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With Gaddafi’s regime near total collapse, fears have arisen over the fate of Gaddafi’s remaining stockpile of deadly weapons. Unfortunately, given the large amount of weapons already run out of the country by Libyan rebels, the answer is both clear and unsettling.
While Libyan rebels control most of Tripoli, Gaddafi’s regime still clings to life. American and allied officials are still uncertain as to who is currently in control of an arsenal that contains a deadly mix of conventional and chemical weapons, as well as raw nuclear material.
Moreover, while the Libyan Transnational National Council (TNC) is the officially recognized governing authority, enormous doubts exist as to its ability or even willingness to help secure those weapons.
The conventional weaponry in question includes Scud-B missiles, thousands of light and heavy weapons and some 30,000 shoulder-fired rockets. The potential loss of the shoulder-fired missiles is particularly disturbing given they are very portable, hard to detect and require minimal training. According to a senior policy analyst at the Rand Corp., they make an “ideal terrorist weapon,” especially when targeted against a civilian airliner.
Unfortunately, the exodus of shoulder-fired rockets has already begun. In April 2011 General Carter Ham, commander of the US Africa Command, testified to Congress that of all the tens of thousands of surface-to-air missiles in Libya when the NATO operation began, “many of those, we know, are now not accounted for.”
Equally disturbing is that Libya, which joined the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in 2004, has reportedly still not destroyed all its chemical weapons. According to OPCW inspectors, when the uprising began in February 2011, Libya had only destroyed half of its mustard gas stockpiles. As such, approximately 11 tons of the deadly gas still remain, most held at facilities in Rabta, south of Tripoli
Furthermore, while OPCW inspectors sealed the depots containing the nerve agent when they left the country when fighting first broke out, OPCW officials say until its staff can get back into Libya they have no way of knowing if the security of those facilities has been compromised.
Finally, 1,000 tons of uranium powder, as well as large quantities of radioisotopes and radioactive waste, reportedly still remain in the Libyan city of Tajoura. According to Olli Heinonen, a former weapons inspector with the International Atomic Energy Agency, “if it [materials] ended up in the wrong hands, it could be used as ingredients for dirty bombs.”
However, at the present time American and NATO officials say that information gleaned from satellites and drones on the status of Libya’s chemical and nuclear stockpiles indicates them to be in control of what remnants are still left in the Libyan government.
Yet, some fear that news raises the disturbing specter that those weapons may be still used by some loyal Gaddafi holdouts in one last ditch effort to save the regime. As British Foreign Secretary William Hague has warned, “You can’t anticipate everything the Gaddafi regime will do. They are a vicious regime. They are in their death throes.”
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