Thursday, August 25, 2011

Libya's chemical weapons and raw nuclear materials, a grave concern

Although the Libyan government agreed to give up its WMD program in 2003, not long after the US invasion of Iraq, and although the remaining supply of highly-enriched uranium was removed from Libya in 2009, concerns still remain as to who controls the government's weapons stockpiles:
No one can be sure who controls the Libyan government's weapons stockpiles, a stew of deadly chemicals, raw nuclear material and some 30,000 shoulder-fired rockets that officials fear could fall into terrorists' hands in the chaos of Moammar Gadhafi's downfall or afterward.

One immediate worry, U.S. intelligence and military officials say, is that Gadhafi might use the weapons to make a last stand. But officials also face the troubling prospect that the material, which was left under Gadhafi's control by a U.S.-backed disarmament pact, could be obtained by al-Qaida or other militants even after a rebel victory is secured.

The main stockpile of mustard gas and other chemicals, stored in corroding drums, is at a site southeast of Tripoli. Mustard gas can cause severe blistering and death. A cache of hundreds of tons of raw uranium yellowcake is stored at a small nuclear facility east of the capital.

U.S. and allied officials say chemical and nuclear stockpiles appear to be still under the control of what's left of the Libyan government despite rebel military advances into the capital. That may or may not be reassuring. It depends on whether Gadhafi loyalists, increasingly desperate, adhere to international agreements not to use or move the material.

The State Department has also sent experts to Libya to confer with rebel leaders and Libya's neighbors about abiding by those same compacts and beefing up border security to prevent weapons from being smuggled out.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Tuesday the U.S. is working to ensure that "the governing forces in Libya have full command and control of any WMD or any security assets that the state might have had."...

"There are still going to be a lot of Gadhafi loyalists who could hijack the weapons supplies and use them for an insurgency like Iraq," said Democratic Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland, a member of the House Intelligence Committee.

And if the material goes unguarded, it could be seized by al-Qaida militant sympathizers, he said in an interview Tuesday. "A single rocket can do damage," he said, recalling the downing of a Chinook helicopter Aug. 5 in Afghanistan from a rocket-propelled grenade fired by the Taliban, killing all 38 troops on board...

There are still some 500 to 900 metric tons of raw uranium yellowcake stored in drums at Libya's lone nuclear reactor, east of Tripoli. The supply is less of a worry for U.S. officials because it requires heavy industrial refining and enrichment before it could be used as an explosive. But it could be sold for a large profit to those more capable of building a nuclear weapon...

The remaining mustard agent is stored inside a domed concrete bunker a few hundred miles south of Tripoli... The most pressing matter is to make sure the mustard gas does not end up on the black market or with terrorists. Stored in canisters that showed signs of corrosion during a 2006 visit by American officials, the chemicals could be easily moved.
Hence, although, Nuland, the State Department spokeswoman, has been quoted by Reuters as saying that the "mustard agent is stored... inside massive steel containers within heavy bunkers that have been sealed by an independent international organization", and that, the State Dept. believes the containers "remain secure," this matter, despite Nuland's lame reassurances, should be of grave concern for the US - although the Golfer-in Chief is probably more concerned with the threat being posed by America's nuclear weapons and armament supply....

Many of these Libyan rebels previously joined up with the Iraqi insurgency and participated in attacks against US troops. Whether these rebels eventually become part of new government or not, ultimately these weapons supply could end up in their hands, and/or Al Qaeda's hands, and that is not a very sobering thought...