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Secret Operation Eliminates Libya's Last Chemical Arms

Workers in protective suits hold a dummy grenade during a demonstration at a chemical-weapons disposal facility in Germany. German- and Swedish-trained Libyan personnel helped destroy the last of their country's chemical arms in a secret operation that concluded last week. Workers in protective suits hold a dummy grenade during a demonstration at a chemical-weapons disposal facility in Germany. German- and Swedish-trained Libyan personnel helped destroy the last of their country's chemical arms in a secret operation that concluded last week. (Philipp Guelland/AFP/Getty Images)

A Libyan-U.S. operation last week destroyed the last chemical arms from the stockpile of former dictator Muammar Qadhafi, the New York Times reports.

In a secret effort carried out over three months, Libyan personnel used mobile equipment to incinerate several hundred munitions loaded with deadly mustard blister agent, the newspaper said on Sunday. The Libyan participants first visited Germany and Sweden for training to prepare for the project.

The unpublicized activities concluded on Jan. 26 at a heavily secured location roughly 400 miles southeast of Tripoli. The surrounding area is thought to be falling under the sway of militants tied to al-Qaida, according to the Times.

Andrew Weber, assistant Defense secretary for nuclear, chemical and biological defense programs, said the disarmament milestone represents "the culmination of a major international effort to eliminate weapons of mass destruction from Libya and to ensure that they never fall into the hands of terrorists."

The U.S. Cooperative Threat Reduction initiative provided $45 million for a Defense Department-led effort to repair and secure a Libyan chemical-arms destruction facility damaged during Libya's 2011 revolution. Raids on the site did not affect any mustard agent sealed in storage tanks at the site, according to U.S. and international authorities.

Chemical-arms expert Paul Walker said the full destruction of the North African nation's chemical arms marks "a big breakthrough."

"Even though Libya’s chemical stockpile was relatively small, the effort to destroy it was very difficult because of weather, geography and because it’s a dangerous area with warring tribes, increasing the risks of theft and diversion," said Walker, director of environmental security and sustainability at Green Cross International.

The mission took place under the oversight of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the world's chemical-arms watchdog agency.

In prepared comments, OPCW Director General Ahmet Üzümcü said the chemical-arms elimination effort "was a major undertaking in arduous, technically challenging circumstances."

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