By Giancarlo Elia Valori
With a view to currently understanding what is happening in the critical relationship between the Libyan military groups, we need – first and foremost – to look at the role played by the United Arab Emirates.
The United States has always fully supported the Government of National Accord (GNA), but Egypt, the Emirates, Russia and also, indirectly, China argue that a “national and unitary Libyan army” is particularly needed and therefore they support – first and foremost – KhalifaHaftar, especially in an anti-Islamist and anti-jihadist function.
Reverting to the official structures of the now inevitably fragmented Libya – just now, when we need it well united – there is also Khalifa Gwell’s government, based on the now remote authority of a General National Congress, which had its moment of glory during the 2012 Parliamentary elections.
The “Parliament of Tripoli”, which has nothing to do with al-Sarraj, largely moved to the High Council of State, a body chaired by the leader of Misrata, Abdul Rahaman Sweli. Later, however, the Tobruk Parliament began to support the government of Abdullah Al-Thinni operating directly from Al-Bayda.
All the revolutionary groups participating in the easy insurgency against Gaddafi, the thuwar, as they are generically called in Libya, did not want – from the beginning – the continuity of the Armed Forces and the Libyan police. Quite the reverse, they strongly contested that assumption.
All of them had developed the vague concept of “revolutionary legitimacy” and it was precisely the first non-Gaddafi government, led by Abd Al Rahim al Kib (which lasted from November 2011 to November 2012) which actually appointed “guerrillas” from Zintan and Misrata, as well as Salafists and many jihadists, to Ministerial posts, at least to rebalance the distribution of presences in the “revolution” between Colonel’s old loyalists and new “Islamic revolutionaries”.
As was obvious, those jihadists and most of the thuwar, be they Salafists or not, did not accept at all the presence of the old men of Gaddafi’s regime in other areas of the Libyan government. In their opinion, their “revolutionary legitimacy” allowed them to have a right of control and expulsion – often “immediate” – for the old elements of Gaddafi’s “regime”.
Another factor not to be neglected in the analysis of the Libyan structural crisis is the scarce conceptualization and official regulation of military power and security.
Some roles in the Intelligence Services were abolished by the anti-Gaddafi revolution, based on the idea – we all know in Italy, but which remains silly anyway – that certain qualifications recalled sad moments (but only for them).
Even the Defence Ministry was abolished and the new laws for the intelligence sector made the Services a semi-private function, so to speak.
The laws adopted by the NTC and the National General Congress were always ambiguous and badly drafted, just like the Italian ones. Therefore any political players had the possibility of favouring their own military faction to the detriment of the others.
Therefore, first and foremost, the lack of clear and unambiguous rules and the intentional ambiguity of security laws mainly favoured the so-called “revolutionary legitimacy” of the thuwar against the professionalism of former Gaddafi’s supporters or even of the men that the West – always foolishly and carelessly – chose to lead the “new Libya”.
The ultimate aim of the insurgency was the destruction of Gaddafi’s family, who reasoned by clans and tribes. That held true for all the thuwar, although they had nothing in common.
Hence all of them and their katibe could not seriously control the Libyan territory and the concept of State power and unitary control of the territory did not even exist. We could define it a “federalism of civil war”.
95% of the small katibe, the “battalions” of the thuwar, were composed of less than 1,000 elements – little more than extended families, like the mafia gangs in the South of Italy – and in the Libyan West they organized themselves mainly through “Military Councils”, while in Eastern Cyrenaica through rather loose coalitions of “fighting groups”.
By Darwinian natural selection, two large reference organisations soon emerged for all the small katibe: the “17th February Coalition” and the “Coalition of Revolutionary Organisations”.
The “17th February Coalition” soon divided into two other sections.
The first one was called “Preventive Security Apparatus” and performed mainly counter-espionage and border control activities, also to counter the many elements still linked to Gaddafi.
The second one was called the “Libya Shield Force” and was composed of small groups that had operated mainly in Brega and operated mainly in the oil-rich Tripolitania.
In Misrata a brigade was formed, led by a defector of Gaddafi’s forces, Salim Joha, but made up of groups of trained civilians, with a size ranging from 1,000 men up to even 10-20 that, however, soon reached the size of as many as 236 katibe.
Almost all of them were battalions specialised in one single task or function. Most of them enrolled – so to speak – in the “Misrata Union of Revolutionaries” or even in the “Misrata Military Council”.
In November 2011, at its best, the Union had 40,000 militiamen.
In the West, in the region generically defined as Tripolitania, there was a clear differentiation among the contact people of the countries that had carried out the (illegitimate) attack on Gaddafi – a differentiation that referred to military groups, policy lines and even areas of influence.
In Zintan there were 6,000 “revolutionaries” divided into eight brigades, while in Nalut there were 5,000 divided into six brigades.
The katibe of Jadu, Zawiya, Zuwara and the other small centres were mainly linked to the Border Guards, to the forces for controlling oil wells or even to those for Vital Installations.
Moreover, in Tripoli as many as 17 “revolutionary councils” were created, mainly fuelled by the 16,000 common criminals that Gaddafi had freed shortly before his fall.
None of the groups was completely autonomous nor could control acceptable parts of territory. Many of them were involved in drug dealing with drugs stolen from the warehouses of the security apparata or operated in the “black market” and in the private protection sector.
