Libya: The State Without A State


October 22, 2012: Long-time Libyan dictator Moamar Kaddafi was deposed and killed a year ago but his legacy fights on. Kaddafi used tribal loyalties to maintain power and favored certain tribes, and some of the pro-Kaddafi tribes are still fighting. The violence is not so much about putting Kaddafi followers back into power but holding on to Kaddafi era privileges and avoiding punishment for crimes committed to support Kaddafi’s rule. One example is on the southern border, where the pro-rebel Tabu tribe has been put in charge of the border (with Sudan, Chad, and Niger) security. There they constantly skirmish with the pro-Kaddafi Zwai. Another element of this rivalry is that the Tabu are black African in orientation while the Zwai are Arab. Kaddafi supported Arab domination over black Arabs, something many Arabs still support.

The basic problem is that the new government has not been able to organize a national police force yet and has depended on local militias to maintain law and order. The militias are often run by tribal leaders or local warlords, and this causes problems if you send them to help maintain order somewhere else (where they are often seen as tribal invaders). Kaddafi recognized and supported tribal affiliations and these loyalties (to divide potential enemies) and this makes it difficult to establish a workable national government. One asset the government does have is lots of oil revenue. But the widespread corruption cripples efforts to use that money to build national unity.  

Pro-government forces have been fighting for control of the West Libyan town of Bani Walid (170 kilometers southeast of Tripoli) for most of the month. With a population of about 100,000, this town was always pro-Kaddafi and the last refuge of pro-Kaddafi militias (who had been misbehaving even after the Kaddafi government was overthrown last year). The pro-Kaddafi forces recaptured the town late last year, after the rebels seized it. The town became a sanctuary for anti-government groups and the government finally organized another effort to take control of the town. This led to over a week of shelling followed by a ground attack which is just about over. There have been over 300 casualties, most of them civilians hurt during the shelling.

The investigation of the murder of the American ambassador (and three other State Department employees) on September 11th has come up with the names of several Libyan Islamic radical group leaders but few arrests. Most Libyans are upset about the September 11 attack, but there’s not a lot of enthusiasm for starting a war with Islamic radical groups. In the United States, the September 11 attack has become a political controversy because of upcoming (November 6) elections. It appears that the U.S. government did not increase diplomatic security in Libya to the level that the local American diplomats there requested.  The September attack led to the withdrawal of American security officials (mainly the CIA) from Benghazi. It will take a while to rebuild the American intelligence operation in Benghazi.

Stolen Libyan weapons (Russian anti-aircraft and French anti-tank missiles) have been seen in Gaza and at least one anti-aircraft missile was used recently, without success. Thousands of weapons (mostly rifles, pistols, and machine-guns) were stolen by smugglers last year and taken out of the country. They are showing up throughout the region.

October 20, 2012: The youngest son of Moamar Kaddafi (Khamis) was killed during the fighting in Bani Walid. Khamis commanded a brigade last year and fought against the rebels. He disappeared and was reported killed several times. This time he appears to be really dead. The town has been surrounded all month and government forces are now advancing to the center of town and fighting street by street.

October 15, 2012:  The U.S. has agreed to help organize and train a counter-terrorism commando force. This would enable the government to quickly shut down any outbreaks of Islamic terror group fighting.

In Tripoli 120 prisoners escaped from a jail, apparently after bribing the guards.

October 14, 2012:  The newly elected legislature has selected a new prime minister. The previous one was dismissed for being unable to form a government after 25 days. The problem there was the inability to pass out ministry control in a way that satisfied most political factions. The new prime minister will have the same difficulties. The main problem is the tribalism and the lack of willingness to do anything for the greater good.

October 13, 2012: Someone tried to kill a senior intelligence official in Benghazi. The bomb was placed under the official’s car but he got out of the car after starting it to go back into his home, where he was when the car blew up. There have been similar attacks recently, apparently in an effort to reduce the effectiveness of government intelligence efforts.




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