Libya's interim government on Tuesday disclosed it had taken control of two chemical weapons storage sites that had not been declared by the former regime of longtime dictator Muammar Qadhafi, Agence France-Presse reported (see GSN, Nov. 1).
Libya agreed in 2003 to shutter its WMD programs. Tripoli the next year joined the Chemical Weapons Convention, which required the Qadhafi regime to declare and eliminate all stocks of chemical warfare materials and precursor substances.
Qadhafi declared a chemical weapons site at al-Jafra but went to lengths to keep the other two sites secret from the international community, according to the nation's new leadership.
One of the reportedly undeclared locations holds chemical arms "ready for immediate military use," said Libyan specialist Yussef Safi ad-Din, who has been charged with managing the nation's leftover chemical warfare materials. The expert said the two secret facilities have been "securitized" and do not represent a health danger to the public.
The Qadhafi regime in 2010 began destroying its declared stockpile of roughly 25 metric tons of mustard blister agent under the supervision of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. Tripoli years earlier seemingly gave up the ability to use the material in an aerial attack when it disposed of thousands of empty munitions. When fighting broke out in February, the regime only had 9.5 metric tons of mustard gas left to destroy in addition to hundreds of tons of chemical weapon precursor material, according to OPCW-provided figures.
NATO and Libyan opposition forces were concerned during the conflict that regime loyalists would seek to use the mustard agent. To prevent this, NATO secretly dispatched personnel to work with opposition specialists to closely monitor the toxic material. That task force based at Benghazi "was directed by [deceased] Gen. Abdel Fatah Yunes," said ad-Din, who participated in the group.
"The first stage was to maintain surveillance of the chemical arms which Qadhafi controlled, and prevent him from using them," the technician said.
"The second step was to take control of all the chemical sites. Our forces conquered them one by one," ad-Din stated.
Those efforts prevented regime fighters from being able to employ the mustard agent against opposition forces or civilians, said Qadhafi's former head of interior security, Mansur Daou.
"Qadhafi had quickly abandoned the idea of using chemical weapons, the Americans were watching over them from too near. We could not get near them" without risking a NATO air attack, Daou said.
The Benghazi-based task force also took charge of monitoring a small amount of radioactive materials, including cobalt 60, that could have been employed to manufacture a radiological "dirty bomb." Such a weapon would use conventional explosives to disperse radioactive material.
Gas masks were handed out to a large number of opposition troops -- in excess of 10,000 in May alone at Misrata, which was under siege for several months, AFP reported.
Currently, a unit located in Waddan and comprised of U.S. and Libyan personnel is handling the chemical materials issues. The U.S. agents, though, would not discuss their work with reporters.
"It's the CIA," a high-ranking Libyan military officer said of the U.S. officials.
The task force is keeping a close eye on the one declared chemical arms site and the two other facilities, Libyans told AFP.
"Three weeks ago, the car of two fighters was destroyed by a [NATO] airstrike as they got too near the bunkers containing the gas" at Waddan, but no one was injured in the attack, said Ahmed Misrati.
Stun weapons have also bee utilized to keep opposition forces away from the area, ad-Din said (Agence France-Presse/al-Arabiya, Nov. 1).