Transcript: Clinton’s responses to Sen. Ben Cardin’s question on the flow of weapons from Libya to neighboring countries in North Africa

Transcribed and edited by Jenny Jiang

Partial transcript of Q&A between Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the attacks against the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing was held on Jan. 23, 2013: 

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.):
…Benghazi was a tragedy. We all acknowledge that the loss of American lives, and we’ve also acknowledged the bravery of those people on the ground. They did extraordinary service and saved lives and that’s what they’re trained to do and we want to make sure that we acknowledge that.

Also, let me just point out that you have been very open with the committee. We had a hearing on Dec. 20 with your deputies and they provided all the information. You’re here today and we thank you very much for that.

I want to follow up on one area of northern Africa. You point out the risk factors we currently have in northern Africa. Algeria’s a reminder of the global security concerns. We do not know as Sen. Risch pointed out that the individuals who may have been involved in Libya may have been involved in Algeria. We don’t know that.

We do know there’s reports from the United Nations and others that weapons have gotten from Libya into Algeria, which points out our need as we look at transitions occurring in that region.

Syria – Assad’s not going to be there, we think, much longer. There’s a lot of weapons in Syria. Are we – do we have a strategy to make sure that as we go through transitions in countries that their weapons are – we’re mindful that these weapons are going to end up harming U.S. interests? It needs to be part of our strategy to make sure as we support alternative governments and the rebels that there is a strong priority in protecting the source of the weapons not ending up harming Americans or harming our interests.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:
Well, Senator, you’re absolutely right. One of the reasons that we and other government agencies were present in Benghazi is exactly that. We had a concerted effort to try to track down and find and recover as many MANPADS and other very dangerous weapons as possible.

Libya was awashed in weapons before the revolution. Obviously, there were additional weapons introduced. But the vast, vast majority came out of Qaddafi warehouses and as they were saying liberated and then went on the black market, were seized by militias, seized by other groups, and have made their way out of Libya into other countries in the region and have made their way to Syria, we believe.

It is a redline for this administration with respect to Syria concerning the use of chemical weapons. Syria, as you probably know, in addition to having the fourth largest army before this revolution has a very significant supply of chemical and biological weapons.

Given the instability in Syria right now, what we are trying to do is to coordinate closely with a number of like-minded nations, neighbors, and partners to be able to work – to try to prevent those from falling into the wrong hands – jihadist hands, Hezbollah hands – but also to try to work with the internal opposition for them to understand the dangers that are posed.

So this Pandora’s box, if you will, of weapons coming out of these countries in the Middle East and North Africa is the source of one of our biggest threats.

There’s no doubt that the Algerian terrorists had weapons from Libya. There’s no doubt that the Malian remnants of AQIM [Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb] have weapons from Libya.

So we just have to do a much better job – the final thing I would say about this is, you know, AFRICOM was set up about 10 years ago. I think a lot of people at the time wondered why would we have another command in the world and why in Africa. I now think we need to pay much more attention to AFRICOM, to its capacity inside Africa. It’s based in Stuttgart, Germany for all kinds of complicated logistical and political reasons. Carter Ham has been a very dedicated leader of AFRICOM during his time there. But we’re going to see more and more demands on AFRICOM and I think that’s something else the Senate and the House to address.


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