By Wolfram Lacher
The 17th February Revolution has fundamentally reshaped Libya’s political landscape.
Power Struggles in the Security Sector
Power struggles have developed over control of the security sector. They concern the distribution of posts and budgets as well as more far-reaching political objectives of actors in the security sector. Tensions are strongest between the Gaddafi-era institutions and officer class and the new units established by revolutionaries.
As the government moves ahead with its efforts to integrate the new units, such tensions may escalate. A wide variety of forces has appeared in the security sector since the fall of the regime. Revolutionary leaders initially founded the Supreme Security Committee to stabilise Tripoli after the war. 85
A central SSC was created in the Interior Ministry at the end of 2011, and local branches established throughout Libya during the first half of 2012. With the incentive of comparatively high salaries, the SSCs succeeded in integrating a large number of armed groups and individuals.
As a consequence, the number of so-called “revolutionaries” increased exponentially. The composition of the SSCs differed from one city or unit to another. While some of the groups that joined the SSCs were revolutionary brigades, many more were militias that emerged after the fall of the regime. In towns such as Sabratha, a large part of the police force joined the SSC. Generally speaking, however, the interior ministry’s control over the SSCs was weak to non-existent; in many cases, the internal command structures of the armed groups under the SSC’s umbrella remained largely unaffected by their integration. 86
In December 2012 there were 26,000 men on the payroll of the SSC Tripoli alone; the national figure was estimated at 131,000 men in July 2012. 87
Local SSCs have mostly acted as a police force, but often with an explicitly political mandate to arrest alleged former regime elements. Units reporting directly to the central SSC have at times conducted military operations against such supposed remnants of the regime.
In parallel to the SSCs, regional coalitions of revolutionary brigades emerged at the beginning of 2012 to form Der’ Libya. The initiative originated from local military councils and brigades in the north-east, the centre and the west of the country. 88
Only after they had been set up did the new formations receive a unified name from the Defence Ministry and formal recognition as security forces under the chief of staff.
The first three Der’ Libya divisions in the west, east and centre were joined by others in the course of the year; 89 by January 2013, these forces comprised 13,000 men. Again, the internal structures of the participating brigades remained largely intact, and individual Der’ Libya divisions operated in quite different ways.
The Eastern Division intervened one-sidedly in the conflict between Toubou and Zuwayya in Kufra, and was ultimately replaced by other brigades from Benghazi after pressure from the Toubou, while the Central Division dominated by Misrata operated as a neutral force in the conflict between Toubou and the Awlad Suleiman tribe in Sabha, but later mounted the retribution campaign against Bani Walid described above. Nonetheless, the chief of staff generally entrusted Der’ Libya – and not the remnants of the regular army – with restoring stability.
Another structure composed of revolutionary brigades arose in the form of the border guards and the “National Guard”. Exercising control over these units presents a similar challenge for the government. Then Deputy Defence Minister Siddiq Mabrouk long refused to place the border forces he controlled under the authority of the chief of staff. After Defence Minister Mohammed al-Barghathi attempted to push through the change, Mabrouk’s men clashed with the minister’s convoy at Tobruk air base in January 2013. According to al-Barghathi, this was an assassination attempt instigated by his deputy, who was immediately dismissed. 90
Besides groups under the umbrella of the SSC or the Der’ Libya, former revolutionaries and other civilians have also created numerous other forces that operate with official authorisation from the defence ministry, or have been turned into formal army units. There are no reliable figures for this patchwork of units and their members. Although 215,000 individuals registered with the Warriors’ Affairs Commission, of which 140,000 were recognised as revolutionaries, by no means all members of the SSCs, the Der’ Libya, or other forces are on the WAC’s lists. 91
On the other side are the fragments of the old military and security apparatus. In parts of the army, irregular local structures have developed similar to those of the revolutionary brigades. Army units in the north-east that switched sides at the beginning of the revolution were initially commanded by General Abdel Fattah Younes. After his assassination at the end of July 2011 and the subsequent fall of the regime, the remnants of the armed forces were left without a national structure. Regional coalitions of officers began reorganising the army on their own initiative and competing for the post of chief of staff. 92
In the east, a group of officers formed the Barqa Military Council. After Youssef Mangoush was appointed chief of staff in January 2012, units composed of revolutionary brigades like Der’ Libya were given leading functions while regular forces felt increasingly marginalised. 93
In this context, units like the 1st Infantry Division in Benghazi increasingly pursued their own interests. In the revolutionary strongholds of the west, deserting officers played a crucial role in local military councils, and many continue to operate outside formal military command structures. Elsewhere, members of Gaddafi’s brigades who escaped capture joined with pro-revolutionary officers and civilians to form new units on a local basis. 94
The distinction between regular and irregular forces has become increasingly blurred. This fragmentation is only gradually being reversed: in the Tripoli area, several officers who led revolutionary brigades have returned to senior positions in the army and defence ministry, and army units across the country are churning out new recruits. 95
The revolutionary leaders in charge of the new institutions share a clear political objective: the removal of those regarded as “supporters of the regime” (azlam al-nidham). 96
Many leading revolutionaries understand this to mean all institutions of the former military and security apparatus, even including elements who switched sides at the beginning of the uprising. 97
They seek to create institutions that are dominated by revolutionaries and include at most a fraction of the old security forces. As already outlined, one section of the leadership of the new institutions also pursues an explicitly Islamist agenda.
