Libya's stockpile of mustard gas concerns U.S. military

The United States military and intelligence officials are concerned about stockpiles of mustard gas, which come close to 14 tons, and precursor chemicals in Libya as the North African country progresses toward a civil war.

“Obviously, the security of the Libyan stockpile of chemical weapons is a concern,” a U.S. intelligence official said, according to the Washington Times.

Analysts believe around 14 tons of mustard gas have yet to be destroyed since Libya announced the dismantling of their mass destruction program in 2003. This concern comes on the heels of violence in Tripoli as Moammar Gadhafi’s forces attacked protesters with heavy arms, the Washington Times reports.

“You could see a scenario where Gadhafi takes troops away from these [stockpiles],” a Senate aid monitoring the Libyan situation said, the Washington Post reports. “He could be pulling his security forces off of his missions, and bring them to Tripoli and Benghazi and other towns he needs to secure to hold on to his regime and, as a result, these facilities will be unguarded.”

Mustard gas is highly toxic and consists of sulfuric compounds that can burn and blister exposed skin. It was used first in World War I and it can cause external and internal bleedings and disrupt digestion and breathing. It was banned under the 1925 Geneva Protocol and the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention.

While Libya has apparently destroyed their means to deliver this weapon, there are still definite worries.  

“This is still a major concern because there are terrorists who may want to get their hands on these weapons and, given the current state of chaos in the country, we need to be worried these chemical agents could fall into the wrong hands,” Jamie Fly, executive director of the Foreign Policy Initiative, said, according to the Washington Post.