Washington — The United States is selling Stinger antiaircraft missiles to Chad ``in response to the continued air threat from Libya,'' according to a Pentagon spokesman. The purchase is a ``complete package,'' the spokesman says, including appropriate training by US personnel.
The spokesman would not provide details on the number of missiles or the timing of delivery. However, reports from Chad say the Stingers will arrive within a month.
This is the first official sale of the Stinger to an African nation, though the US has reportedly provided Stingers clandestinely to the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA), a rebel group.
But the move comes in an atmosphere of growing concern at the Pentagon and in Congress that Stingers may be becoming too widely available. US officials say Iran captured as many as 30 US-supplied Stingers from Afghan resistance forces in a border skirmish in June.
The decision to sell the advanced missiles to Chad is a clear sign of US commitment to help Chad protect itself against Libya's Col. Muammar Qaddafi and reflects US determination to contain the Libyan leader, senior US officials say.
Over the past year, Chad's forces have driven Libyan troops from the northern third of Chad and late this summer began to move in the disputed Aozou strip that separates the two countries.
A tenuous cease-fire now exists. Reports from Chad indicate significant Libyan reinforcements moved to the border region and Libyan aircraft violating the truce by overflying Chad, US officials say. Both Libya and Chad are supposed to submit their claims to the disputed territory to an Organization of African Unity mediation group by Oct. 30, but Libya says it cannot meet the deadline.
Up to 11,000 Libyans have been killed or captured and about $2 billion in equipment lost in the fighting, informed officials estimate. However, Colonel Qaddafi retains a significant air advantage over Chad's desert fighters. That, US officials say, is why the US decided to provide the Stingers.
In addition, there is great concern in the administration and Congress that Qaddafi may be preparing to use chemical weapons against Chad and that such weapons would be an effective defense, according to well-informed sources.
However, Washington has no desire to replace France as Chad's primary military supplier and Western ally, US officials say.
US officials take Qaddafi very seriously and believe it quite possible that he could resort to such measures in an attempt to regain his lost honor against Chad, officials and specialists say. US policy toward Libya is to try to contain Qaddafi and weaken his regime, especially when he continues his foreign adventures and his support for international terrorism, a senior official adds.
Pentagon spokesmen would not say how the poor country of Chad will pay for the Stingers, but official and congressional sources say it may be paying with Soviet and East-bloc equipment captured from Libya.