The US Defense Department said Wednesday Aug. 24.that Libya's stockpile of chemical weapons is "secure" but that thousands of shoulder-launched missiles remain a cause for concern.
Asked if sites containing chemical weapons including over 10 tons of mustard gas were safe, Pentagon spokesman Col. Dave Lapan said: "Yes."
He declined to offer more details, only saying that "clearly those are dangerous agents and weapons… we continue to monitor that.”
Those answers did not cover all the facts.
1. Official American and British reports of the past seven years determined that Muammar Qaddafi was left without a single gram of mustard gas or container of nerve gas after he surrendered his nuclear, chemical and biological weapon stocks in December 2003 and Libya joined the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in 2004.
But suddenly, in March, after the uprising to remove him from power began, OPCW reported that Libya had 11.25 tonnes of illicit mustard gas, although all 3,563 munitions – such as bombs, shells and missiles – able to deliver mustard gas had been destroyed. This apparent anomaly was not explained.
2. DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military sources say that neither the Pentagon nor the OPCW appear to realize that while Qaddafi may indeed have destroyed all his illicit stocks in 2003, there was nothing to stop him going shopping for more on the black markets of the Middle East where these weapons are readily available, especially in Sudan and Sinai.
Libya's WMD arsenal on the loose?
American FOX News network reporters quoted Pentagon sources on Tuesday, Aug. 23 as telling a very different tale: No one, they said, 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 Muammar al-Qaddafi's downfall or afterward."
One immediate worry, U.S. intelligence and military officials said, is that Qaddafi might use the weapons for a last stand.
3. That same day, Olli Heinonen, for 27 years International Atomic Energy Agency inspector and currently a senior Fellow at Harvard University’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, gave this warning:
“Nuclear security concerns about Libya are still lingering. As a result of three decades of nuclear research and radioisotope production, Libya’s research center in Tajoura on the outskirts of Tripoli continues to stock large quantities of radioisotopes, radioactive wastes, and low-enriched uranium fuel.
"While we can be thankful that the highly enriched uranium stocks are no longer in Libya, the remaining material in Tajoura could, if it ended up in the wrong hands, be used as ingredients for dirty bombs. The situation at Tajoura today is unclear.”
Syria's Assad gives Qaddafi a broadcasting platform
The problem with Qaddafi’s WMD and his ability to make radioactive dirty bombs, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's sources point out, is not only that he could use them for terrorist attacks on NATO's Europe members or his enemies at home; he might transfer the materials and technology for building and detonating those bombs to Al Qaida in the Maghreb-AQIM as payment for carrying out terrorist attacks on Qaddafi's behalf.
His advanced anti-aircraft missiles could be another form of payment.
Gen. Carter Ham, head of the US Africa Command, estimated in April that Libya had some 20,000 shoulder-launched missiles. DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s military sources put the figure much higher, closer to 30,000. A thousand or two of these missiles handed over to AQIM would radically alter the strategic balance of the war on terror in Europe and the Middle East.
In Damascus, 2,190 kilometers east of Tripoli, Syrian President Bashar Assad is sure to be intently watching the events unfolding in Libya.
Wednesday, Aug. 24, he indicated for the first time where his sympathy was when he granted Qaddafi and his spokesman Moussa Ibrahim free use of the Al Orouba TV station as their platform for broadcasting messages and propaganda to the Libyan people. After Ibrahim warned the Libyan people that after overthrowing the regime, they now faced bloodshed and civil war, Qaddafi himself called on the tribes of Libya to fight against "foreign intervention."
Syria's Assad – more even than Qaddafi – will have no scruples about using WMD
The Syrian media followed up with an angry denunciation of the NATO assault on Libya, accusing the Western allies of being solely motivated by the urge to steal the Libyan people's oil and other natural resources.
Assad has clearly concluded that he is next in line for NATO's military intervention.
Monday, Aug. 23, the day Qaddafi's Bab al-Aziziya fortress fell to Libyan Western-led rebels, Syria made sure to disclose that Damascus had "deployed along its border with Turkey more than 25 vehicles with very advanced anti-aircraft capabilities.”
Our military sources take this as a reference to 10 batteries of Pantsir-S1 (NATO-coded SA-22 Greyhound), a Russian-made combined short-to-medium range surface-to-air missile and artillery weapon system which is also capable of intercepting cruise missiles.
If Qaddafi may be presumed to be willing to wield chemical weapons to ensure his survival, this presumption would apply many times over to the far more brutal Syrian ruler should an invading NATO or Turkey force put him to flight from Damascus.
Syria is one of a handful of states in possession of large stocks of weaponized chemicals ready for delivery by artillery shells and bombs. Those stocks are estimated to amount to tons of chemical agents and thousands of weapons.
According to CIA reports to Congress, they range from the blister gases used in World War I – such as mustard gas – to advanced nerve agents such as sarin and possibly persistent nerve agents, such as VX gas.
And so the Middle East is approaching the real peril that Arab rulers beset by their own people and NATO may use weapons of mass destruction to defeat their foes.
Qaddafi has no intention of ending his life on the gallows like Saddam Hussein and Assad will not scruple to use any means to avoid appearing on TV screens on a stretcher behind iron bars like Hosni Mubarak in Cairo.