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Unfortunately, the more likely threat will not come from some rogue, leftover element of Gaddafi’s regime, but rather from the triumphant, Western-backed Libyan Transnational National Council (TNC).
The TNC and its splinter affiliates are littered with Islamists, al-Qaeda insurgents, criminals and former Gaddafi loyalists, many of whom have been regularly running weapons out of Libya since the uprising first began in February.
So while NATO wishes to work with the TNC to secure the remaining deadly weapon caches as quickly as possible to prevent them from being smuggled to al-Qaeda and other terror organizations throughout the region, the TNC’s past track record indicates that aim to be nothing more than wishful thinking.
As far back as April 2011 Libya was being called an “open-air-arms market” by Algerian officials who noted that convoys of pickup trucks filled with weapons were making their way through southern Libya into Chad, across Niger and into northern Mali before being delivered to al-Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
Those shipments were reported to contain shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles, anti-tank rocket-propelled grenades, Kalashnikov heavy machine guns, Kalashnikov rifles, and explosives. The delivery of those weapons has helped AQIM to launch in recent months a series of battles with security forces in Algeria, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.
As Algeria’s Foreign Minister Abdelkader Messahel said, “It’s serious. They are reinforcing themselves with arms coming from Libya. These are already countries which are weak and this is weakening them even more.”
Perhaps most disturbing was that soon after rebels seized control of the eastern city of Benghazi and its weapons arsenal in March 2011, Libyan rebels reportedly sold for several million dollars 2,000 artillery shells carrying mustard gas and 1,200 nerve gas shells to both Hamas and Hezbollah.
Even the Obama administration admitted, however belatedly, the threat posed by the nefarious activities being conducted by the Libyan rebels. In May 2011 it notified Congress that it planned to spend $1.5 million to reestablish control of Libyan surface-to-air missiles and collect, control, and destroy conventional weapons and munitions. In its report, the administration stated, “Terrorist groups are exploiting this opportunity, and the situation grows more dangerous with each passing day.”
In fact that threat was recently unveiled in reports from Israeli military intelligence that a flood of weaponry from Libya continues to be smuggled into Gaza through the tunnels at Rafah. According to one Israeli military official, “Some of the weaponry coming from Iran enters Gaza by sea but all of the weapons from Libya are passing into Gaza by land, through the tunnels from Egypt.”
Yet, while many remain anxious as to the threat posed by the Libyan rebels to the future peace and security of the region, those concerns aren’t shared by TNC leader Mustafa Abdel Jalil. As he said recently, once Gaddafi is finally deposed, our forces “will put down their arms as soon as this conflict ends, and they will go back to being productive civilians.”
Hopefully, that productivity doesn’t include the continued proliferation of deadly chemical and conventional weapons.
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