Guide to key Libyan militias and other armed groups

Libyan army soldiers sit in the back of a pick-up truck The Libyan army is beginning to emerge as a viable, if not yet effective force.

Two years after the ousting of Muammar Gaddafi, Libya continues to suffer from a chronic absence of security and law and order, with almost daily assassinations, bombings and kidnappings, in addition to a plethora of common crimes.

At the root of the crisis is the existence of a multitude of armed groups that emerged from the aftermath of the Libyan civil war which ended Gaddafi's 42-year rule in 2011. Since then, many of these groups have melted away as their members re-entered civilian life, but some still survive in the form of official and non-official military units.

These groups are seen by Libyans as both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, in the absence of an effective army, they provide security across much of the country and protect the borders.

On the other, they have been accused of human rights abuses, unlawful detention and of taking the law into their own hands.

One of the most high-profile incidents involving militias was the kidnap of Prime Minister Ali Zeidan in October 2013 by a group which was set up to provide security in the capital.

And in November, clashes in the capital between militias from the town of Misrata and local protesters left more about 50 people dead and hundreds wounded, sparking a backlash against the armed groups in Tripoli. Several militias have already left the capital as a result, including ones from Misrata and Zintan that had been there ever since the war.

Below we profile some of the main militias as well as the security bodies affiliated directly or indirectly to the nascent Libyan state.


Libyan army

The Libyan army is slowly beginning to emerge as a viable, if not yet effective force. Throughout 2013 the army has been training new recruits and, after the pullout of Misrata's militias from Tripoli this month, has been deployed to provide regular security on the streets for the first time.

However, the main problem facing the Libyan army is the lack of experienced soldiers. Many of those who served in the army under Gaddafi and survived the war have chosen not to return to work, despite repeated pleas by successive post-war governments for them to go back to their posts.

Libya Revolutionaries Operations Room

Until recently, the Libya Revolutionaries Operations Room (LROR) was officially tasked with protecting the capital. However, it was stripped of this power by parliament, the General National Congress (GNC), after its members kidnapped the prime minister.

The LROR was set up through an executive order by GNC chairman Nuri Abu-Sahmayn in early 2013.

After the Zeidan kidnap, Mr Abu-Sahmayn was stripped of the mandate to organise a security force to secure the capital and the GNC voted to place the LROR under the control of the office of the chief of General Staff. In late September, the Interior Ministry ordered the creation of a branch of LROR in Benghazi, known as LROR- Eastern Region Administration, to deal with deteriorating security. The LROR also appears to have links with smaller militias in the south, e.g. Libya Unity Brigade.

National Security Directorate

The National Security Directorate (NSD) is Libya's police force and has been formed from several militias and other provisional security bodies, such as the Provisional Supreme Security Committee in Tripoli. It carries out the duties of a conventional police force, such as traffic duties, crime investigation and detection, and protecting public property.

It reports to the Interior Ministry and has a presence across the country. Recently, NSD came under attacks in Benghazi, Derna in the east and Sebha in the south - a manifestation of the general lawlessness in the country.

Al-Saiqa Forces
Map of Libya

Al-Saiqa is said to be Libya's elite army unit, formed from a mixture of paratroopers and commandos. The group emerged from a militia with the same name in 2010. It now numbers a few thousand and reports to the Ministry of Defence.

Al-Saiqa has recently come to prominence after its deployment in Benghazi in an attempt to control the spiralling lawlessness. As a result, it was repeatedly came attacked and several of its officers killed. News reports spoke of the reinforcement of al-Saiqa in Benghazi with military hardware from militias in western Libya.

The force is popular in Benghazi, particularly in light of its stance against the Islamist Ansar al-Sharia group and because it is seen as a symbol of the reborn Libyan armed forces.

Anti-Crime Unit

This unit operates nominally under the control of the Ministry of the Interior. It functions as a de-facto police investigations unit and executes arrest warrants, with a particular focus on drugs offences. The unit has a Facebook page where it posts pictures of seized drugs and alcohol. However, it was accused by the prime minister of involvement in his kidnap, and may also find itself under pressure because of the backlash against militias in Tripoli.

Special Deterrence Force

The Special Deterrence Force (SDF) operates as a unit to combat drug trafficking and comes under the Interior Ministry. The unit carries out various drugs-related activities, including seizures, arrests and destruction. The SDF used to control several public buildings in Tripoli, including some at the Mitiga air base. However, after the most recent clashes in Tripoli, it handed over these buildings to the chief of the Air Force Staff.

Petroleum Facilities Guard

The Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG) was originally set up in 2012 specifically to protect Libya's vital oil installations. The oil plants survived the war largely intact, mainly because both sides knew that Libya's economic future was dependent on strong hydrocarbon exports. The PFG comes under the Oil Ministry but is paid for by the Ministry of Defence.

However, matters went awry when PFG leader Ibrahim Jadhran accused the central government of corruption in oil sales and implemented a comprehensive blockade of Libya's oil export terminals. For the first time since 2011, oil revenues slowed down to a trickle.

To make matters worse for the Libyan government, Mr Jadhran affiliated himself and the PFG with the eastern federalist movement, which seeks autonomy for eastern Libya. The federalists claim to have some 17,000 fighters under their command, but have so far avoided direct conflict with the Tripoli-based government.

