Mercenaries add to Libya’s security concerns

Sunday 25/06/2017
Increasing insecurity. Libyan fighters show weapons they said they captured during a battle in Sirte. (Reuters)

Tunis- An arms race between competing militias in war-torn Libya is among the many challenges fac­ing Ghassan Salame, the United Nations’ new envoy to the country.
Salame, a former Lebanese cul­ture minister, on June 20 was ap­proved by the UN Security Council to replace Martin Kobler in the posi­tion. Salame will take over at a time of increased militarisation, with Libyan factions strengthening air power and bringing foreign merce­naries into the conflict.
“Foreign interference in Libya has taken a more direct form with the increasing involvement of Chadian and Sudanese mercenar­ies,” a recent UN report stated. It added that such actions in the oil crescent were a direct threat to the security and economic stability of Libya.
“The mercenaries are involved in criminal activities, including trafficking in persons and drugs,” the report said. “Repeated attacks against individuals and property by foreign armed groups in the south of Libya have increased communi­ties’ sense of vulnerability and dis­trust towards LNA [Libyan National Army] and the Misrata Third Force.”
Adding to the turmoil is an arms race between Islamist militias from Misrata and their adversaries in the east, the report said, which makes the Government of National Ac­cord’s efforts to revitalise Libya’s national army less likely to succeed.
Increased militarisation has led to “actual and potential violations of the arms embargo,” the report noted, referencing 2011 UN sanc­tions against Libya that included an open-ended embargo on the supply of arms and military equipment.
“Armed groups from eastern Libya and Misrata have multiplied their air force capacity through transfers of materiel, the refurbish­ment of previously unserviceable aircraft and the expansion of mili­tary airbases,” the report said.
“The deployment and use of such materiel in the Libyan context has significantly increased insecurity and has undoubtedly led to addi­tional casualties,” the report added. “This is notably the case for (ar­moured) vehicles and electronic interception equipment.”
The UN report stated there is evi­dence that militias were using pick­up trucks to barter for weapons and ammunition and pay mercenaries, most of whom are from nearby countries such as Chad, Mali, Niger and Sudan.
These soldiers-for-hire have been active in Libya since the days of former dictator Muammar Qaddafi and became the centre of racial di­vision during the 2011 revolution, when they were reportedly paid up to $1,000 a day to protect Qaddafi. Estimates put their numbers today at 6,000-30,000.
Stories of Qaddafi enlisting “hordes of black mercenaries” provoked a backlash against dark-skinned Libyans, who were sus­pected of being mercenaries or supporting the dictator because of their skin colour.
That prejudice played out in the town of Tawergha, 245km east of Tripoli, in 2011, when Misratan mi­litias uprooted the town’s mostly dark-skinned inhabitants. Taw­ergha has been a ghost town since the attack.

Mercenaries have been paid in cash and weapons, which often end up fuelling conflicts in neighbour­ing countries.
Libya was thrown into chaos after Qaddafi’s ouster in 2011. The Libyan National Army, led by anti-Islamist strongman Khalifa Haftar, is bat­tling Islamist extremists backed by Qatar and other Islamist-leaning Middle Eastern powers.
Islamist militias are also aligned with the UN-backed government in Tripoli, led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj.