NATO said Monday it is concerned about the possibility that large numbers of portable surface-to-air missiles, previously in the armament of Moammar Gadhafi's army, are missing in Libya.
"It is a matter of concern if stockpiles of weapons are not properly controlled and monitored," Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said.
He was responding to a report that thousands of SAM-7 shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles allegedly went missing after the defeat of loyalist forces by former Libyan rebels, who were supported by NATO air strikes.
On Sunday, the German news magazine Der Spiegel published a report saying that during a confidential briefing last Monday for German lawmakers, NATO's top military officer, Adm. Giampaolo Di Paola, said the military alliance had lost track of at least 10,000 surface-to-air missiles from Libyan military depots.
The report cited Di Paola as saying he fears the missiles could turn up anywhere _ "in Kenya or in Kunduz" _ and that they could potentially pose a "serious danger to civil aviation."
A spokesman for Di Paola in Brussels said he could not confirm the report.
But Fogh Rasmussen said that, since NATO did not have any troops on the ground, it was the responsibility of the post-Gadhafi leadership _ the National Transitional Council _ to ensure that all weapons stocks are properly controlled and monitored.
"Individual allies are in contact with the NTC to make sure they address this issue properly," he said.
Fogh Rasmussen was speaking ahead of two-day meeting of NATO defense ministers on Wednesday and Thursday, where the operation over Libya and the war in Afghanistan were expected to figure prominently.
The United States and other Western nations have been trying to reduce the global stock of portable missiles, fearing they could fall into the hands of terrorists. The small, easily concealable SAM-7s are considered obsolete by modern military standards but could pose a threat to civilian airliners or helicopters.
Weighing just 14 kilograms (31 pounds) and only 1.40 meters(4 feet) long, the 1960s-era missile can reach an altitude of over 3,000 meters (10,000 feet).
A senior NATO diplomat said the United States was particularly concerned about the possibility the weapons would end up in the "wrong hands."
Washington is working closely with the NTC "to make sure that these weapons are controlled and put under lock and key," said the diplomat who could not be named under standing regulations.
A top NATO military officer said that "even the notion that these missiles are our there is being taken very, very seriously indeed."
"We are looking where those munitions have been throughout the air campaign, or where they may have gone to," said the officer who also could not be named under alliance rules.
Associated Press reporter Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.