Why armed groups still dominate Libya, 13 years since the fall of Qaddafi

Analysis Why armed groups still dominate Libya, 13 years since the fall of Qaddafi
Four years after a UN- brokered ‘permanent ceasefire,’ violence between Libya’s various armed factions, main, below and bottom right, continues to undermine security. (AFP)
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Updated 15 May 2024
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Why armed groups still dominate Libya, 13 years since the fall of Qaddafi

Why armed groups still dominate Libya, 13 years since the fall of Qaddafi
  • Libya is divided between the UN-recognized government in Tripoli and the Haftar administration in the east
  • Hundreds of thousands of Libyans remain internally displaced or in need of humanitarian assistance

DUBAI: Muammar Qaddafi’s capture and killing by rebel fighters near his hometown of Sirte on Oct. 20, 2011, failed to usher in the era of stability and democracy that Libyans had hoped for when mass protests erupted earlier that year.

Instead, despite the best efforts of the UN Support Mission in Libya, the country remains deeply insecure, divided by two rival administrations, and fragmented among a plethora of armed groups vying for control.

“The fracturing of the Libyan body politic, with the emergence of dual governments and empowered militias, has posed perhaps the most significant challenge,” Hafed Al-Ghwell, a senior fellow and executive director of the North Africa Initiative at the Foreign Policy Institute of the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies, said in a recent op-ed for Arab News.




Efforts by the Arab League and African Union did little to help UNSMIL bring about elections and national reconciliation. (AFP/File)

“An enduring stalemate remains underpinned by a lack of consensus on constitutional and electoral frameworks, deepened by the entrenchment of local and international stakeholders in the status quo.”

Libya is split between the UN-recognized Government of National Accord of Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah based in Tripoli, which controls barely a third of the country, and the Government of National Stability of Gen. Khalifa Haftar based in Benghazi.

The latest effort to bridge this divide culminated in the creation of a joint committee by the House of Representatives and the Government of National Unity-aligned High State Council, which aimed to pave the way for national elections. These, however, are still yet to take place.

A meeting in Cairo under Arab League auspices in March and efforts by the African Union to organize a national reconciliation conference in early February also did little to help UNSMIL bring about elections and national reconciliation.

“Rapidly evolving from a need to stabilize post-revolution Libya into addressing deep-seated political divisions and external interference, (the UN’s) mandate has consistently proven ill-suited to the complexities of the Libyan context,” said Al-Ghwell.

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“It has devolved into merely managing failure, rather than being a well-orchestrated attempt at resurrecting democratic governance in a post-Gaddafi Libya.

“Its emphasis on mediation and political dialogue, while noble, has failed to account for the leverage that will be necessary to fully enforce ceasefires, manage the transition to governance or curb the influx of arms and mercenaries bolstered by self-interested external meddlers.”

On April 16, Senegalese diplomat Abdoulaye Bathily tendered his resignation as the UN’s special envoy for Libya, saying he was unable to support the country’s political transition while its leaders continued to put their own interests above finding a solution.




In western Libya, prominent militias engage in their own state-sanctioned activities. (AFP/File)

“Under the circumstances, there is no way the UN can operate successfully. There is no room for a solution in the future,” Bathily said in a statement at the time, announcing the delay of a national reconciliation conference originally scheduled for April 28.

“The selfish resolve of current leaders to maintain the status quo through delaying tactics and maneuvers at the expense of the Libyan people must stop.”

As the country’s finances are split between the two governing powers, which are backed by competing foreign players, the matter of their legitimacy in the eyes of Libyans and the international community remains an issue.

Foreign involvement is arguably the main reason why Libya has been unable to move on and establish a unified, stable administration. By sponsoring their preferred side in the conflict, experts say external actors have periodically added fuel to the fire.

Indeed, experts believe Libya has become little more than a playground for competing foreign interests, with the spoils of war — oil, arms contracts, and strategic influence — up for grabs.




Gen. Khalifa Haftar of Government of National Stability. (AFP/File)

To further these aims, various outside interests have sponsored militias inside Libya, thereby compounding and prolonging the fragmentation of the nation’s security apparatus.