In Benghazi, this struggle for control of the new security sector has fuelled violent tensions. Although the series of bombings and killings in Benghazi and Darna since early 2012 is partly about revenge (discussed below under aspects of justice), some of these acts are clearly attributable to the power struggle between old and new units. 98
Tensions escalated after the shock of the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi on 11 September 2012. The subsequent demonstrations were directed against two of the largest Islamist-leaning revolutionary brigades, whose members suspect police and army officers of instrumentalising the occasion to gain control of some of their weaponry. The brigades hit back by taking dozens of officers hostage, in an attempt to force the commander of the 1st Infantry Division to persuade the demonstrators to withdraw. 99
During the following two months, attacks increased further, culminating in the assassination of Benghazi’s police chief on 20 November 2012, which in turn triggered a new spiral of violence. 100
After a lull in January and February 2013, attacks against police stations and officers in the old institutions resumed. The kind of conflicts that arose in Benghazi over control of the security apparatus have appeared only sporadically in other regions. Only in the northeast did the old army structures survive the civil war relatively intact. But elsewhere individual networks emerging from remnants of the army have come into conflict with new forces. For example, in November 2011 Major-General Khalifa Haftar had himself appointed chief of staff by a group of officers and a month later attempted to take control of Tripoli airport from the Zintan brigades. 101
He subsequently posed as defender of army interests, accusing the revolutionary brigades of preventing the rebuilding of the armed forces, and denying that the army had been a pillar of the regime. Revolutionary leaders suspected Haftar of establishing a military power base among army officers in Tarhouna, and in July 2012 he
escaped an assassination attempt in Benghazi. 102
In August 2012, the central SSC put an end to the Tarhouna officers’ ambitions, seizing more than one hundred tanks in the city. 103
Generally speaking, many members of the officer class feel marginalised by the chief of staff and the revolutionary forces, whether because of their regional origins or their role under the former regime.
They are seeking to position themselves for the rebuilding of the armed forces. In December 2012 a series of “extraordinary conferences of the Libyan army” was held at various venues, with a final declaration calling for the dismissal of the chief of staff and his replacement with a collective leadership.
The core of the initiative was formed by officers from Zintan and Cyrenaica who had switched sides at the beginning of the revolution. In April 2013, this constituency – with Haftar playing a leading role – founded the Assembly of Free Libyan Officers and repeated its earlier demands, providing support to moves within the GNC to dismiss the chief of staff. 104
Defence Minister Mohamed al-Barghathi is seeking to reconcile the different camps by instituting an “integrity commission” for the army, headed by officers who defected to the revolution early on. 105
Even if this initiative manages to avoid swelling the ranks of disgruntled officers, it remains unclear as of May 2012 how and in what timeframe the remnants of the old armed forces will be integrated with the new units. But in view of the acute conflicts between the two camps it is evident that integration could further fueltensions. The same goes for the attempts to create a new police force out of the SSCs and remnants of the old apparatus. Preparations for dissolving the SSCs began as early as mid-2012, but met with strong resistance. 106
In December 2012 a decree by the deputy prime minister – in his capacity as acting interior minister – called for the Committees to be dissolved and their members integrated into the police through a selection body. A storm of protest ensued, with SSC leaders demanding the formation of a separate force rather than integration into what they saw as a discredited police service. 107
At the beginning of January 2013 members of the SSC stormed the seat of the National Congress and physically assaulted two deputies. Protests notwithstanding, the integration of SSC forces into the police began, proceeding unevenly from city to city.
In Benghazi about half of the twelve thousand SSC members joined the police. The other half split into those who had only joined the SSC for the pay, and now simply disappeared from the lists, and the revolutionary hard core of about three thousand who joined Der’ Libya. In Tripoli one part of the revolutionary leadership agreed to integration, but a larger group resisted and continued to demand the creation of a force with a criminal investigations or intelligence mandate. 108
In May 2013, the process of dissolution and integration is ongoing; the number of SSC members has declined significantly; but the fundamental issue of how to integrate the hard core of revolutionaries into the security forces remains unresolved.
