Home inContext Libyan Government Clashes with Militias

Libyan Government Clashes with Militias

Beth Kanopsic

An elite Libyan military unit took control of a base in Benghazi belonging to the Islamist militia Libyan Shield Number One (LS). LS is a grouping of militias that had previously been aligned with the military and tasked with helping maintain security. According to the Libya Herald, more than 200 protesters gathered to demand that the militia vacate the premises and disband. Thirty-five Libyans died during the protest and ensuing government raid, which re-established government control of the area. Libyan leaders celebrated their success as part of a larger campaign to extend government control over the country’s militias and lawless areas.

Libyans carrying an injured comrade during clashes between protesters and militiamen in Benghazi, Libya, June 8th, 2013. (Photo: Reuters)

Libyan Shield Number One, one of the most widely deployed armed groups in eastern Libya, was, in theory, already under government command, and has helped to quell unrest and civil disturbances. Many Libyans hold a relatively favorable view of the militia, compared to others across the country. However, the local population has become increasingly hostile toward armed groups in general. Anger at the militias grew after they laid siege to government buildings last month in Tripoli and after September’s attack against U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens. A local activist explained, “People protested because they believe militias go against Libya’s stability, which can only be achieved through a proper army and police.”

After the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, the weak and divided central government turned to the militias to help maintain regional order. However the government became dependent on them and the militias took full advantage of the arrangement. Since the public backlash began, the central government has ordered direct action against four Islamist militia bases, but overall success continues to be elusive. Hundreds of fractious armed groups, commanding hundreds of thousands of fighters, armed with weapons as sophisticated as tanks looted during the revolution, remain operative across the country. Public resentment over the refusal of the militias to disarm has brought citizens to the streets in protest, compounding the challenge to the government.

Army Chief of Staff Yussef al-Mangoush resigned soon after the LS raid, citing the heavy casualties in the incident.