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Libya Shield

Libya Shield is an umbrella group of Islamist brigades with bases in Benghazi, cradle of Libyas 2011 uprising. The Libya Shield Forces are the Libyan Armys backbone and the Misrata militias are the backbone of the Libya Shield Forces. The central government, whose own forces are too weak to maintain security in a country awash with weapons, found itself co-opting or licensing some of the most powerful militias to maintain even a semblance of order, while shutting down some others.

The Libyan Shield forces which followed the chief of staff and have and continue to have a major role in defeating the counterrevolutionary forces, had been on the decline in Libyas east and especially Benghazi, where they fell into a trap set by intelligence services and which resulted in the killing of protesters in front of their headquarters in June 2013. In November 2013 forces from Misrata stationed in the Gharghour area of Tripoli fell into the same trap. Both forces were forced to withdraw and their popularity suffered a major blow.

On 23 September 2012 Libya's military said it had raided several militia compounds in and around the capital, Tripoli, after the country's interim leader ordered the disbanding of all unauthorized militias. The raids came the day after National Assembly President Mohammed el-Magarief vowed to dissolve all militias and military camps operating outside the control of the government. Authorities took control of militia bases in the eastern city of Benghazi after fighting that left 11 people dead and more than 60 others wounded. Those clashes outside the jihadist militia compounds followed large-scale protests Friday in which tens of thousands of Libyans marched through Benghazi, demanding the dissolution of those militant groups. The protesters ousted the jihadist militia Ansar al-Shariah from its headquarters, and seized the bases of other armed militias in Benghazi.

Prior to US Ambassador Christopher Stevens visit to Benghazi in September 2012, the US mission in Benghazi had made a request to the Libyan Ministry of Foreign Affairs for additional security in Benghazi to support the visit. Though a few members of the February 17 Brigade and the Libya Shield militia assisted the Americans on the night of the attack, the security that these militias and the local police provided to US personnel was woefully inadequate to the dangerous security environment in Benghazi.

In November 2012 a US embassy delegation, led by CIA operatives, travelled to Benghazi to meet and recruit fighters directly from the Libyan Shield, a powerful umbrella organisation of militias, according to Fathi al-Obeidi, a commander of the group. The Libyan Shield provided the rescue force that assisted the US mission in Benghazi on the night of the attack, and Obeidi said that his fighters represent the most viable local option for a special unit.

Benghazi and other parts of eastern Libya witnessed mounting opposition to the revolutionary brigades, particularly those formations referred to as Libya Shields, which are comprised largely of revolutionary units falling under the operational control of the Chief of General Staff of the Libyan army. Political differences regarding their long-term status precipitated a fatal clash on 08 June 2013, when a demonstration outside the barracks of one such Libya Shield brigade deteriorated into an exchange of fire between brigade members and protestors, as a result of which some 30 people were killed.

Until local residents stormed and destroyed its compound on 09 June 2013, Libya Shield was backed by the government. The protesters demanded that a checkpoint at the entrance of the town be removed and that members of the Libya Shield leave the camp so that the police and army could take over. Yussef al-Mangoush, Libyas army chief of staff resigned after the clashes in the eastern city of Benghazi.

Although the president of Congress, Nuri Abu Sahmain, called in July 2013 on Libya Shield brigades from across the country to Tripoli to defend it, Congress in June ordered the government to draw up plans to dissolve all brigades, including Libya Shield brigades, by the end of the year. This followed the bloody incident in Benghazi in early June when demonstrators demanding the disbandment of Shield Brigade No. 1 were shot and killed. Since then a number of Shield brigades, mainly in the east of the country, had dissolved themselves.

More than a thousand vehicles belonging to the Libya Shield forces for Central and Western Regions arrived in Tripoli in August 2013. The troops were deployed to various military locations in and around the capital. The move is to defend it from forces causing instability or planning a move to impose their will on Congress and the government by force. It was the largest mobilisation since the liberation and follows the decision by president of General National Congress (GNC) Nuri Abu Sahmain to order the Libya Shield to secure strategic locations in the capital and provide overall security there. The command structures of these umbrella brigades remained weak, as they are formed of smaller brigades and units from many different locations and with individual commanders.

Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan returned unharmed to government headquarters in Tripoli 10 October 2013 , soon after he was released by former rebel militiamen who had abducted and held him for several hours. Gunmen seized Zeidan early Thursday at a Tripoli hotel where he lives and held him for six hours. A government statement said he was taken by armed men to an "unknown place for unknown reasons." Zaidan later blamed the Revolutionaries Control Room, headquarters for the biggest militia Libya Shield for his kidnapping. The Operations Room of Libya's Revolutionaries claimed responsibility but later denied involvement. The group had blamed Zeidan's government for playing a role in the US Special Forces raid in Libya that nabbed senior al-Qaida operative Abu Anas al-Libi. The group that abducted Zeidan was reportedly formed recently by the speaker of the General National Congress, Libyas parliament. Many other parliamentarians are connected with similar militias.

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Page last modified: 03-06-2014 16:03:09 ZULU