To be continued
Wolfram Lacher is an Associate in SWP’s Middle East and Africa Division
85- The core of SSC Tripoli was formed by brigades from two revolutionary strongholds, the districts of Souq al-Jum’a and Tajoura.
86- ICG, Divided We Stand (see note 48), 12–15.
87- “Supreme Security Committee to Be Dissolved by End of Year, Says Tripoli Chief”, Libya Herald, 17 October 2012; “SSC Demise by 31 December Reconfirmed by Hashim Bishar”, Libya Herald, 9 December 2012.
88- In the northwest a joint unit formed by the military councils of Zintan, Zawiya, Zuwara, Surman and Jadu in January 2012 did not appear as the Western Division of Der’ Libya until March 2012. A coalition of brigades from Benghazi that intervened in the conflict between Toubou and Zuwayya in Kufra in mid-February 2012 was renamed an official Der’ Libya unit of the Defence Ministry on 24 February. The military councils of Misrata, Zliten, Mesallata, al-Khoms, Sirte and Bani Walid formed a joint unit in Misrata at the end of February 2012, which later became the Central Division of Der’ Libya. “Announcement of Formation of Brigade of 1,500 Fighters to Protect Western Region”, al-Manara, 23 January 2012, tinyurl.com/arf2kct; “Formation of Military Division of 7,000 Revolutionaries in Libya”, al-Manara, 28 February 2012, tinyurl.com/a4q95tx; “Group from Coalition of Revolutionary Brigades in Eastern Region Turns to Kufra”, al-Tadhamon, 14 February 2012, presssolidarity.net/archive/index.php?page=main&news_item=1985.
89- Including the fifth division of Der’ Libya in Tripoli; the Rafallah Sahati Brigade (see note 36) became the seventh division. “Mangoush: New Army will Be Small with Precisely Defined Role”, al-Tadhamon, 4 January 2013, tinyurl.com/af4897u.
90- “Declaration of the Defence Minister”, Office of the Prime Minister, Tripoli, 19 January 2013.
91- “LD 500 Million Project Being Prepared by Warriors Affairs Commission to Get Revolutionaries Ready for Business”, Libya Herald, 17 December 2012; discussions with leading SSC figures and leaders of former revolutionary brigades, Tripoli, April 2013.
92- “Libyan Armed Forces Reorganisation: Controversy over Haftar’s Appointment as Chief of Staff”, Quryna, 21 November 2011, www.qurynanew.com/20974; “Sabha Military Council Debates Reforming Libyan Army”, Quryna, 16 November 2011, www.qurynanew.com/20383; “General Mahmoud Declares Support for Mangoush and Calls Barqa Military Council Illegal”, Quryna, 5 January 2012, www.qurynanew.com/26235.
93- The al-Sa’eqa special forces battalion from Benghazi represented an exception in this respect. It joined the revolutionat an early stage and was later deployed to stabilise the Fezzan.
94- For example the al-Awfiya brigade in Tarhouna, the 138th Infantry Brigade in Raqdalein, or the Mashashiya brigade in Shgeiga that was integrated into Der’ Libya in November 2012. “138th Infantry Brigade Integrated into Libyan Army”, Quryna,31 October 2012, www.qurynanew.com/43990.
95- Discussions, army officers at 2nd Infantry Division and defence ministry, Tripoli, March–April 2013.
96- According to the then leader of SSC Benghazi, Fawzi Wanis al-Gaddafi, in April 2012. Similarly, the spokesperson of the Western Division of Der’ Libya said in April 2012 that the capture of azlam was one of the unit’s central tasks. This view was echoed by leading figures in the SSC Tripoli in conversations with the author in March and April 2013. Interview with the spokesperson of the Western Division of Der’ Libya, 12 April 2012, www.youtube.com/watch?v=qUCmfurrs-M&feature=relmfu; “Leader of SSC Benghazi: SSC to Be Dis-solved within Six Months if Objectives Achieved”, Quryna, 4 April 2012, www.qurynanew.com/32554.
97- A leader of the Office for the Warriors’ Affairs Commission with a background in the Benghazi Islamist brigades said in November 2012: “The army soldiers are all azlam. The police are tainted too, they worked for the regime. We need to create a new institution out of the SSCs and the best of the police. But we need to get rid of most of the police and army.” Discussion, Tripoli, November 2012.
98- “Demonstrations in Benghazi Demand Dissolution of Security Organisations”, Libya al-Youm, 7 April 2012, www. libya-alyoum.com/news/index.php?id=21&textid=9239; “Clashes Between Police and Armed Organisations in Benghazi”, Quryna, 11 April 2012, qurynanew.com/?p=33033; “Anonymous Attack on Military Administration Building in Benghazi”, al-Tadhamon, 1 July 2012, tinyurl.com/byk4osr.
