Holding Libya Together: Security Challenges After Qadhafi

Dec. 21, 2011, 3:37 p.m.

The International Crisis Group published report outlining the challenges Libya faces following the collapse of the Qadhafi regime. It describes how as many as 300 militias rose during the revolution--each with different geographic, economic, and religious interests. Competing interests have prevented the National Transitional Council from truly leading these groups.  Without a clear, central leadership security, policing and justice issues have largely remained decentralized. The report provides suggestions to members of the National Transitional Council (NTC), the international community, and local government and militia leaders.

In principle, there is little dispute among brigade commanders and political leaders on the need to unite the security forces and bring them under the authority of a single, credible national authority. As stated by the head of the Tripoli brigades, Mehdi al-Harati, “In the future, almost all the thuwwar wish to come under the National Army’s umbrella”. Similar sentiments were echoed by the commander of Zintan’s Mohammad alMadani Brigade and Misratan rebels returning from the frontline in Sirte.

Translating such abstract sentiments into concrete action is a different matter. The fragmentation of the security landscape reflects political divisions and longer-term structural issues: Qadhafi’s neglect of the old National Army along with other institutions; regional friction and political factionalism; the uprising’s geographically uneven and uncoordinated development; the surplus of weapons and deficit in trust; the absence of a strong, respected executive authority; and widespread feeling among many armed fighters that the new National Army lacks both relevance and legitimacy. In the words of a Western military analyst, “We came in thinking that the militias would be subsumed under the National Army. It now looks more like the National Army will be subsumed under the militias”.

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