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23.10.2014 : 13:00 : +0200

After the Fall: Libya's Evolving Armed Groups

Recent international news coverage of Libya usually obscures distinctions among the heterogeneous fighting groups operating in the country, branding  them all as ‘militias’, and characterizing them as rogue, and beyond state control.

A new Working Paper from the Small Arms Survey—After the Fall: Libya’s Evolving Armed Groups, by Brian McQuinn (available in English and Arabic)—focuses on the armed resistance in Misrata, offering a deeper, more nuanced understanding of the city’s and the country’s armed groups and their aims. The various fighting units in Libya’s second-largest city have developed into organizations capable of deploying tanks and heavy artillery. Distinguishing between the different types of armed groups is critical to understanding the evolving political situation in Libya and devising effective international policy to support the ongoing transition.

The key findings include:

  • There are dramatic differences in armed groups from city to city, reflecting the   decentralized nature of the revolution.
  • Four distinct types of armed groups operate in Libya today:
    • revolutionary brigades emerged during the initial months of intense fighting but have since become closely integrated into local authorities and associations;
    • unregulated brigades are revolutionary brigades that broke away from the authority of local councils and are operating outside of their control;
    • post-revolutionary brigades emerged in cities or neighbourhoods as local protection forces in the security vacuum created by Qaddafi’s retreating forces; and
    • militias are other armed groups that range from criminal networks to violent extremists.
  • Revolutionary brigades control 75 to 85 per cent of the seasoned non-state fighters and non-state weapons in Libya. In Misrata, 236 revolutionary brigades control more than 90 per cent of the city’s weapons, and most small arms are in the possession of individual members.