SIDI BIN NUR, Libya - A top U.S. official said Dec. 11 that a team of U.S. and Libyan bomb-disposal specialists has secured about 5,000 surface-to-air missiles stockpiled during the regime of Moammar Gadhafi.
"We have identified, disbanded and secured more than 5,000 MANPADS (Man-Portable Air Defense Systems), while thousands more have been destroyed during NATO bombing," Andrew Shapiro, assistant secretary of state for political and military affairs told a group of reporters.
Dozens of these missiles were detonated in the sea, off the coast of Sidi Bin Nur village, east of Tripoli, as Shapiro, one a one-day visit to Libya, witnessed the event from the shore.
A joint U.S. and Libyan team of bomb-disposal experts has been working for several months now to find these missing missiles which are seen as potential threat to civil aviation. Gadhafi had a stockpile of 20,000 shoulder-fired missiles before the revolt against him broke out in February.
"We are working side by side with the TNC to reduce the threat of these loose weapons," Shapiro said after talks in Tripoli with officials from the ruling National Transitional Council, the interior and defense ministries.
There is a "serious concern about the threat posed by MANPADS ... about the potential threat MANPADS can pose to civil aviation. However our efforts witht he NTC to reduce these threats are already paying off."
Shapiro said contractors on the ground were still in the process of assessing how many missiles are still missing. Libya, under Gadhafi, was reportedly the country with the biggest stock of MANPADS outside of nations that produce these weapons.
The missiles, mainlySAM-7, were acquired in the 1970s and 1980s.
Shapiro said the United States has already spent $6 million in its efforts to secure these weapons.