Members of Libya's shield brigade are seen at a base in Tripoli Libya Shield Force integrates former rebel fighters into a national force
Libya Shield Force

The Libya Shield Force (LSF) is an umbrella grouping comprising smaller militias from Khums in western Libya, Misrata and smaller towns in the centre of the country. It is organised into four brigades deployed in the east, west, centre and south of Libya.

The LSF was set up in 2012 as a temporary vehicle for integrating former rebel fighters into a cohesive national force and is officially answerable to the Defence Ministry. However, in the past year it has clashed with other government-sponsored forces, such as the special forces unit of the Libyan army.


Al-Zintan Revolutionaries' Military Council

The military council of the Zintan area is best known for detaining Saif al-Islam Gaddafi after his capture in November 2011. The council was formed in May 2011 as an umbrella for 23 militias in Zintan and the Nafusa Mountains in western Libya. It has five brigades, the most prominent of which is the Martyr Muhammad al-Madani Brigade, which boasts about 4,000 fighters. The council is currently led by Mukhtar Khalifah Shahub, a former Libyan navy officer. The group has various Arabic-language media outlets. These include a satellite channel called Libya al-Watan and several websites and pages on Facebook.

Al-Qaqa Brigade
Al Qaqa brigade commander Uthman Mulayqithah presents a brigade flag to an army officer Al-Qaqa brigade's Uthman Mulayqithah (l) defected from Gaddafi's regime

The al-Qaqa brigade was formed by a group of Libyans from the west of the country who trained in the Zintan area during the 2011 conflict. It is commanded by Uthman Mulayqithah who defected from Gaddafi's regime after the 17 February revolt. The militia is tasked with providing law and order and protecting senior officials and government ministers. It is officially under the Defence Ministry.

The brigade is often associated with Mahmud Jibril, the former prime minister and leader of the liberal National Forces Alliance. On 21 November it was reported that the al-Qaqa Brigade had left Tripoli, along with the Provisional Supreme Security Committee, which is now part of the police force (also known as the National Security Directorate).

Al-Sawaiq Brigade

Originally from Zintan in the Nafusa Mountains, al-Sawaiq was formed on the opening of the western front in the 2011 conflict. It took part in the assault on Tripoli in September 2011. Since then, it has been tasked with providing personal protection for senior figures at the National Transitional Council, changing its name to al-Sawaiq Brigade for Protection.

Al-Sawaiq came under the authority of the Ministry of Defence in October 2012 and is now led by Isam al-Trabulsi.

After the clashes in Tripoli, al-Sawaiq began to hand over some of the public buildings it controlled to the Ministry of Defence, and it started to redeploy outside the capital.

Misrata Brigades

In the immediate aftermath of Gaddafi's toppling, more than 200 militias, or "revolutionary brigades", were registered with the Misratan Union of Revolutionaries, comprising about 40,000 members. In addition, there are between six and nine "unregulated brigades". All these brigades are thought to control a large number of tanks - some estimates put this as high as more than 800 - dozens of heavy artillery pieces, and at least 2,000 vehicles mounted with machine guns and anti-aircraft weapons.

Although based in the central city of Misrata, many of the brigades are deployed elsewhere in the centre and west of Libya, including until recently the capital, Tripoli.

17 February Martyrs Brigade

Based in the eastern city of Benghazi, this brigade is thought to be the biggest and best armed militia in eastern Libya. Islamist in outlook, it is funded by the Defence Ministry and is thought to consist of about 12 battalions equipped with light and heavy weapons.

The group has carried out various security and law and order tasks in eastern Libya and Kufra in the south.

Rafallah al-Sahati Brigade

Named after one of the first Libyans to die while fighting Gaddafi's forces in Benghazi in March 2011, the Rafallah al-Sahati brigade is a splinter of the 17 February Martyrs Brigade. It is estimated to number about 1,000 and is deployed mainly in eastern Libya and in Kufra.

Ansar al-Sharia Brigade

Comprising former rebels from several militias based in eastern Libya - notably the Abu Obayda bin al-Jarah Brigade, Malik Brigade and 17 February Brigade - Ansar al-Sharia is a Salafi militia which came to prominence in June 2012 when it paraded armed vehicles in central Benghazi to demand the imposition of Islamic law, or Sharia. It stands accused by the US of being part of the events that led to the burning of the US consulate in Benghazi and the killing of US ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens in September 2012. These events triggered a popular revolt against the militia, prompting it to flee the city, but it later returned and ensconced itself in a number of former army bases.

Although Ansar al-Sharia has helped provide security in public places, such as al-Jalaa hospital, it has also been accused of human rights abuses, and was involved in the destruction of Sufi shrines in Benghazi and elsewhere.

According to one observer, Noman Benotman, a former member of the Libyan Islamic fighting group who currently leads the Quilliam Foundation's work on de-radicalizing jihadists in the UK and abroad, Ansar al-Sharia is less an organisation and more an amorphous coalition of Islamist and Salafi groups active in eastern Libya.

Small local forces

In Libya's smaller towns and cities, local groups of armed men still perform many of the duties of the state. This is especially true in the south of the country, where the arduous task of protecting Libya's open border, which stretches thousands of miles, is carried out largely by ill-equipped and ill-trained local groups.

BBC Monitoring reports and analyses news from TV, radio, web and print media around the world. For more reports from BBC Monitoring, click here

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