Haftar commands the Libyan Arab Armed Forces, also known as the Libyan National Army. Although multiple armed groups serve under its banner, many operate under their own command structures and engage in their own raids and patrols across eastern Libya.

Meanwhile, in western Libya, prominent militias such as the Stability Support Apparatus, Misrata Counter Terrorism Force, Special Deterrence Forces (known as Radaa), 444 Brigade, 111 Brigade, Nawasi Brigade, and Joint Operations Force engage in their own state-sanctioned activities.

These include intelligence gathering and surveillance, street patrols, border security, and overseeing migrant camps.




Mohammed Younes Al-Manfi, the chairman of the Libya Presidential Council. (AFP/File)

“In today’s Libya, armed groups are the only entities capable of projecting power and maintaining territorial control,” Jalel Harchaoui, an associate fellow at the UK-based Royal United Services Institute, told Arab News.

“These groups lack a limpid chain of command and do not always follow the authority of the central state or manage their personnel in a clear and organized manner. They are inherently informal, often flawed, and dysfunctional.

“Despite their shortcomings, they are powerful when it comes to controlling territories and using force.”

Although these armed groups have been tasked with improving the nation’s overall security situation, they frequently clash with one another. This violence has shown little sign of abating, despite international efforts to establish a unified government and security apparatus.

Fifty-five people were killed in August 2023 when Radaa and the 444 Brigade engaged in running street battles in Tripoli. In February this year, at least 10 people, including members of the SSA, were shot dead in the city.

During this year’s Eid Al-Fitr celebrations, clashes broke out in the capital between the SSA and Radaa militias. Although this most recent bout of violence incurred no casualties, it raised fresh concerns about the country’s perilous security situation.

While the humanitarian situation in Libya has somewhat improved since the UN-facilitated ceasefire agreement of October 2020, civilians continue to bear the brunt of political and economic instability.




Libya is split between the UN-recognized Government of National Accord in Tripoli and the Government of National Stability of Gen. Khalifa Haftar based in Benghazi. (AFP/File)

Militia skirmishes have resulted in the internal displacement of some 135,000 people. Another 300,000 are in need of humanitarian assistance, according to UN reports from 2022.

The dire humanitarian situation was made worse by the devastating storm that pounded the Libyan coast in September last year. Storm Daniel burst two dams in the eastern city of Derna, with the resulting torrent of water flattening everything in its path.

The storm killed at least 5,900 people and displaced more than 44,000, according to the US Agency for International Development.

“Achieving stability in Libya requires a long-term strategy that would take many years and involve significant commitment from key foreign states,” said Harchoui.

“This would demand dedication and the willingness of countries like the US to challenge their regional partners, such as Turkiye, the UAE, and Egypt. It’s a major undertaking by all means.”

The SSA and Radaa are not under the direct authority of Libya’s interior or defense ministries. Nevertheless, they receive public funds and operate independently under a special status granted in 2021 by the prime minister and the presidential council.

Armed groups in Libya are often accused by the UN and human rights groups of committing war crimes with impunity. A report published by the UN last year found that these militias had engaged in murder, rape, arbitrary arrest, and slavery.

A 2023 report by Amnesty International also found that groups like the SSA, LAAF, and several others had committed acts of sexual violence, abductions, mock executions, and had restricted freedom of expression.

Libyan civilians have no power to hold these groups to account — particularly those backed and legitimized by the state.




Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah. (AFP/File)

An initial step toward achieving stability, Harchaoui believes, is recognizing that armed groups have infiltrated government institutions to become integral parts of the Libyan state and are “increasingly involved in corrupt and illegal activities.”

He said: “Tackling corruption should therefore be the initial focus, as this would slow the expansion of armed groups into areas beyond physical security, like government administration, finance, oil, and wealth extraction writ large.

“Once corruption is addressed, further steps can be considered.”

There are, however, multiple factors behind the Libyan military’s inability to rein in the country’s many armed groups.

Chief among these is that Libya’s “political leaders, economic institutions, and foreign states still need the protection of these armed groups for day-to-day operations,” said Harchaoui.

“This protection is needed for activities like oil production, diplomacy, contract signing, and counterterrorism intelligence gathering.”

