No End in Sight: Local Militias Battle in Libya

by / 0 Comments / 222 View / September 2, 2014

In recent weeks the international community has seen a surge of violence in Tripoli, the capital city of Libya, and its surrounding regions—the most costly and destructive violence since the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. The unceasing bloodshed in Libya represents another significant event indicating the seeming failure of the 2011 Arab Spring movement that spread throughout the Middle East. Evident once again is the inability of local factions to coexist in close proximity and peacefully agree upon a form of government that will bring them what they sought through revolution. With international powers refraining from another costly and dangerous incursion into Libya, the Libyan citizens seem to be arriving at the point of existential crisis, looking down the shrouded and bloody road of Libya’s future, with no clear solution in sight.

Since the toppling of Gaddafi’s dictatorship, there has been a severe power vacuum and a desperate fight for natural resources and political influence between local (and at times foreign) militia groups. The nation is currently dismembered into various rebel factions with a severely lacking central police authority or paramilitary force that is strong enough to bring these acts of violence and destruction to rest. Khalifa Hifter is the leader of the Libyan National Brigade, which claims to be the central and most official authority in all of Libya and is relied upon by government officials as a protecting militia; however, the large militia trains soldiers and operates out of its own town and therefore maintains the image of a seemingly local guerilla group rather than a national force of strength–even though the Libyan National Brigade is funded by the Libyan government and wears Libyan uniforms. While this violence seems to have broken out primarily in the past month, the catalyst of the turmoil was on May 16, 2014, when Hifter’s Libyan National Brigade began their shelling and bombing of rebel bases around Benghazi, belonging to affiliates of the Muslim Brotherhood, such as Libya Shield One, Ansar al-Sharia, February 17th Martyrs’ Brigade, and the Rafallah al-Sahati Companies. This shelling was part of the current government’s attempt to cleanse Libya of the Muslim Brotherhood and purge their ideals from the public.

On Saturday, August 23rd, Misrata (a coastal town west of Tripoli) militia forces captured the central Libyan airport in Tripoli after a month of vicious bloodshed with their rivals, the Zintan militia. The groups once joined in an alliance to topple the regime of Gaddafi, but since the overthrow they have returned to brutal fighting. Zintan, in Western Libya, has seen the majority of the recent clashes, with 22 killed in early July. Warplanes that Hifter claims to have sent flew over Tripoli on Sunday and Monday attacking the Misrata-occupied airport, while additionally attacking targets in the capital city—leaving the entire main terminal of the airport in an inferno of chaos. A small local airport in Matiga has been used throughout the past month for foreign travelers and tourists, although the number of foreign nationals arriving in Libya has drastically decreased since the outbreak of recent violence, and due to the US, Turkey, and the UN’s evacuation of their diplomats from embassies in Libya. On Monday, the Royal Navy, sensing no immediate end to the violence and terror, evacuated 93 British Nationals.

Searching for a solution to the turmoil, Libyans are now deciding between two rivaling parliamentary groups. The parliament that was elected on June 25th has recently faced opposition from the old General National Congress, which was instated post-Gaddafi but struggled as a legislative body. The old Congress is now gaining support from groups like Operation Dawn, deemed a terrorist group by Libya.

This destruction is a depressing expression of the attempted rebirth of a once harmonious nation, but it should be acknowledged that very rarely is a violent revolution followed by a stable and well-organized government. Onlookers can only hope that the creation of a peaceful Libyan state comes before the self-destruction of the Libyan state altogether.


Reuters. “War planes attack Libyan capital, Tripoli airport terminal destroyed.” CBC News. CBC, 24 Aug. 2014. Web. 27 Aug. 2014.

Shankar, Sneha. “Libya’s Tripoli Sees Unidentified Warplanes, Explosions While UN Condemns Violence.” International Business Times. IBT Media, 18 Aug. 2014. Web. 24 Aug. 2014.

Wehrey, Frederic. “What’s behind Libya’s spiraling violence?” Washington Post. Washington Post, 28 July 2014. Web. 25 Aug. 2014.

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