99- The attempt to assassinate the leader of the Barqa military council, Hamed al- Hassi, was also likely related to the storm-ing of the brigades’ bases. Members of the brigades claimed that Hassi had personally taken part in the operation. Discussions, Tripoli, November 2012; “Hamed al-Hassi Escapes Assassination Attempt”, al Tadhamon, 5 November 2012, tinyurl.com/b2ua7; “Belkheir: Foreign Actors Behind My Kidnap, Kidnappers Received Instructions by Phone”, Quryna, 23 September 2012, www.qurynanew.com/42346; “Thirty-three Officers Detained in Benghazi”, al-Tadhamon, 22 September 2012, tinyurl.com/aplzqno; “Members of Army Call Members of Rafallah Sahati Heretics”, al-Manara, 25 September 2012, tinyurl.com/aewqu3x.
100- After a suspect was detained following the violent death of police chief Faraj al-Drisi police stations were attacked with the aim of freeing the suspect. “Unknown Assailants Murder Colonel Faraj al-Drisi in Front of His House in Benghazi”, al-Tadhamon, 20 November 2012, tinyurl.com/bdm22bm; “Benghazi: Dead and Injured after a Bloody Night”, al-Manara, 16 December 2012, tinyurl.com/bk4yn9f; “Benghazi Rocked by Second Night of Attacks”, Libya Herald, 17 December 2012.
101- Haftar joined Gaddafi’s coup in 1969 and commanded the Libyan forces in Chad in the 1980s. He was captured there in 1987 along with numerous others and cooperated with the CIA during the following two decades. When the revolution began he returned to Benghazi.
102- “Haftar to al-Watan al-Libiya: Officials Deliberately Obstructing Establishment of Army in Interests of Some States”, al-Watan al-Libiya, 21 July 2012, tinyurl.com/a8kpxh3; “Assassination Attempt on Major-General Haftar”, al-Watan al-Libiya, 30 July 2012, tinyurl.com/b9kjo7p.
103- In early June 2012 revolutionary units kidnapped the commander of the al-Awfiya brigade in Tarhouna, which included deserted army officers, civilian recruits and former members of Gaddafi’s brigades, and possessed a large stock of arms. In response, the al-Awfiya brigade occupied Tripoli Airport for several hours before being overpowered by revolutionary forces. During the August 2012 incident a revolutionary force led by units of the central SSC captured more than one hundred tanks from the al-Awfiya brigade. As in the assault on Bani Walid, the revolutionary camp portrayed the operation against the Tarhouna group as a fight against
azlam. ICG, Divided We Stand (see note 48), 24–27; “The Airport Fiasco”, Libya Herald, 8 June 2012; “One Dead and Eight Injured Among Security Forces: SSC Tarhouna Takes Control of Souq al-Ahad and Discovers Heavy Weaponry”, Quryna, 22 August 2012, www.qurynanew.com/40448.
104- In addition to Haftar, one of the most prominent participants was Hamed al-Hassi (see note 99). Among those attending the April gathering was Jum’a Sayeh (see note 136), head of the GNC defence committee and a GNC member for Aziziya, a constituency dominated by the Warshafana tribe. “Fifth Extraordinary Conference to Build Libyan Army Demands Dismissal of Chief of Staff”, al-Tadhamon, 30 December 2012, tinyurl.com/amx6l35; “Foundation of the Assembly of Free Libyan Army Officers Announced”, al-Manara, 20 April 2013, tinyurl.com/boj5z5d.
105- “Defence Minister Accounces Creation of Integrity and Reform Commission in the Libyan Army, Review of the Ten Military Regions to Create Four”, Lana, 15.4.2013, tinyurl.com/cqlcftc.
106- Arbitrary arrests by members of the SSCs and their apparent complicity with shrine-destroyers generated increasing criticism in mid-2012, including among GNC members. When the leadership of the SSCs threatened to suspend operations because of lack of support from the government, Interior Minister Abdel ‘Aal briefly resigned. The government gave in to the pressure and stated its formal support for the SSCs. ICG, Divided We Stand (see note 48), 13.
107- “Abdelkarim Decrees Integration of SSC Members in Interior Ministry”, al-Tadhamon, 12 December 2012, tinyurl.com/a2kpazu; “Rejection of Interior Ministry Decision to Integrate SSCs: Demands for Formation of Separate Security Organ”, al-Manara, 12 December 2012, tinyurl.com/bz6qcjy.
108- Discussions, leading figures, SSC Tripoli, March and April 2013.