These operations, he says, allow these groups to become more entrenched and powerful — and, in turn, make it more difficult to reduce their influence.

“This paradox means that continuing to rely on these groups for daily operations only strengthens them, preventing the ultimate goal of replacing them with formal forces some day in the future.”




Foreign involvement is arguably the main reason why Libya has been unable to move on and establish a unified, stable administration. (AFP/File)

There were some green shoots of change in July 2023 when the two rival administrations agreed to set up a committee to oversee the sharing of Libya’s significant oil revenues.

In a statement at the time, UNSMIL said it “welcomes the decision announced by the Presidential Council to establish a High Financial Oversight Committee to address fundamental issues of transparency in the spending of public funds and fair distribution of resources.”

Nevertheless, far from emerging from the Qaddafi era with greater openness, economic growth, and productive engagement with the international community, Libya continues to endure lawlessness and institutional collapse, becoming something close to a failed state.


EU top diplomat demands probe into Gaza Red Cross office shelling

EU top diplomat demands probe into Gaza Red Cross office shelling
Updated 4 sec ago
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EU top diplomat demands probe into Gaza Red Cross office shelling

EU top diplomat demands probe into Gaza Red Cross office shelling
The EU condemns the shelling which damaged the ICRC office in Gaza

BRUSSELS: EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell on Saturday called for a probe into deadly shelling that damaged an office of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Gaza.
“The EU condemns the shelling which damaged the ICRC office in Gaza and led to dozens of casualties. An independent investigation is needed and those responsible must be held accountable,” Borrell wrote on X.

Lebanese source says Israeli strike killed Islamist leader

Lebanese source says Israeli strike killed Islamist leader
Updated 23 min 55 sec ago
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Lebanese source says Israeli strike killed Islamist leader

Lebanese source says Israeli strike killed Islamist leader
  • “A leader of the Al-Fajr Forces of the Jamaa Islamiya, Ayman Ghotmeh, was killed in an Israeli strike in Khiara in the western Bekaa,” the source said
  • The Fajr Forces, Jamaa Islamiya’s armed wing, was established in 1982 to fight the Israeli invasion of Lebanon

BEIRUT: A security source said a leader of the Lebanese Islamist group Jamaa Islamiya, an ally of Hamas, was killed Saturday in an Israeli strike on a vehicle in eastern Lebanon.
Since the Israel-Hamas war broke out on October 7, Lebanon’s powerful Hezbollah movement and other groups allied with the Palestinian militants have traded near-daily fire with Israel across the southern border.
“A leader of the Al-Fajr Forces of the Jamaa Islamiya, Ayman Ghotmeh, was killed in an Israeli strike in Khiara in the western Bekaa,” 10 kilometers (six miles) from the border with Syria, the source told AFP on condition of anonymity.
The Fajr Forces, Jamaa Islamiya’s armed wing, was established in 1982 to fight the Israeli invasion of Lebanon.
The group has claimed responsibility for multiple attacks against Israel, including joint operations with Hamas in Lebanon. It is estimated to number around 500 men.
Lebanon’s state-run ANI news agency reported one person killed when a car was targeted in Khiara, and that the victim was from the nearby village of Lala, without giving further details.
Israel’s military said an aircraft carried out a “precise strike in the Beqaa area in Lebanon in order to eliminate the terrorist” Ayman Ghotmeh, who they said supplied weapons to Hamas and Jamaa Islamiya in Lebanon.
He was targeted for his “involvement in the promotion and execution of terrorist activities against Israel,” the Israeli statement added.
Jamaa Islamiya, which has had seven fighters killed in Lebanon since October 7, did not immediately announce any deaths.
On April 26, the group said two of their leaders were killed in an Israeli strike in eastern Lebanon.
More than eight months of violence on the Israel-Lebanon border has left at least 480 people dead in Lebanon, mostly fighters but including at least 93 civilians, according to an AFP tally.
On the Israeli side, at least 15 soldiers and 11 civilians have been killed, according to Israeli authorities.
Heightened tensions in recent days on the Israel-Lebanon border have raised fears of an expanded regional conflict.


