The United States and the Soviet Union stockpiled MANPADS during the Cold War. Although military aircraft now have countermeasures that have rendered the weapons largely ineffective in conventional battle, MANPADS continue to pose a serious threat to passenger planes.
Under Gaddafi’s rule, Libya is believed to have collected more MANPADS than any other nation that did not produce them, according to the State Department. During the country’s 2011 civil war, rebels seized troves of weapons from government depots. Many were later sold on the black market. Fearing that terrorist groups could acquire Libyan MANPADS, U.S. officials in November launched a $40 million effort to recover the missiles.
“In the wrong hands, shoulder-fired antiaircraft missiles pose a major threat to passenger air travel, the commercial aviation industry and possibly military aircraft around the world,” Andrew J. Shapiro, an assistant secretary of state who oversees the effort said in a speech this year. “Not only could a successful attack against an aircraft cause a devastating loss of life, but it could also cause significant economic damage.”
Meeting with Libya’s president on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly on Monday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton gave a strong endorsement of Libya’s democratic transition. She did not mention the Benghazi consulate attack during brief opening remarks heard by reporters.
Libyan President Mohamed Yusuf al-Magariaf thanked Clinton for U.S. support and said Libya bears “a grave responsibility for this tragedy.” He pledged to “expedite the investigation in the incident and to bring to justice the perpetrators.”
Magariaf noted that thousands of Libyans had marched in the streets to protest the attack. Those demonstrations “embodied the conscience of the Libyan people,” he said.
“What happened on [the] 11th of September toward these U.S. citizens does not express in any way the conscience of the Libyan people, their aspirations, their hopes or their sentiments toward the American people,” he said.
Earlier Monday, Clinton addressed the wave of often violent anti-American protests related to a YouTube video that mocks Islam.
“Dignity does not come from avenging insults, especially with violence that can never be justified,” she said in remarks to her husband’s Clinton Global Initiative development forum. “It comes from taking responsibility and advancing our common humanity.”
Anne Gearan in New York and Ernesto Londoño in Washington contributed to this report.