Two years have passed since the NATO’s regime-changing intervention into Libya. The organization brazenly went beyond the UN resolution to make anti-government rebel forces overthrow the Qaddafi regime and plunge the country into turmoil.
Recent events to spark growing concern
Three apparently related incidents have focused attention on Libya recently. The first incident was an outright violation of Libya’s sovereignty by US special operations forces (SOF) team that seized Abu Anas al-Libi, an alleged al Qaeda operative, on October 5. Supposedly the action was undertaken with the knowledge and consent of Libya’s government. The second incident was no doubt a response to the SOF operation when Prime Minister Ali Zeidan was kidnapped a few days later. The third incident was a 48-hour state of emergency declared in the capital Tripoli on November 16 when thousands of protesters stormed the Misrata militia headquarters. Many died and hundreds were wounded. Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zidan said, «The existence of weapons outside the army and police is dangerous» adding, «All armed militias need to leave Tripoli, without exception». According to the Libyan Prime Minister all militias are to join the regular government forces until December 31, otherwise the government will cut off payments to their regional governments.
Brink of Collapse
Divisions between secularists and Islamists are becoming further entrenched in the Tripoli parliament, the drafting of a post-Gaddafi constitution has been delayed for months. Lawlessness has become an everyday feature of life: foreign embassies are targeted and attacked (the Russian embassy was attacked in early October), rival militias and branches of Al-Qaeda vie for power and the country’s borders are porous. Political power still grows from the barrel of a gun, and militiamen clearly wield control in the absence of an army and police force. They act on their own agenda. In the eastern Cyrenaica region, local militias and tribes have blocked activity at ports and oil fields in the east demanding a greater share of political power and oil revenues. This region, known as Barqah, has been historically marginalized while accounting for 80% of Libya's proven oil reserves and several strategic ports and oil refineries on its soil. The blockade costs the country around $130 million per day further exacerbating the economic woes. The national oil production has already dropped from some 1.5 million barrels per day during the Gaddafi era to mere 150,000 barrels per day, according to National Oil Corporation statistics released in September. The creation of a separatist oil firm that will be responsible for exports was undertaken alongside a plan to set up an eastern central bank. The potential succession of Cyrenaica would be an economic disaster for the Tripolitania and Fezzan regions, and would be a precursor to armed conflict that would allow terrorist militias to embolden their authority and influence. The Finance Minister said that the preparation of the 2014 budget will be delayed as the government is struggling to collect information from an increasing number of authorities with separate budgets.
British intelligence estimates claim that the Libyan government controls only 20 out of 400 arms depots in the country, and some 3,000 shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles that can be used to shoot down civilian airliners remain missing. Russia has recently highlighted the dangers posed by 6,400 barrels of badly-guarded yellowcake uranium discovered near the former Gaddafi stronghold of Sabha, which Al-Qaeda groups have been eyeing.
There is no doubt that Libya is so pervasively armed. Supposedly, every household is in possession of weapons acquired by raids on Qaddafi arsenals. The incidents mentioned above show that the capabilities of the Tripoli-based government pale to that of militias.
USA responds to situation
According to Chris Carroll of Stars and Stripes The United States military is considering a mission to train Libyan security personnel with the goal of creating a force of 5,000 to 8000 conventional soldiers and a smaller unit for specialized counterterrorism missions, according to the top officer at the United States Special Operations Command. It has not been decided where the training would take place, officials said, but the overall mission would be organized by the military’s Africa Command. Bulgaria has been cited as one possible location. Spokesman Col. Steven Warren told reporters at the Pentagon that details of the training were still being worked out, including which U.S. Army conventional forces units would conduct it and what Libyan units would receive it. «We’re in discussions with Libyans on the exact number [of troops], but we’re prepared to provide training for 5,000 to 8,000 personnel»,Warren said. «This is essentially basic training». Adm. William McRaven, head of U.S. Special Operations Command, said that the project will involve conventional and special operations forces
According to the New York Times, Admiral McRaven and other officials noted that the Pentagon’s evolving national security strategy calls for building counterterrorism capabilities among local forces in allied and partner nations, rather than having American troops on the ground to carry out missions. At that a small number of United States military personnel had also traveled to Libya to assist in the planning. As the source notes, American officials say the Libyan government has quietly sought security assistance from the United States, giving tacit approval to two American commando operations in the country.
In April-May an element of US Marines force in Spain moved over to Naval Air Station Sigonella in Sicily, Italy from Spain to be put closer to Libya if suddenly needed in Tripoli. This element is part of a new rapid reaction force based at Moron Air Base in southern Spain, which provides quick access especially to northern Africa. Fully operational, the unit will be required to be airborne within six hours of receiving orders. The full 500-strong team, which is to be in place within 30 days, will include 225 Marines equipped for ground combat along with intelligence and communications specialists, plus another 225 personnel to man and maintain the six V-22 Osprey hovercraft and two C-130 refueling airplanes that make up the aviation component of the unit to get it airborne in the time required. The refueling capability will allow the Osprey to fly greater distances without landing. The Marines will be equipped with machines guns, mortars and grenade launchers. As part of the Marine Corps’ efforts to beef up embassy security in particular, it also is adding 1,000 Marines to the embassy guard force, nearly doubling the size of the effort by increasing the strength of individual embassy teams in high-threat areas, and establishing a special team of 100 Marines based in the United States that could quickly fly to an area on call to back up embassy guards if an embassy is under threat.
NATO and EU ready to make contribution
This August Libyan General Staff announced that it will send hundreds of soldiers for training abroad as part of plans to rebuild the Libyan armed forces. «It’s been agreed with Italy, Turkey and Britain to train ground army units for three months for each group»,spokesman of the Chief of Staff Colonel Ali Shiekhi told the Libya Herald. Prime Minister Ali Zeidan attended the June G8 summit in Northern Ireland, the US, Italy, France and the UK agreed to train Libyan solders as part of plans to rebuild the Libyan Army. Turkey is also involved in the program. Among the plans, the UK agreed to host 2,000 Libyan personnel on ten-week training courses later this year, to boost the professionalism of the military. It was later reported that the soldiers would be trained in basic infantry skills and leadership at a British Army location in Cambridgeshire, some 80 kilometres outside London. Personnel who had passed the appropriate medical and physical tests would be sent back to England in small groups once the courses began.
According to EU Observer the EU’s «civilian» border mission in Libya is in fact training paramilitary forces, amid a wider European and US effort to stop Libya becoming a «failed state». The goal is to enhance the operational capability of Libya’s «Border Guards (BG)» and «Naval Coast Guard (NCG)». Both units are part of Libya’s defence ministry. The BG, a gendarmerie of some 9,000 men responsible for land borders, is, according to the EU paper, under the «direct command» of the Libyan army’s «chief of staff». The NCG, 6,500 men who look after maritime borders, also reports straight to the top. The European border assistance mission (Eubam) will take BG and NCG «battalions» out of the field, train them in secure locations, and «redeploy» them into action. Eubam has earmarked €120,000 a year to buy classified satellite images. The sensitive nature of its work is also highlighted by EU contacts with Libyan intelligence.
Italy implements security projects by defense and interior ministries. It is also sending a naval ship to stop «weapons smuggling» in Libyan waters, restoring seven Libyan naval vessels and donating 20 «VBL Puma» armored vehicles. France is training around 200 military and security personnel, including 75 bodyguards to protect Libyan VIPs. Germany is helping to provide security for Tadjoura research centre and Libya’s stocks of shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, as well as aiding to dispose of chemical weapons. The UK has inserted a «Defence Assistance Team» in the Libyan defence ministry and is developing a «joint operations unit». Denmark, Greece, Malta, the Netherlands, Spain and Romania have smaller projects. NATO is also creating a team of 10 or so military advisors based in Brussels to «visit Libya for short periods» and «provide advice to the Libyan authorities on defense institution building».
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This century three Western foreign military interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya have been aimed at government change and, actually, all have ended in disaster. The parallels of Libya with Iraq and Afghanistan are uncomfortably suggestive. No matter what kind of regimes has been toppled, the ensuing lack of law and order has brought about much more trouble and instability affecting adjacent states. In each of these «nation building» cases military have been dispersed, governments disbanded, the judiciary dismantled and armed gangs and militias left free to run riot spreading anarchy around. Little or no attempt was made to replace the created mess with a new order. An increase in crime in Libya, a destroyed economy and the lack of political control over different tribes makes Libya worse off than 2 years ago. Now the US and allies are taking steps to change the attitude and intervene in the form of military and security assistance. As one can see some people in uniform are already on the ground there. The efforts mean expenditure. The chances are great that step by step the US and its European allies may get embroiled in the quagmire of anarchy and chaos in an effort to make Libya remain a pro-Western state in the volatile region. The «no boots on the ground» policy may fail as «some boots» are already there while others happen to operate on Libyan soil off and on. It’s extremely hard to predict anything about the Middle East, but the task to improve things in Libya is a tall order, a real high mountain to climb. The West is paying for its own mistakes it had been warned about stepping on the same rake in Libya after the lessons it failed to learn in Afghanistan and Iraq.