Tuesday, October 18, 2011

U.S. Puts High Priority on Rounding Up Gadhafi's Weapons

Even as the Libyan rebels battle for control of the remaining Gadhafi-loyalist strongholds, the U.S. and NATO allies are engaged in swift and serious programs aimed at destroying the regimes' weapons before they get into the hands of arms dealers or terrorists.

Stealthy Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, on the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Tripoli since the government of Moammar Gadhafi was overthrown, revealed today the deep concern the Obama administration has for loose arms, including shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missiles and chemical weapons.

"We will stay focused on security: I am pleased to announce that we are going to put even more money into helping Libya secure and destroy dangerous stockpiles of weapons," Clinton said. 

"And the Administration, working with Congress, is going to provide $40 million to support this effort. We will also work with Libya to destroy chemical weapons stocks, she added.

Moammar Gadhafi had about 20,000 shoulder-fired, surface-to-air missiles before NATO warplanes and missiles starting taking them out, according to U.S. intelligence estimates. The U.S. wants to corral the shoulder-launched missiles that were not destroyed in the revolution or captured by the anti-Gadhafi forces.

Eventually, the U.S. and NATO will want the TNC to account for weapons on both sides of the revolution.

The U.S. already has invested about $6 million, putting arms-disposal experts on the ground in Libya to track and round up conventional weapons, and funding to two European mine-clearing operations.

The U.S. will oversee the decommissioning and safe storage of weapons in "a months-long effort," Assistant Secretary of State for political-military affairs Andrew Shapiro announced late last month.

"We’re going to continue until the new government of Libya is able to manage the stockpiles on their own," Shapiro said.

On the political front, Clinton, who met with Transitional National Council Chairman Mustafa Abdel Jalil, provisional Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril and provisional Finance and Oil Minister Ali Tarhouni, called for clean elections within eight months.

"There are many people who say they support elections, but only if they get elected. They want one election, one time, and then if they are elected no more elections," Clinton told reporters, during a visit that had remained a secret until she arrived in Tripoli.

"So these are all the kinds of challenges that Libyans will face in putting together their democracy. But people must renounce violence, they must give up arms, they must be committed to a democracy that respects the rights of all," Clinton emphasized.

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