Wednesday, September 14, 2011

US to Deepen Its Intervention in Libya

Libya: US joins hunt for Col Gaddafi's missing missiles

The United States has joined the hunt for Col Gaddafi's missing supplies of surface-to-air missiles and even chemical weapons amid fears he may have taken them with him on the run, a senior official said on Wednesday.

By Richard Spencer, Tripoli
11:08PM BST 14 Sep 2011

Jeffrey Feltman, the US assistant secretary of state and the most senior international visitor to arrive in Tripoli since the fall of Col Gaddafi, said Washington was concerned about the spread of both conventional and non-conventional weapons.

He said he had people working "quietly" with the National Transitional Council particularly on the hunt for surface-to-air missiles, of which more than 15,000 are said to be unaccounted for from Col Gaddafi's weapons dumps, and chemical weapon precursors.

"It's a potential risk not only to Libya but to the region," he said.

The rebel military official in charge of securing Tripoli International Airport told The Daily Telegraph yesterday his men were scouring an area of more than 30 kilometres for missing weapons.

The Libyan authorities and their western backers are nervous about allowing the airport to reopen to scheduled passenger flights until they can be sure there can be no threat from any SAMS still in the area. There is also the fear that they may be sold to terrorist groups who could use them to target civilian planes anywhere.

"The policy of Gaddafi was to scatter these missiles through civilian homes," the commander, Mukhtar al-Akdar, said. "We have great difficulty when we try to collect them as some of the local people are very pro-Gaddafi."

He said he had cleared "70-80 per cent" of the relevant area and found a number of SAMS already.

Col Gaddafi is thought to have fled down the airport road out of Tripoli as his troops were driven out of the city three days after his compound, Bab al-Azizia, fell into rebel hands.

Mr al-Akdar said a last-ditch assault on the airport at the time might have been cover for his exit.

Col Gaddafi and his chief spokesman, Moussa Ibrahim, both sent messages to the world from their hiding places on Wednesday.

"The leader is in good health, in high morale – of course he is in Libya," Mr Ibrahim said. "The fight is as far away from the end as the world can imagine. We are still very powerful, our army is still powerful, we have thousands upon thousands of volunteers."

Col Gaddafi sent a message through his last remaining regular media outlet, a Syrian-based television station, demanding protection for the people of Sirte, his birthplace, which is now under siege from rebel forces.

"If Sirte is isolated from the rest of the world in order for atrocities to be committed against it, then the world has a duty not to be absent and you have to take your international responsibility and intervene immediately to stop this crime," he said in a letter addressed to the United Nations Security Council.

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