There were also “revolutionary” groups that were created, but later, in the regions where Gaddafi’s power had lasted longer: in BaniWalid, Tarhouna and in the Warshafana area.
Those groups were a mix of old Gaddafians, orphans of their leader but always and absolutely part of the same tribe, and also of new “revolutionaries” who imitated the exploits of the katibe operating in the major centres.
Most of those groups later returned to the ranks of the Oil Guards that paid better than others.
Nevertheless, Gaddafi was also to blame for that chaos. He had created a State security structure that did not report only and directly to the Chief of Staff, but to two different and clearly separate bodies: the “Temporary General Committee on Defence” (initially led by Abu Bakr Yunis Jabr) and the “Standing Committee on Defence”, led by various figures but, actually, by Gaddafi himself.
The safety net of Gaddafi’s regime was also very complex: there was the “32nd Brigade”, led by Khamis Gaddafi, as well as the Mohammed al Maqariaf, Sahban, Fadhil Abu Omar, Faris, Hamza, Suqur, Abu Minyar and finally the Maghawir brigades.
In Gaddafi’s organization of State security, also the other military forces were divided into two. Only the Eastern units immediately defected, while the others remained loyal to the Colonel.
A part of the Saeqa battalion joined the “revolutionaries” of Eastern Cyrenaica to form the “Zawiya’s Martyrs Brigade” but, as the advance of jihadists and Westerners from the East proceeded, many officers – albeit fewer we may think – began to defect also in Tripolitania.
Nevertheless, many of the military units stationed in the South and in the West remained loyal to Gaddafi almost until the end.
After the death of the Sirte Colonel, the units of the West and of the South met with the “revolutionary councils” in the regions where the regular Armed Forces were strong while the revolutionary katibe were weak.
This happened mainly in Gharyan, Khums, Sabha, Surman and Tarhouna, the city where a former director of our “external” intelligence Services was born. A hybridization of the political-military forces that make us reflect and is very characteristic of the Libyan anti-Gaddafi insurgency.
Instability obviously grew, while the Westerners, who foolishly caused it, washed their hands of it, probably waiting for the Holy Spirit of some invariably rigged election.
There was also the strengthening of some institutions which, however, were already very fragmented: the “Libya Shield Force”, the “Preventive Security Apparatus”, the “Libyan National Guard”, a structure initially created by Khalid al Sharif, former leader of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, a network that was already born in the run-up to the 2011 insurgency.
Ubioccidentalia, ibijihadismus, and forgive me for the inevitable mistakes in Latin.
There were even other organizations of Gaddafi State that absorbed elements of the katibe to stay in power and have some kind of operational base. To survive and do business or just to stay alive. The economic crisis caused by the fall of the regime in 2011 bit immediately.
Oil accounted for 97% of Tripoli’s revenues at the time of the Colonel. The Libyan oil was processed and exported by ENI, French Total, German Wintershall, Russian Gazprom and Spanish Repsol. With many Italian managers inside them.
Obviously Westerners were waiting for the capital of the Libyan Investment Authority to be mobilized – 67 billion in late 2012 – but the political issues arising from the factionalism of the katibe and governments were endless, as it was easy to predict.
There were also the General Electricity Company of Libya (GECOL), the Libyan Iron and Steel Company (LISCO), the Economic and Social Development Fund (ESDF), the Office of Development or Administrative Complex (ODAC), the free port area of Misrata.
Since Gaddafi’s time, an economy that, before the 2011 insurgency, had already been largely privatized but that the “revolutionaries” could not interpret and were not able to control.
Also the institutions fell into chaos, often applying Westernist models to a very different situation: for years the position of “Supreme Leader of the Armed Forces” remained not legally clear, but fluctuated within the GNC, as a result of power struggles, and was often harshly contested by the many “little bosses” of the katibe.
Before the governments split into two, there was also the often immature conflict between the Defence and the Interior Ministries and the government itself which led, even in the midst of an uncertain and always personalistic management of oil transactions, to an administrative, social and political stalemate – which, in turn, led to an increase in mass poverty.
That added to the Baroque and elaborate structure of institutions, pursued almost exclusively to avoid command and responsibility: the above mentioned Supreme Defence Committee in Tripoli (where also the Salafist and jihadist influences were more evident than in other regions),also divided throughout Libya into 54 regional sectors, had as many as 16,000 guerrillas available only in the old Gaddafi’s capital.
As already recalled, again at the Libyan post-national level, there were 54 local sectors of the Supreme Defence Committee, as well as 23 anti-crime committees, 45 units supporting defence activities, the Ėlite Forces and the Special Deterrence Forces.
It should also be noted that the Forces that had sought the support of the various factions of the Supreme Defence Committee -often succeeding in obtaining it – even included pro-Gaddafi katibe or even mere common criminals, in addition to elements already classifiable as Qaedist jihadists.
In Ben Ashur, for example, the members of the anti-crime brigades were all ex-convicts.
Until the dissolution of the Supreme Defence Committee, this was the mechanism of Libya’s post-Gaddafi “security”. We will talk about this matter again in other article
Giancarlo Elia Valori – Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor. He currently chairs “International World Group”, and he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group.