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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Tarhuna / Tarhunah [Pharma 300]

Libya has experienced major setbacks to its chemical warfare program at the Tarhunah underground facility [aka Tarhuna]. CW-related activities at the Tarhuna site are believed to be suspended. According to one account, the complex consists of a labyrinth of tunnels in the side of a mountain, and is said to extend over six square miles. Another account suggests that the facility was designed to minimize its vulnerability to air attack, with twin tunnels 200-450 feet long protected by 100 feet of sandstone above the tunnels and a lining of reinforce concrete.

After the media attention at Rabta, Libya shifted its emphasis to construction of an underground chemical warfare facility at Tarhunah, southeast of Tripoli. By late 1993 Qadhafi was continuing Libya's chemical weapons program in defiance of international efforts to ban chemical weapons production, stockpiling and use. Qadhafi turned to private contractors from Thailand and other countries to construct facilities for storing a variety of chemical weapons, including nerve gases. In late 1993 the government of Thailand moved to prevent its citizens from assisting Libya's chemical weapons build-up. The United States welcomed this action by the Thai government.

In 1996 the US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) reported that Libya was building a chemical weapons plant that, when completed, could pose "a potential threat" to the whole international community. Libya was in the process of building a chemical weapons production facility below ground at Tarhunah, some 60 kilometers southeast of Tripoli. While the chemical plant was not yet operational, DIA estimated it could be in another year and would then pose "a potential threat." The Tarhunah facility appeared to be the same size as Libya's Rabta chemical facility.

Asked on 11 April 1996 about the US capability to deal with the Tarhunah facility, the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Army Lieutenant General Patrick Hughes, Hughes said the United States could deal adequately with such a facility if it should become necessary. Asked to explain further, Ashton Carter, assistant secretary of defense for international security policy, said, "We are exploring a variety of military techniques."

On 26 April 1996 Secretary of Defense William Perry spoke about this very forthrightly in a speech on nuclear non-proliferation issues at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama. He said that "preventive action to keep the Libya plant from coming on line is something that can be done first through diplomacy. We've made a -- we have a good period of time in which we can apply that diplomacy including coercive diplomacy. If that fails, then we can consider military actions. That would not need to be and I would never recommend nuclear weapons for that particular application. So any application that we would use, any implication that we would use nuclear weapons for that purpose is just wrong." This raised some anguish among arms control advocates that the United States might use nuclear weapons in response to a chemical attack. And it raised the question of whether or not the United States might use a nuclear weapon to destroy the Tarhunah facility given that there was no conventional weapon yet to be able to do that. It was later clarified that "any implication that we would use nuclear weapons against this plant preemptively is just wrong."

The US launched a diplomatic effort to prevent that plant from being built. That involved talking to neighboring countries, to bring it to the attention of NATO allies, and publicizing the fact that the plant is being built.

In response to international attention, Qadhafi claimed that Tarhunah was part of the Great Manmade River Project, a nationwide irrigation effort. The pipeline runs through the Tarhuna mountain, and analysts speculated that the tunnel system would be an extension of Tarhuna. It could provide Gadhafi with more places to store his chemical and biological weapons, protecting them from destruction or detection by overhead surveillance.

Libya's agricultural sector is a top governmental priority. Hopes are that the Great Man Made River (GMR), a five-phase, $30-billion project to bring water from underground aquifers beneath the Sahara to the Mediterranean coast, will reduce the country's water shortage and its dependence on food imports. The GMR involves thousands of kilometers of canals and piping and hundreds of wells to serve irrigation and domestic and industrial water supply in Benghazi and Sirte areas of Libya. Groundwater resources in the North are mainly found in the Nubian Sandstone aquifer, a massive non-renewable source of water thought to have been deposited 15,000 years ago as the result of glaciation in north and central Europe. This aquifer is shared by four countries: Libya, Egypt, Chad and the Sudan. There is some concern that the Great Man-Made River project may increase the demand for these waters and possibly lead to trans-boundary conflicts among the States concerned.

On 26 May 1996 Gaddafi, on a visit in Cairo, told Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak that US photographs of an alleged underground chemical weapons plant near Tripoli were faked. In late May 1996 Egyptian inspectors reported that there was nothing menacing going on in the mountain at Tarhuna.

The issue arose again in a February 1997 Senate hearing.

Senator COCHRAN. " ... at Tarhuna, there is concern about ... an effort to develop a weapon of mass destruction of some kind, chemical, who knows what. There was a question asked of an assistant to the secretary of defense for nuclear, chemical and biological defense, April of last year [ie, 1996]; Dr. Harold Smith was the witness. He said when he was asked do we have a weapon that we could use if we felt it was in our security interest to destroy that facility, recalling that Israel took a similar action when Iraq was developing what it considered to be a nuclear capability, and they took out a plant, Dr. Smith said ''We could not take it out of commission using strictly conventional weapons.'' Now, I assume from his answer that we might be able to take it out of commission if we used some kind of weapon, and the only kind of weapon I think we would have would be a nuclear weapon. So, it would seem that the capability to destroy a target like that may be a reason to have nuclear weapons in our arsenal. If our security we were threatened by the development of a weapons of mass destruction production facility, this capability is something that we would like to have...."

Mr. PERLE. Well, I think it is likely that a nuclear weapon of sufficient size could destroy even that plant, and so I for that and for other reasons would not wish to give up nuclear weapons, but I do think that we should be working hard at developing a conventional capability to attack and destroy targets of that nature. I believe that we have the component technologies to do that... "

As of December 1997 the US Government assessment was that the Tarhunah facility was never functional there and the construction activity had ceased.

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Page last modified: 24-07-2011 04:45:43 ZULU