The government relies on groups outside of the formal armed forces and police to support local security, including auxiliary forces such as the Libyan Shield Forces and the Supreme Security Committee (SSC), revolutionary coalitions, and armed groups associated with the government. The government exerted varying degrees of control over these armed groups. Islamist and other militias are willing to use force to get what they want. Everyone has weapons and to a certain extent everyone is using them to make demands but Islamist-aligned thuwar (warrior) groups are definitely willing to take matters into their own hands when they feel political matters are not going their way.
By late 2013, more than 200-thousand militiamen roamed Libyan cities and towns. While they were paid by Libya’s Interior Ministry they answered to local commanders who represent competing tribal and regional interests. Until individuals and groups agree to empower and submit to the authority of a central government and lay down their weapons, power continued to be loosely fragmented amongst revolutionary brigades. The militias form a parallel state and that if the elected government is to survive, it needs to curb their power – no small feat when Libya had yet to form a national army or a functioning police force since Gadhafi’s ouster.
A major challenge facing the National Transitional Council was the consolidation of security, particularly in Tripoli, where there were a large number of armed revolutionary “brigades”. This challenge has been heightened by several confrontations that took place among various “brigades” during the last week of October 2011 and early November, which resulted in the deaths of several fighters and the wounding of police officers.
To address these challenges, the new authorities moved to bring the responsibility for the security situation in Tripoli under the umbrella of a Supreme Security Committee comprising three National Transitional Council members, pending the appointment of the new interim Government. Elsewhere in the country, local and military councils in a number of towns have taken initiatives to integrate existing revolutionary “brigades” into the structure of their military councils.
There was a growing acknowledgement of the need for a gradual redeployment of brigades away from population centers, in parallel with agreed mechanisms being put in place to provide security in major cities and towns. There was broad consensus that all heavy weaponry must be removed from city centers immediately; this would be followed by light arms collections, as well as decisions regarding the future of the revolutionary fighters. Options under consideration included integration into the police and armed forces, an assisted return to civilian life, or possible reorganization as border protection forces or security companies charged with securing public facilities and oil installations.
By early 2012 the results in the area of demobilization of revolutionary fighters and control of their weapons were “mixed”. The interim mechanism called the Supreme Security Committee, with some 60,000 to 70,000 fighters registered, had, to some extent, provided a unified command of the brigades, limited fragmentation and a pool of auxiliary fighters to help quell crises. It was essential, however, that the committee not become a parallel security. In addition, stronger coordination of plans for integration, demobilization, reintegration and control of weapons was needed.
There were also severe capacity limitations regarding border security, he said. A dedicated force was being established, but effective security was a complex task that could take years and required a whole-of-government approach and sustained international assistance. The United Nations would continue to provide advice, expertise and coordination in that area, with a key priority being the southern border, where the United Nations and bilateral partners stood ready to work with Libyan authorities on an action plan for integrated control.
In addition, despite the positive intentions of the Government, an estimated 4,000-8,000 detainees remained in the custody of brigades, with the transfer to custody of the Ministry of Justice progressing slowly. Cases of mistreatment and torture continued; UNSMIL expressed its deep concern over deaths in a facility at Misrata, and would follow up on promised investigations of those incidents and other reports of torture. “Addressing these practices should be a top Government priority in pursuit of a new culture of human rights and the rule of law,” he said, noting new bodies established to investigate human rights complaints. UNSMIL was also engaging closely with the Libyan prison administration and urging the adoption of an overall prosecutorial strategy in relation to the legacy of the former regime and conflict.
The law on political isolation garnered significant political support. It demanded the exclusion of figures associated with the former regime and others who had committed human rights violations, from public office. But deliberations over the law were divisive. There was disagreement on the scope of exclusionary measures and their criteria. Commencing on 28 April 2012, a number of revolutionary groups laid siege to several government ministries in an attempt to force through the adoption of the law. These actions had been preceded in March with the storming of the General National Congress and the assaults on some General National Congress members, including a shooting incident which targeted then President el-Magariaf.
This escalation in exerting pressure set a dangerous precedent in its resort to the use of military force in order to extract political concessions. The political isolation law was adopted on 05 May 2013. However, the siege of ministries continued for a few more days and more political demands were voiced. A growing popular discontent, and a commitment of Prime Minister Zeidan to address some of the numerous demands, helped put an end to a show of force that threatened the stability of the country.
On 08 June 2013, Benghazi witnessed a tragic event, with a considerable loss of life, the greatest in east Libya since the Revolution. What started as a peaceful demonstration outside the barracks of an armed brigade in Benghazi deteriorated into an exchange of fire leaving many dead and wounded, mostly from the demonstrators. Protesters were calling for the Libya Shield brigades, which comprise mainly revolutionary formations under the operational control of the Chief of General Staff of the Libyan Army, to be dismantled, and the army and police to be entrusted the role of exclusive security forces.
The Libyan authorities took swift action in the wake of the incident, transferring control of several brigade barracks in Benghazi to the Libyan Army. The General National Congress issued Decision 53 tasking the government to deal with armed groups that remain outside the control of the state, and to present immediately a proposal for the integration of armed brigades. The government responded promptly with a decision to proceed with the creation of a National Guard into which armed brigades would be integrated, but differences on the status of revolutionary brigades and their relationship with the state remain unresolved.
The National Liberation Army had 64,000 thuwars during the revolution. Since the end of the revolution, security in Libya was enforced by the thuwar brigades. Nearly two years after the beginning of the Revolution, the Libyan authorities wanted a united army. The success of that depended on one main issue, turning thuwars into regular, proper soldiers. The first training center was set up at Zawia, 45 kilometres west of Tripoli, in November 2011. It was here that the first thuwars received their two-month training to be officially considered as soldiers of the Libyan army. By January 2013, about 2,600 soldiers had graduated.
The new Defence Minister, Al-Thinni, announced that he was working on a security plan and by taking concrete steps, all brigades would be dissolved within six months, that is, by the end of 2013. One suggestion to form the national army was to appoint army commanders who were loyal to the 17 February revolution from the beginning as well as the defectors that parted ways with the Qaddafi regime after seeing the bloody crackdown – but not the ones that jumped from the sinking ship. It is claimed that these points would be accepted by all the revolutionaries as this had been their demand from October 2011. They could serve under such officers. The brigades would then be dissolved – because the main factor stopping them from joining the army would be taken care of.
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