While it is impossible to measure the exact role that Libya’s revolution and the ensuing security vacuum played in the recent unrest, analysts say that without the arrival of Libyan weapons and trained fighters, it would have been far more difficult for Mali’s extremist groups to seize control of the country’s vast desert north.

“The weapons proliferation that we saw coming out of the Libyan conflict was of a scale greater than any previous conflict — probably 10 times more weapons than we saw going on the loose in places like Iraq, Somalia and Afghanistan,” said Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director at New York-based Human Rights Watch, who documented the disappearance of weapons from Gaddafi’s arsenals during the war…

Bouckaert recalled conversations with U.S. government contractors whose top priority was surface-to-air missiles, often referred to as man-portable air-
defense systems, or MANPADs. Their eyes “glazed over,” he said, when the topic shifted to the flow of the kinds of machine guns and other small arms that have since appeared in footage of extremist groups in northern Mali.

“The international community failed to act effectively to stop that kind of proliferation,” Bouckaert added.