By CNN Pentagon Correspondent Barbara Starr
NATO has begun high level internal discussions on how to protect Libya’s mustard gas supplies if the stockpile suddenly was deemed to no longer be secure, an Obama administration official tells CNN. At this point the effort is considered “prudent planning” only, the official said, but this is the first indication the international community could be prepared to secure the stockpile currently at the Rabta site south of Tripoli.
The mustard gas is not weaponized and would be difficult to use in any immediate attack. But much of the concern is that material could be diverted or sold to third parties such as terrorist groups.
The U.S. is involved in the safeguard discussions, but there is no current consideration of sending U.S. troops the official said.
The State Department said known weapon storage sites in Libya remain secure. "We believe that these known missile and chemical agent storage facilities remain secure, and we've not seen any activity, based on our national technical means, to give us concern that they have been compromised," State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Wednesday. "But that monitoring will continue."
The focus of the planning effort is what to do “if a force of some type is needed to secure the site,” he said. “The discussion is: who is best suited to do it?” Any force could include both military personnel as well as intelligence or contractor personnel with the technical expertise in monitoring chemical stockpiles. A NATO official said if there is a need to send personnel to Rabta it might be done by individual nations rather than the alliance which would have to reach a consensus on sending NATO forces on a new mission.
At the moment no one has publicly said whether Gadhafi’s forces or rebel forces are in control of Rabta, although U.S. officials have said for days they believe the stockpile is secure. The discussions have accelerated in recent days as the regime began to collapse
“We are watching the chemical weapons and SCUD missiles to make sure they are not used in the endgame,” a senior NATO official told CNN.