By Jamie Crawford
The effort to secure loose, portable weapons in Libya continues, but there is "no firm evidence" that any weapons have traveled outside Libyan borders, a senior State Department official said Monday.
"We are continuing our efforts to categorize and assess how many weapons are still at large," said Andrew Shapiro, assistant secretary for political-military affairs. Shapiro was speaking at an event to highlight a report about U.S. efforts to rid the world of land mines and excess arms and munitions.
At issue is the ongoing effort in Libya to secure the roughly 20,000 portable air-defense systems (MANPADS), shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles that were believed to have been held by the regime of the late Moammar Gadhafi. There is a fear the weapons could pose a serious potential threat to global aviation if they fell into the hands of terrorists or insurgents.
The United States has been working with the transitional government in Libya to take as many weapons out of the hands of the various militia groups in Libya to avoid their sale on the black market elsewhere.
Approximately 5,000 such weapons have been secured to date, Shapiro said.
The 20,000 figure was based on what the administration believes the Gadhafi regime had attained since the 1970s Shapiro said.
"We don't know how many they used during their training, how many were no longer serviceable, but that's based on our review of shipping receipts and other things that we have obtained, our best estimate of how many they have," Shapiro said.
"As we go through these bunkers that were bombed, we may discover additional information that indicates that some of them were used during training or had been destroyed or are no longer serviceable. So that was the high-end number that we had of how many the Gadhafi regime had obtained since the 1970s," he said.
The mitigation of such threats is of "paramount concern" in Libya, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said at the same event. Clinton said the United States has been working with Libyan authorities to inspect known storage sites of MANPADS since the early days of the NATO-led effort to protect Libyan civilians from attacks by Gadhafi's forces.
"We are now working together to inventory these stockpiles and destroy" those weapons that exceed Libya's defense needs, she said.
Updating reporters on his recent visit to Libya, Shapiro said, "Thus far we have not seen any firm evidence that (the weapons) have left the country, but we are obviously very concerned about it, and that's why we have such a substantial effort on the ground in Libya to work with the Libyan authorities to secure these weapons."
Shapiro said the United States believes that "perhaps thousands" of MANPADS were destroyed during the NATO bombing campaign, and the rest are mostly held by various Libyan militia groups who looted the stockpiles of Gadhafi forces following Gadhafi's ouster from power.
The United States is working with the Libyan government to persuade militia members to turn these weapons in and take them out of circulation, Shapiro said. In addition, inspection teams across Libya are visiting sites that were bombed by NATO to get an idea of how many weapons were destroyed. Both efforts were a subject of Shapiro's discussions with Libyan officials during his visit last week, he said.
Both Clinton and Shapiro spoke at event to release the 10th annual "To Walk the Earth in Safety" report. The report summarizes the actions and accomplishments of the U.S. Conventional Weapons Destruction Program, including the U.S. Humanitarian Mine Action Program, the most extensive effort to help countries safely dispose of land mines and excess arms and munitions.
Since 1993, the United States committed nearly 1.9 billion dollars for the safe disposal of small arms, light weapons, munitions and land mines and other unexploded ordnance in 81 countries, the report said.