Israeli women rush to buy guns in October 7 aftermath

Israeli women rush to buy guns in October 7 aftermath
Updated 22 June 2024
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Israeli women rush to buy guns in October 7 aftermath

Israeli women rush to buy guns in October 7 aftermath
  • According to security ministry data, there have been 42,000 applications by women for gun permits since the attack
  • More than 15,000 women civilians now own a firearm in Israel and the occupied West Bank

ARIEL, Palestinian Territories: With many Israelis gripped by a sense of insecurity following Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack, the number of women applying for gun permits has soared, while feminist groups have criticized the rush to arms.
According to security ministry data, there have been 42,000 applications by women for gun permits since the attack, with 18,000 approved, more than tripling the number of pre-war licenses held by women.
The surge has been enabled by the loosening of gun laws under Israel’s right-wing government and its far-right security minister Itamar Ben Gvir.
More than 15,000 women civilians now own a firearm in Israel and the occupied West Bank, with 10,000 enrolled in mandatory training, according to the ministry.
“I would have never thought of buying a weapon or getting a permit, but since October 7, things changed a little bit,” political science professor Limor Gonen told AFP during a weapons handling class at a shooting range in the West Bank settlement of Ariel.
The October 7 attack that triggered the war resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 37,431 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the territory’s health ministry.
“We were all targeted (on October 7) and I don’t want to be taken by surprise, so I’m trying to defend myself,” Gonen said after the class, an obligatory step for acquiring a permit.
While the immediate trigger for the surge in gun buying was the Hamas attack, Ben Gvir was already pledging to reform firearms legislation when he became security minister in late 2022.
He promised to raise the number of civilians holding weapons and “increase self-defense capacity.”
Under Ben Gvir, the process for getting a gun license has been sped up, with Israeli media reporting that in the immediate aftermath of the Hamas attack the authorities were often clearing hundreds of permits per day.
Eligibility criteria for gun ownership in Israel now include being a citizen or permanent resident over the age of 18, having a basic command of Hebrew and medical clearance.
The full list of requirements makes it nearly impossible for non-Jews to obtain a permit.
In March, Ben Gvir, who is himself a settler in the West Bank, hailed civilian weapon ownership passing the 100,000 mark, while showing off his own gun at a rally.
But his rush to put deadly arms into the hands of ordinary Israelis has drawn criticism too.
The Gun Free Kitchen Tables Coalition, an Israeli initiative founded by feminist activists, condemned the civilian arms race.
It is “a strategy of far-right settlers to consider the arming of women to be a feminist act,” a spokesperson for the group of 18 organizations told AFP.
“The increase of weapons in the civilian space leads to an increase in violence and murder against women. It’s time for the state to understand that individual safety is its responsibility.”
Community manager Yahel Reznik, 24, said she now felt “a lot more safe” in Ariel, which sits three kilometers north of the Palestinian city of Salfit.
“Thanks to my training I will be able to defend myself and protect others” from an attack, she told AFP.
Violence in the West Bank, which was already rising before the war, has surged since October 7.
At least 549 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli settlers and troops across the West Bank since the start of the Gaza war, according to the Palestinian Authority.
Attacks by Palestinians have killed at least 14 Israelis, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.
The surge in gun ownership is not limited to West Bank settlers. In the Israeli coastal city of Netanya, just north of Tel Aviv, Corine Nissim said she never leaves home without her gun.
The 42-year-old English teacher walked her three children to the park with a 9mm Smith & Wesson sticking out the back of her trousers.
“After October 7, I think like most people in Israel, I realized that the only person I can trust is myself,” she told AFP, adding she bought a gun not to feel “helpless.”
“The worst scenario that was going through my head was that, of course, terrorists attack me and my family in our own house,” the mother said.
Her decision to own a gun initially surprised some in the seaside town known for its tranquillity and safety, she said.
“People watched me and said, ‘This is so surreal to see you like this with a gun and with the baby’” said Nissim.
But, she said, others started to agree with her and said they would follow suit.
“Many women told me: ‘I’m going to do it. I’m going to get a gun as well.’“


