Venezuela Holds 5,000 Russian MANPADS Missiles

Venezuela Holds 5,000 Russian MANPADS MissilesVenezuela Holds 5,000 Russian MANPADS Missiles

Venezuela possesses 5,000 Russian-made MANPADS surface-to-air weapons, according to a military document reviewed by Reuters, the largest known stockpile in Latin America and a source of concern for US officials amid the country’s mounting turmoil.

Venezuela’s socialist government has long used the threat of an “imperialist” invasion by the United States to justify an arms buildup. Much of that arsenal was obtained from Russia by Venezuela’s late President Hugo Chavez, whose tenure lasted from 1999 until his death in 2013.

The missiles, which are shoulder-mounted and can be operated by one person, pose a serious threat to commercial and military aircraft. Weapons experts said there have long been fears that the weapons could be stolen, sold or somehow channeled to the wrong hands, concerns exacerbated by the current civil unrest in Venezuela and the economic crisis roiling the oil-producing nation.

According to a Venezuelan military presentation, the South American country has 5,000 SA-24 Man-Portable Air-Defense System (MANPADS) missiles, also known as the Igla-S.

The document provides the most complete count to date of the size of the arms stockpile. Public weapons registries confirm the bulk of the numbers seen on the Venezuelan military presentation.

Venezuelan government and military officials did not respond to requests for comment about the report.

US Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo expressed concern about the Venezuelan missiles at a Senate hearing earlier this month, though he was clear that he had no evidence that arms transfers had taken place.

“This risk is incredibly real and serious ... to South America and Central America in addition to just in Venezuela,” Pompeo said.

“The situation in Venezuela continues to deteriorate. [Venezuelan President Nicolas] Maduro gets more desperate by the hour.”

The Venezuelan government has long mocked such claims as lies used to justify potential foreign aggression.

A former Venezuelan senior army general and minister, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the information, told Reuters the MANPADS missiles are held mainly on the coast due to government fears of a US attack.

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