NATO, which this week wrapped up the 7-month air and naval campaign in Libya that was instrumental in toppling Gadhafi, has struck an upbeat tone. NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said that while individual NATO members might be willing to help, he was confident Libyans could handle border controls and other security issues.
“The arms embargo … is still in place, so it’s the responsibility of all members of the U.N. to enforce the arms embargo,” Fogh Rasmussen said Thursday at a news conference in Brussels.
“It is possible for individual nations, including NATO allies, to assist the new authorities in Libya,” he said. “It follows from international law that the legitimate government of a country can ask other countries to help enforce an arms embargo or arms control.”
Paul Rogers, a professor of peace studies at England’s Bradford University, called Rasmussen’s optimism about Libya’s ability to control its borders alone “hugely premature.”
“NATO is frankly very reluctant to be involved as an organization. Any further substantive involvement could be problematic because of potential security problems and instability,” he said.
Boaz Ganor, an Israeli counter-terrorism expert, said it’s impossible to estimate how many anti-aircraft missiles have disappeared in Libya. “It’s enough that (just) dozens would fall into the hands of terror organizations, and we find ourselves in a new era of terror against aircraft,” he said.
But other security experts noted that shoulder-held anti-aircraft missiles, like all munitions, decay over time and that Libya is not the only black market source of such weapons.
“There is no shortage of this stuff (worldwide),” said John Pike of GlobalSecurity.org, a U.S.-based think tank.
For Libyans, disarming rebel fighters seems to be the most pressing problem, following a rash of personal score-settling by armed men from rival groups.
In one of the most serious incidents yet, fighters battled each other at Tripoli’s central hospital over two days this week. At one point, a gunman trying to finish off a wounded rival sneaked into an operating theater and managed to fire one shot before being disarmed, the hospital security chief said. The feud left one dead and five wounded.
Despite repeated announcements, the government has not begun to collect weapons. In Tripoli, pickup trucks with anti-aircraft guns and other heavy weapons mounted in the back are a common sight. Three young fighters used their vehicle recently to pick up pizza from a fast-food restaurant.
Rival military commanders jockeying for positions seem reluctant to be the first to disarm. Mukhtar al-Akhdar, a commander who captured Tripoli’s airport during the war and now controls it, said it’s not yet time to hand over weapons because the city remains insecure. Al-Akhdar, who commands several hundred fighters from the mountain town of Zintan, is one of several military chiefs who have carved out areas of control in the capital.
Pike said disarming Libyans will take time. “In times of insecurity, who would want to be the first person to hand over their weapons?” he said.
• Associated Press writers Aya Batrawy in Cairo, Victor Simpson in Rome, Slobodan Lekic in Brussels, Dale Gavlak in Amman, Jordan, Amy Teibel in Jerusalem, Mike Corder in Amsterdam and Juergen Baetz in Berlin contributed to this report.