Food piles up at Gaza crossing as aid agencies say unable to work

Food piles up at Gaza crossing as aid agencies say unable to work
Updated 22 June 2024
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Food piles up at Gaza crossing as aid agencies say unable to work

Food piles up at Gaza crossing as aid agencies say unable to work

JERUSALEM: Days after Israel announced a daily pause in fighting on a key route to allow more aid into Gaza, chaos in the besieged Palestinian territory has left vital supplies piled up and undistributed in the searing summer heat.
More than eight months of war, sparked by Hamas’s unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel, have led to dire humanitarian conditions in the Gaza Strip and repeated UN warnings of famine with outside aid severely restricted.
Desperation among Gaza’s 2.4 million population has increased as fighting rages, sparking warnings from aid agencies that they are unable to deliver aid including vegetables.
Israel says it has let supplies in and called on agencies to step up deliveries.
“The breakdown of public order and safety is increasingly endangering humanitarian workers and operations in Gaza,” the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, also known as OCHA, said in a briefing late Friday.
“Alongside the fighting, criminal activities and the risk of theft and robbery has effectively prevented humanitarian access to critical locations.”
But Israel says it has allowed hundreds of trucks of aid into southern Gaza, trading blame with the United Nations over why the aid is stacking up.
It shared aerial footage of white and black containers lined up on the Gazan side of the Kerem Shalom crossing and more trucks arriving to add to the stockpile.
The October Hamas attack on Israel resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
The militants also seized 251 hostages, 116 of whom remain in Gaza although the army says 41 are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive in Gaza has killed at least 37,551 people, also mostly civilians, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory.
With civil order breaking down in the territory, the UN says it has been unable to pick up any supplies from Kerem Shalom since Tuesday, leaving crucial aid in limbo.
A deputy UN spokesman this week said the crossing “is operating with limited functionality, including because of fighting in the area.”
Israel’s coordinator for civilian affairs in the Palestinian territories, known as COGAT, said Thursday “the content of 1,200 aid trucks awaits collection by UN aid agencies,” saying a lack of distribution was responsible.
Earlier in the week, COGAT spokesman Shimon Freedman told reporters at the crossing the daily pause on a southern road into Gaza was designed to allow the UN “to collect and distribute more aid” alongside an Israeli military presence.
He said most of the aid had not moved because “organizations have not taken sufficient steps to improve their distribution capacity.”
Aid agencies have instead pointed to Israel’s offensive on the southern city of Rafah, which pushed out more than a million people and closed a border crossing with Egypt, as a deepening humanitarian crisis hampered relief efforts.
The United States also sanctioned an extremist Israeli group last week, accusing it of blocking convoys and looting and burning trucks trying to deliver humanitarian aid to Palestinian civilians in Gaza.
And the UN food agency has said its aid convoys have been looted inside Gaza by “desperate people.”
As both sides stall, it is the civilians in Gaza who are paying the price.
“We don’t see any aid. Everything we get to eat comes from our own money and it’s all very expensive,” said Umm Mohammad Zamlat, 66, from northern Gaza but now living in Khan Yunis in the south.
“Even agencies specialized in aid deliveries are not able to provide anything to us,” she added.
“We hope this war ends and we return to our homes and that we don’t need aid from anyone.”
NGO Doctors Without Borders said on Friday that six trucks with 37 tons of supplies, mostly essentially medical items, have been held up at the Egyptian part of Kerem Shalom since June 14.
“This is incomprehensible and unacceptable,” it said in a statement.
“It’s like asking a fireman to watch a house filled with people burn down, and preventing him putting out the fire.”


Health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza says war death toll at 37,551

Health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza says war death toll at 37,551
Updated 22 June 2024
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Health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza says war death toll at 37,551

Health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza says war death toll at 37,551
  • The toll includes at least 120 deaths over the past 48 hours

GAZA STRIP, Palestinian Territories: The health ministry in Hamas-run Gaza said Saturday that at least 37,551 people have been killed in the territory during more than eight months of war between Israel and Palestinian militants.
The toll includes at least 120 deaths over the past 48 hours, a ministry statement said, adding 85,911 had been wounded in the Gaza Strip since the war began when Hamas militants attacked Israel on October 7.