Washington — Countering the proliferation in Libya of small arms and light weapons, including surface-to-air missiles, is a top U.S. national security priority, according to the State Department.
“The United States is actively engaged in international efforts to address security and humanitarian challenges from conventional weapons proliferation in Libya,” a State Department spokesman said July 18.
He said that in the current conflict arms storage depots have been left unsecured, arms and weapons such as “man-portable air defense systems” (MANPADS) have been looted, and the Libyan countryside is “littered with abandoned munitions, unexploded ordnance and land mines.”
Libya has faced widespread civil strife since a nonviolent February protest against the government was met with violent reprisals by longtime dictator Muammar Qadhafi. The international community responded quickly to stem the violence and assist the Libyan people, and on July 15 the United States and its allies recognized Libya’s Transitional National Council (TNC) as the country’s legitimate interim authority. This gives the group access to national funds held outside Libya and provides a major boost to government opponents’ campaign to depose Qadhafi.
The United States has pledged continued support for the country. The State Department says it has allocated $1.5 million from existing resources to two nongovernmental organizations, the Mines Advisory Group and the Swiss Foundation for Mine Action, to recruit and train local explosive ordnance disposal teams across Libya. The department has requested additional funding to extend projects through mid-2012, the spokesman said. He added that the United States is working with other governments and organizations, as well as the TNC, to support U.N. efforts to coordinate weapons-destruction activities.
The spokesman said that since 2003 U.S. cooperation with countries around the globe has led to the destruction of more than 32,500 excess, loosely secured, illicitly held or otherwise at-risk MANPADS in more than 30 countries. He also said the United States is the world’s leading provider of funding and support for conventional weapons destruction, having provided nearly $2 billion for clearance of unexploded munitions and land mines and to secure and dispose of excess or at-risk weaponry across 81 countries since 1993.
The State Department is leading an interagency partnership with the Defense Department, Homeland Security and other government agencies to address the threat of weapons proliferation in Libya.