Western leaders are racing to secure fugitive strognman Muammar Qaddafi's stockpiles of weapons - which have been abandoned for the taking, agencies report.
Reporters in Libya, especially the suburbs of Tripoli, report stacks of unguarded wooden boxes laden ten or fifteen deep filled with Semtex - the same high-explosive Qaddafi supplied to terrorists around the globe over the years - and bags of grenades lying about.
A former supply officer in Qaddafi's army told reporters last week that it had 15 millions light arms - Kalashnikov and FN rifles and Beretta sub-machine guns - even before the rebels brought in their own weapons.
In another compound nearby, whose gate was left open, stood a warehouse containing hundreds of boxes of rocket-propelled grenades and tank shells, also unguarded.
Not to mention Qaddafi's stories of chemical weapons - including mustard and Sarin gas - whose unknown disposition has created unease in among security officials on both sides of the Atlantic.
This, combined with reports of Libyan arms appearing in the hands of Hamas, Hizbullah, and Somali gangs has led lawmakers in Washington to question the Obama administration's seemingly casual posture on the issue.
Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee called on the United States to be “more involved” in ensuring that Moammar Gadhafi’s stockpiles of weapons did not fall into the hands of terrorist organizations.
“I would like us to be more involved,” Rogers who appeared on CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday with Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee.
“And I'm not talking about boots on the ground or big military. We need to use our special capabilities that really only the United States has to secure, account for those weapons and render them safe. And we need to do it now,” he added.
“I will tell you al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations identified by the State are very interested in getting their hands on those missile systems, other weapons, even the chemical stockpile precursors,” cautioned Rogers. “All of that we know is happening. The race is on. This is a race we should win. We shouldn't debate if we need to have special capabilities on the ground there to take care of that particular problem.”
Lieberman said that the US was working closely with rebel forces to ensure the safety and security of Qaddafi’s weapon stockpiles.
“We're working with them to try to secure both the mustard gas and the munitions that I worry would fall otherwise in the hand of enemies of the U.S., including terrorists,” he said.
Sen. Lieberman and Rep. Rogers stressed that the next month was critical for the post-Qaddafi regime transition government. Rogers said it was important they focused on “establishment of governance and trying to avoid an insurgency.”
But observers note a heavily-armed insurgency loyal to the elusive Qaddafi already exists, pointing to the fact that Qaddafi hold-outs still control the key coastal towns of Sirte and Bani Walid - as well as the vital water pipelines that keep Tripoli alive.
And while rebel leaders insist that "Libya is not Iraq" the potential for destabilizing guerrilla war was already high due to the huge number of weapons present in the country.
Indeed, the rebel’s decision to assault Bani Walid – where Qaddafi and son Saif Al-Islam were reported to have been recently – comes as conditions in Tripoli remain desperate amid a precarious transition of power in critical need of calm.
The prospect of a long insurgency with disruptions in water, electricity, and food shipments has put a damper on the initial euphoria and declarations of victory the mainstream media raced after as rebels stormed Qaddafi's compound.
And with weapons to trade, Qaddafi has the means to hire foreign mercenaries and experienced terrorists to wage his guerilla war on the rebels who ousted him, ensuring they know no peace so long as life pulses in his veins.
Qaddafi seems intent to make good on his declaration, “Let Libya burn!”