ROGUE MILITIAS EXPELLED IN LIBYA AS “OPERATION TRIPOLI” INTENSIFIES

(Previously reported in The Inkerman Group’s blog)

The Libyan Government appears to be ‘making good’ on its endless string of promises to finally remove troublesome militias in the capital, as security forces continued with day four of “Operation Tripoli” on 19 March 2013. The operation is part of a concerted effort to dismantle illegitimate armed groups within the city, a top priority for authorities in post-revolutionary Libya who have grown weary over the apparent refusal of some armed groups to relinquish control of buildings in the capital. The plan, which was recently announced by Prime Minister Ali Zidan on 03 March 2013, but orchestrated by Minister of the Interior, Ashur Suleiman Shwayel, is already proving to be successful. Indeed, most Libyans appear to be supportive of the long-awaited measure, a sentiment shared by the hundreds or so number of residents who frequently demonstrate at Maydan ash Shuhada (Martyrs’ Square) in the capital to demand the dissolution of all militias.

So far a number of rogue militias have already ceded control of key buildings in Tripoli’s Gargaresh district, a neighbourhood which, despite being depicted as “Western-friendly”, is considered rife with drug gangs. In addition to raiding buildings in Gargaresh, security forces have also conducted operations near Bab al Azizia, the six-square-kilometre former military strong-hold of deceased dictator Muammar Gaddafi. Meanwhile, government forces also reportedly conducted operations inside local militia headquarters in the southern district of Ain Zara, as well as the eastern Beer Sta Milad neighbourhood near Tajoura, during the early morning hours of 19 March 2013. At time of publication, there have been no reports of injuries or deaths as a result of the ongoing operation. Nevertheless, this is expected to change in the coming days, as both the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the MoI have essentially been given carte blanche to expel armed groups from “more than 500 sites” in Tripoli, alone.

Operation Tripoli Begins

As previously reported by The Inkerman Group, on 03 March 2013, PM Zidan confirmed that his government would initiate an operation aimed at rooting out rogue militias in Tripoli, with special attention focused on the capital’s suburbs. Whilst the media has been keen to describe the government’s plans as part of a “new” operation, in reality, the measures are part of a greater security strategy which had been in the works for over a year. To the outside observer, then, it would appear that there must have been a new impetus to warrant the hasty removal of militias which have actually been plaguing Tripoli for months. For some, this catalyst appears to be the constant attacks on the official headquarters (and temporary base) of the General National Congress (GNC). Indeed, for Zidan, this operation could not have come sooner, as many brigades have not only been orchestrating attacks against government buildings; they have also used some facilities for detention centres, “drug dens and other sins”.

Zidan’s statement, however, comes after repeated complaints from GNC representatives, who have for months criticised security officials for their failure to return occupied buildings back to legitimate authorities. In January 2013 GNC Representative Abdel Moneim Hussein Alyaseer claimed that many armed men – some of whom have “exaggerated” their revolutionary credentials – have essentially been holding government buildings “for ransom”. In other words, these armed gangs have been using facilities in Tripoli as their base, and have refused to hand over the buildings unless they receive financial rewards. In many cases, even after Libyan authorities “paid off” the armed groups, the militias still refused to relinquish control of the buildings. This has, therefore, left the government no choice, but to launch “Operation Tripoli”.

Angry Militias Respond

Naturally, despite being largely supported by ordinary citizens from the Maghreb nation, “Operation Tripoli” has proven controversial with armed groups in Tripoli, as well as elsewhere in Libya. Underscoring the frustration felt by many militias in Libya, rogue brigades, believed to be from Benghazi and Misrata, reportedly “hijacked” Libyan news channel Al Watania on 18 March 2013, and demanded that Prime Minister Zidan resign from his post. Worryingly, this anger is only likely to increase in the coming days, particularly after the MoI confirmed that Shwayel would “take his plan” to other cities in Libya. This is to say, that, upon the successful completion of Operation Tripoli, the government will likely implement the same anti-militia raids in major cities throughout Libya, including Benghazi and Misrata, both of which are expected to be even more troublesome for authorities. Indeed, Benghazi and Misrata are assessed to serve as higher risk areas for authorities and foreign nationals, as both cities are reported to have far more militias with “more weapons and more experience”.

Risks For Foreign Nationals

Whilst leaders within the MoD and MoI debated whether to take their anti-militia strategy to the streets of Misrata, and later, Benghazi, back in the capital security forces are still reportedly engaging in clashes with unruly armed groups. Although in the long-term, Tripoli’s security situation is likely to be ameliorated, in the interim, sporadic bouts of violence will undoubtedly plague the capital. Of course amid “Operation Tripoli” the risk to government-backed security forces is well understood. But how will this operation potentially impact foreign nationals in country?

Currently, Tripoli is expected to present a lower risk to travellers compared to that of Benghazi, with clashes assessed to be, at present, isolated incidents, with only a short-term incidental risk to personnel. However, as a result of the increase in anti-militia raids, there is likely to be a rise in shootings over the coming months. Although clients are not expected to serve as “direct targets” for clashes, those travelling to Tripoli do face a risk (albeit, minimal) of becoming ‘caught up’ in attacks between militias and security forces. In addition to potentially being ‘entangled’ in clashes between militias and security forces, foreign nationals could also become inadvertently involved in intelligence operations. Indeed, there have been a number of reports of foreign nationals having had their phones tapped, presumably from government officials, as part of a larger security effort orchestrated by authorities in the capital.

As can be expected, certain sections of Tripoli are considered to be riskier than others. In particular, The Inkerman Group maintains that the southern district of Abu Salim, as well as the eastern suburb of Tajoura and the western neighbourhood of Janzour, could all serve as focal points for violence, most of which is likely to occur at night. As such, personnel are advised to remain particularly vigilant when visiting the capital, and to avoid travelling in Tripoli after dark. In addition to targeting illegally-occupied buildings in Tripoli-proper, Tripoli’s Joint Security Force has also been tasked with dismantling militia headquarters in the capital’s outskirts, many of which are located on local farms. The region between Tripoli and Zawiya, located approximately forty-five kilometres west of the capital, is a specific area of concern. Already an area rife with sporadic eruptions in inter-tribal conflict, mostly initiated by members of the Warshafena tribe and locals from Zawiya, the area has also frequently been infiltrated by purported security forces loyal to the government (most notably the infamous Supreme Security Committee, or SSC) which occasionally attack locals accused of “supporting Gaddafi”. Thus, some rural Warshafena tribesmen, many of whom have already faced scrutiny from the notorious SSC, will understandably be reluctant to help with the MoI / MoD Joint Security Force’s operation, even if it benefits the security of Tripoli in the long run.

(Image: Inkerman Personnel)

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