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One of the most serious and immediate problems facing the interim leaders of the NTC — absent a strong and unified national military force — is disbanding the disparate armed groups of former revolutionary fighters that are in charge of security in the areas they control. Thrown into that anarchic mix is the still active presence of armed militia brigades that once protected Gadhafi during the uprising.
The threat these groups pose to the security of the interim government is being witnessed in the increasing frequency in which these groups are engaging each other in armed conflict.
The most recent of these fights took place 50 miles south of the capital of Tripoli when fighters from the town of Gharyan engaged in machine gun and rocket attacks with a militia from al-Asabia, 10 miles to the southwest, an encounter which left several dead and wounded.
That firefight had been preceded days earlier in a battle in the center of Tripoli between the militias from Tripoli and those from the Libyan city of Misrata, a confrontation which left at least four fighters dead.
The severity of that fight led Mustafa Abdel-Jalil, the head of the NTC, to worry it could lead “into a civil war.” That feeling was equally shared by Mohammed al-Gressa, a Misrata military council member, who said “I am not optimistic because blood has been spilled. I feel this looks like a civil war.”
To avoid that fate, the NTC has recently announced plans to spend $8 billion to reintegrate fighters into civil life in an effort, according to Moustafa al-Sagizli, head of Libya’s Warriors Affairs Committee, “to ease their transition from the fighting environment into society to build and develop the country.”
According to al-Sagizli, over 200,000 fighters from all over Libya are expected to sign up for the committee’s programs, including those fighting on the front lines and guarding oil fields and other vital facilities.
While al-Sagizli may be confident of the program’s potential for success, those soldiers currently serving in the fledgling Libyan national army are less so, complaining that militia groups were not interested in joining a new national army. As one Libyan soldier said, “The revolutionaries don’t want to join an organized military. They want to keep their current situation.”
In fact, the NTC may be better served to use some of the $8 billion it has earmarked for recalcitrant rebels to instead pay current Libyan army soldiers. In particular, a protest was recently held in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi by hundreds of Libyan soldiers demanding that they be paid three months’ worth of back wages.
Unfortunately, the unsettling prospect of sectarian civil war comes just as the NTC has finally proposed a draft law for electing by June a 200-member assembly to draft a new constitution, the first step to setting up a new government.
So, in a desperate effort to establish a central military authority on the ground to provide security before the June election, the NTC has pushed ahead with its announced efforts in December to have a working army and police force up and running in 100 days,
To that end, the NTC, in early January appointed Youssef Mangoush the new military’s chief of staff, a former Special Forces commander under Gadhafi. However, his appointment was met with instant disapproval from two armed groups in eastern Libya which said they will not accept Mangoush as commander-in-chief given his former service to the Gadhafi regime.
Undeterred by that rebuff, Mangoush said he hopes to train some 25,000 soldiers in the next several months, the first phase in building “a modern army.” While Mangoush did not say when that long-term plan would be complete, the commander of the Libyan national army, General Khalifa Hifter, said it would take at least three to five years.
By that time — with warring militias and a strengthened al-Qaeda presence — that modernized Libyan national army may find there is nothing to left to defend.
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