Adapting to a complex context: between responsibilities and obligations of Libyan militias

by Laura Santilli

Source: Reuters

After the end of forty-two years of dictatorship, the Arab Spring of 2011, the civil war that broke out in 2014 and the current war declared by General Haftar last April, many actors have tried to impose themselves in the power vacuum following the collapse of the Gaddafi regime in Libya. This analysis aims to try to tell the different roles that the Libyan militias have played in the country since 2011.


1. The Libyan context


To try to return a story as close as possible to the reality of the Libyan militias, it is a priority to understand the environment in which they operate since 2011, the year of the outbreak of the Arab Spring in Libya. Libya is the ninth largest oil reserve in the world and lives, however, of the double blackmailing power of oil: external, towards Europe for example, but also internal, without the sale of oil and gas in fact, the country can not survive, since the agricultural and manufacturing sectors are not developed.


Since the outbreak of the Arab Spring in 2011, Libya has been experiencing the fourth war in eight years. It is a country that lives on violence and trafficking: that of oil and gas and that of migrant men and women. Corruption is endemic and the difference between legality and illegality is not only weak, but it does not exist at all.


This is the context that the population, and therefore the militias, live in. It is also necessary to make a premise: in Libya it does not exist and never existed during the dictatorship of Gaddafi, a unitary national army, but rather, a set of militias and brigades that belonged to the Libyan dictator. Also the Praetorian Guard established by Gaddafi when he came to power in 1969, was a group of men belonging to different Libyan tribes: that of Magraha, Warfalla and Quadhadhifa that the dictator was able to keep together thanks to the blackmailing power of money. This organization also reflects well what is the political and social reality of Libya, a country organized on disorder, that caused by the fragmentation of the distribution of power among the various clans of the Libyan tribes. In a nutshell, we could say that in Libya, union is not strength.


The defence and security apparatus that the various militia groups set up under Gaddafi's dictatorship failed after the collapse of the regime, not only because of the death of the Raïs, but above all because of the division of power, control of the oil and gas trade, and the business of rebuilding a country in which each leader of the different tribes wanted and wants his gain. In 2014, a civil war broke out in Libya, at the end of which the country was divided into two areas of influence: in the west, in the part of the country called Cyrenaica, the government of General Khalifa Haftar, a former Gaddafi militiaman who, after a long exile in the United States, where he worked with the US intelligence services, returned to the country in 2011, after the outbreak of the Arab Spring. His government enjoys the support of the United States, Russia, France, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. He is the head of the Lybian National Army (LNA), a group of several Libyan militia groups with 7,000 regular and 18,000 auxiliary forces, although Haftar has repeatedly stated that he can count on 80,000 men[1]. The LNA forces have so far conquered the oil wells south of Libya and aim to conquer the eastern part of the country, Tripolitania, targeting its capital, Tripoli. The narrative of Haftar's conquest of the country is the one common to all the speeches proclaimed by the Arab generals: his army and therefore his future Libyan government, which aims to be the only one in the country, is the only one that could guarantee a secular Libya free from terrorism.


However, since March 2016, Tripolitania has been governed by the National Agreement Government of al-Sarraj, wanted by the International Community and supported by the UN, Italy, Turkey and Qatar. The two governments, although still at war, are mutually necessary, until one prevails over the other: the government of Haftar, in fact, holds the Libyan oil wells and gas fields, while the Sarraj government is the only one that can officially sell oil and gas, because it is the only government recognized by the International Community. What is holding up this war in Libya and therefore the victory of one of the two actors? The micro-actors: the militias that have weapons, control the security of the cities and the country, have