired missiles at NATO aircraft.
“I’m not sure what that means,” the officer said. “Fewer systems than we thought? Systems are inoperable? Few in Libya know how to operate them?”
Throughout the war, Qaddafi’s regime believed some outside force was supplying the rebels with anti-aircraft weapons. On September 2, 2011, the Wall Street Journal’s Charles Levinson and Margaret Coker managed to obtain the regime’s intelligence files about the rebellion, recovered from the office of Libya’s spy chief and two other security agencies.
By April, the war was expanding and so was the sense of panic inside Tripoli. Mr. Senussi’s [the Libyan spy chief] office did get apparently credible information, but the news was ominous. The reports suggested that the rebels were exploiting the country’s porous southern borders to receive arms and aid.
One memo contained intercepted phone calls between military commanders in Chad who reported Qatari weapons convoys approaching Libya’s southern border with Sudan, apparently intended for anti-[Qaddafi] forces. Another intelligence memo, dated April 4, warned that French weapons, including Stinger antiaircraft missiles and Milan antitank rockets, were making their way to Libyan rebels via Sudan.
French officials declined to comment on the document’s claims. Qatari officials didn’t return email requests for comment.
These Qatari weapons convoys were, in fact approved by the Obama administration, according to the New York Times:
The Obama administration secretly gave its blessing to arms shipments to Libyan rebels from Qatar last year, but American officials later grew alarmed as evidence grew that Qatar was turning some of the weapons over to Islamic militants, according to United States officials and foreign diplomats. . . .
The United States, which had only small numbers of C.I.A. officers in Libya during the tumult of the rebellion, provided little oversight of the arms shipments. Within weeks of endorsing Qatar’s plan to send weapons there in spring 2011, the White House began receiving reports that they were going to Islamic militant groups. They were “more antidemocratic, more hard-line, closer to an extreme version of Islam” than the main rebel alliance in Libya, said a former Defense Department official.
The Times article stated that “no evidence has emerged linking the weapons provided by the Qataris to the Benghazi attack,” although it’s not clear how anyone could determine that for certain without precise, accurate accounts of the Qatari weapons and the weapons used in the Benghazi attack.
The Obama administration’s approval of these arms shipments almost certainly violated United Nations Security Council Resolution 1970, adopted February 26, 2011, which required all member states to “prevent the direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer” of weapons to any party in Libya.