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Friday October 14, 2011 | 11:55 AM

Where are the missiles, how many are missing and what’s being done about it?

That’s what GOP Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire are asking of Obama administration officials after reports that the U.S. is trying to track down and destroy surface-to-air missiles that were in former Libyan dictator Mammar Gaddafi’s armory.

Collins and Shaheen, members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, sent a letter late Thursday expressing concern about the situation to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta.

“We need to understand the potential number of missing weapons to accurately assess the risk and mitigation steps that must be taken to protect Americans at home and abroad who rely upon air travel,” Collins and Shaheen wrote, alluding to the fact that if shoulder-fired missiles in particular are obtained by terrorists commercial jetliners could be vulnerable to attack. “Based on a briefing from Administration officials, it appears that no one in the U.S. government was monitoring this well-known security risk in Libya while we undertook military operations there.”

In addition to their armed services committee posts, Collins is the top Republican on the homeland security committee and Shaheen is on the foreign relations committee.

The lawmakers say that they were “surprised to learn” that U.S. personnel so far have visited only nine of 36 of the known major weapons storage sites in Libya as part of the effort to secure Gaddafi’s stockpiles.

“Time is of the essence to keep these dangerous weapons of choice from terrorists,” Collins and Shaheen wrote.  “The close proximity of sources to fighters for al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula increases the risk that these weapons will fall quickly into the wrong hands.”

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Kevin Miller is Washington bureau chief for the Portland Press Herald and MaineToday Media. He has worked as a journalist in Maine for 6 ½ years, covering the environment, politics and the State House. Before arriving in Maine, he wrote about politics, government and education for newspapers in Virginia and Maryland.
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