The Libyan revolution had all the ingredients of a success story: civic courage, far-reaching international support and widespread popular desire for political freedom, human rights and democracy. Yet it remains far from realising the peaceful transition to democracy many hoped would occur.
A flawed security plan
Despite failing to sufficiently plan ahead in security matters, the NTC eventually tried to tackle the militia problem in a structured way.
Unfortunately, the scheme it proposed proved to be unfeasible. In an attempt to kill two birds with one stone, interim Minister of the Interior Fawzi Abdelali pro-posed the integration of 50,000 militiamen into the fledgling security sector in December 2011.
In doing so, he misjudged both the collective and individual interests of the militias, and the sector’s capacity to absorb them.
Although the militias are a recent phenomenon and formed spontaneously, they gained a certain amount of cohesion from fighting alongside one another during the civil war, and from sharing local, identity-based interests.
Built on the achievement of toppling the previous regime and their unchecked management of Libyan security since the end of the conflict, their strengthened sense of their own role has given them both the credentials and the ambition to shape Libya’s new political landscape.
Continuing to portray themselves as the forces of the revolution, they refuse to be integrated into a new structure as individuals – rather seeking to be recruited en bloc – and have begun to see the armed forces as simply a remnant of the old regime that must be dismantled.
Rather than integrating into the security sector, the militias are now attempting to monopolise it. Yet the integration of whole units into an established military creates problems relating to command structure, cohesiveness, authority and discipline.
Disintegration of the force along lines of former loyalties – such as occurred in post-conflict Angola – becomes more likely. Acknowledging this challenge, Libya’s first attempt to tackle the militia problem was therefore aimed at the integration of individuals.
The Warrior Affairs Commission, a body created by two former militia leaders but now attached to the prime minister’s office, registered 250,000 men (women were excluded) and established an impressive database that covered age, educational levels and professional ambitions.
Among those listed, around 140,000 have been vetted and declared eligible for integration.24 In contrast to official declarations and collective ambitions, only 6,000 of the men registered wanted to be integrated into the armed forces, while 2,200 wished to join the border police and 11,000 the oil guards.
The vast majority desired to either become civil servants in the Ministry of Interior or the Ministry of Defence (44,000), or to open their own businesses (78,000). Given that 70% of those who registered are only educated to a primaryor secondary-school level, the capacity of either ministry to meaningfully employ them is questionable.
The remaining armed forces – essentially, 5,000 officers who held the rank of colonel – were reluctant to employ large numbers of militiamen. The armed forces initially declared their intention to absorb a maximum of 6,000 such fighters, as they viewed the militias’ lack of professionalism as incompatible with their own standards.
This is not to suggest that the police force was in favour of militia integration, but that there was so little left of Libya’s internal security structure that it could muster virtually no opposition.
In summer 2013, the newly emerging security structure ostensibly under government control had integrated only 17,000 former militiamen and members of the SSC.
Although some progress has been made, the work of the Warrior Affairs Commission is hampered by several factors:
(a) the rising power of the militias makes integration into an existing structure unattractive to them;
(b) crossregistering with the Constitutional Commission, the police and the armed forces has created a chaotic picture in the security sector; and
(c) bickering over responsibilities among the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Defence and the commission has stymied both information-sharing and the process as a whole.
Yet the militias do not only constitute a problem; they are simply the only security force present in a nation where the reconstruction of the armed forces and the police is occurring very slowly.
Although this process of reconstruction was presented as an urgent concern of the NTC and, later, the GNC, in practice it has been extremely slow.
The fact that the NTC’s coordination with, and control of, the revolutionary brigades was meagre during the conflict – reflected in the murder of rebel commander Abdel Fattah Younes by rebel forces – proved to be only the first indication that Libya’s new policymakers had a loose grip on security.
The NTC underestimated the security challenge it faced and allowed significant leadership changes in its executive board responsible for security.
Omar al-Hariri was dismissed as minister of defence because of ongoing tensions with Younes, and Hariri’s successor, Jalal al-Digheily, was replaced by Osama al-Juwali in August 2011. The council also had only a limited understanding of security agencies and, most importantly, their restructuring.
When the NTC rejected UN military support after the fall of Tripoli, its deputy representative to the organisation, Ibrahim Dabbashi, declared that no such help was necessary because crisis in Libya was not driven by ‘a civil war [or] a conflict between two parties’ but ‘the people who are defending themselves against the dictatorship’.
This approach entirely ignored the structural realities of security. Regardless of the reasons for their deterioration, security provisions are a basic requirement of any society, without which reconstruction is impossible.
In its rejection of UN support, the NTC appeared to ignore the fact that reconstructing security agencies takes several years, depending on the extent to which existing structures and personnel can be retained, and the security needs of the country.
Unfortunately, reconstruction of a security sector requires a secure environment in the first place; the greater the demands on a security force, the fewer resources it will have available for rebuilding itself.
The calm reigning in Tripoli immediately after the fall of the regime made the NTC believe that Libyan security would provisionally manage itself and, as a result, the council took over three months to nominate a chief of staff for the new armed forces.
Mangoush, a retired colonel who had joined the rebel forces and came from Benghazi, was immediately rejected by two major militias, leading the Cyrenaica Transitional Council and a group of army officers to put forward alternative candidates. Although ultimately inconsequential, the militias’ disapproval pointed to the NTC’s lack of control over the emerging security structure.
This shortfall was particularly apparent in 2013, when army officers openly called for Mangoush’s resignation – citing his inability to rebuild the armed forces – and his interim successor, Salem Gnaidi, criticised the government on national television.
Gnaidi went so far as to declare that ‘the government of Ali Zeidan does not want a national army’ and instead sought a paramilitary force equivalent to Gadhafi’s republican guards. Two weeks later, Gnaidi was replaced by Abdulsalam al-Obeidi, who served as a colonel in the previous regime’s armed forces.
Relations between the remnants of the armed forces and the new political leadership have been strained from the start. In the absence of established structures, personalities and personnel changes have had a significant effect.
Mangoush and Juwali’s personal differences obstructed the drafting of Libya’s White Paper, and Juwali’s successor, Mohammed al-Barghathi, was forced to resign at the same time as Mangoush. This gave Libya its third defence minister in two years, former military officer Abdullah al-Thini.
Similar changes have hampered progress on internal security. Abdelali, Libya’s first post-Gadhafi interior minister, had to resign following the destruction of Sufi shrines by SSC units. His successor, Ashour Shuwail, resigned amid the controversy created by the law banning former regime officials from holding office.
Mohammed Khalifa al-Sheikh, his replacement, resigned after only three months, leaving the post vacant. At the heart of Libya’s security predicament is the government’s lack of authority and consistency. Although numerous states and organisations – including the European Union, NATO, Turkey, France and the United Kingdom – have offered support to rebuild the country’s security sector, progress halts at the centre of Libya’s decision-making structure.
In July, recruits sent to Jordan for training were arrested for rioting and arson, reflecting the fact that levels of professionalism among Libyan security staff, the majority of whom have had no more than three months of basic training, differ greatly.
On a more positive note, the Libyan military’s education system has been relaunched and the first generation of post-Gadhafi junior officers have begun their courses at the military academy. Nevertheless, officer training takes several years, and is a process that cannot be accelerated.
Florence Gaub is a Senior Analyst at the European Union Institute for Security Studies, where she covers security and strategy in the Arab world.
The International Institute for Strategic Studies