Libya continues to suffer from a chronic absence of security, with almost daily assassinations, bombings and kidnappings.
A multitude of armed groups emerged in 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.
The Libyan army is slowly beginning to emerge as a viable, if not yet effective force. The army has been training new recruits and, after Misrata’s militias withdrew from Tripoli in November 2013, has been deployed to provide regular security on the streets for the first time.
However, it lacks experienced soldiers. Many of those who served in the army under Gaddafi and survived the war have chosen not to return to work.
Libya Revolutionaries Operations Room
The Libya Revolutionaries Operations Room (LROR) used to be officially tasked with protecting the capital. However, it was stripped of this power by parliament after its members kidnapped then Prime Minister Ali Zeidan in October 2013. A branch of the LROR was set up in Benghazi to deal with deteriorating security.
National Security Directorate
The National Security Directorate (NSD) is Libya’s conventional police force, tasked with investigating crime and traffic offences and protecting public property.
The NSD has come under attack in Benghazi, Derna in the east and Sebha in the south – a manifestation of the general lawlessness in the country.
Al-Saiqa is said to be Libya’s elite army unit, made up of paratroopers and commandos. It initially came to prominence after it was deployed in Benghazi to control the spiralling lawlessness. The force is popular in Benghazi, because of its stance against the Islamist Ansar al-Sharia group and because it is seen as a symbol of the reborn Libyan armed forces.
More recently Al-Saiqa joined the renegade General Khalifa Haftar who in May 2014 launched “Operation Dignity”, targeting Islamist militias.
This unit under the Interior Ministry functions as a de-facto police investigations unit and carries out arrest warrants, mainly for drugs offences. It was accused by the former prime minister of involvement in his kidnap. Another unit under the ministry, the Special Deterrence Force (SDF), also combats drug trafficking.
Petroleum Facilities Guard
The Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG) was 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.
However, matters went awry when PFG leader Ibrahim Jadhran accused the central government of corruption in oil sales and implemented a blockade of Libya’s oil export terminals, after which oil revenues slowed down.
Libya Shield Force
The Libyan Shield Force has four brigades across the country. It was set up in 2012 as a temporary vehicle for integrating former rebel fighters into a cohesive national force, but it has clashed with other government-sponsored forces, such as the special forces unit of the Libyan army.
Libyan National Army
The Libyan National Army, led by Khalifa Haftar, came to prominence in February 2014, when he declared the “suspension” of the government, which was promptly rejected by the authorities. Three months later, his militias launched an offensive against Islamists in Benghazi.
Gen Haftar was a colonel under Gaddafi but turned against him. After living in exile in the US for 20 years, he returned to Libya and led ground forces to help oust Gaddafi in 2011.
Al-Zintan Revolutionaries’ Military Council
Formed as an umbrella for 23 militias in Zintan and the Nafusa Mountains in western Libya, the military council has five brigades, and a satellite channel called Libya al-Watan. It is best known for detaining Saif al-Islam Gaddafi after his capture in November 2011.
The al-Qaqa brigade is commanded by Uthman Mulayqithah who defected from Gaddafi’s regime at the start of the uprising. Officially under the Defence Ministry, the militia is tasked with protecting senior officials and government ministers.
Originally from Zintan, al-Sawaiq took part in the assault on Tripoli in September 2011. Since then, it has provided personal protection for senior figures at the National Transitional Council, changing its name to al-Sawaiq Brigade for Protection.
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. Along with some “unregulated brigades” based in the central city of Misrata, they are thought to control more than 800 tanks and at least 2,000 vehicles mounted with machine guns and anti-aircraft weapons.
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.
Ansar al-Sharia 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 was accused by the US of being part of the events that led to the burning of the US consulate in Benghazi in September 2012.
Although Ansar al-Sharia has helped provide security in public places, it has also been accused of human rights abuses, and was involved in the destruction of Sufi shrines.