Libya's unofficial army

Militant5 July 2012

With a general election in Libya only a few days away, the Libyan National Army has so far failed to recruit most of the revolutionary fighters from the uprising. Revolutionary commanders still distrust much of the leadership of the Libyan National Army, according to new findings.

Brian McQuinn from the University of Oxford is studying the evolving structures and cohesive bonds of the Libyan fighting forces, and was based in Misrata at the time of the uprising. His research is contributing to the ESRC-funded Ritual, Community and Conflict project.

"While moves to reform the Ministry of Defence and the Libyan National Army are critical to long-term demobilisation efforts, local security initiatives are driving national policy," says Mr McQuinn in a University of Oxford press release. "Revolutionary brigades have created a national network of revolutionary unions and established the National Shield, a national army-in-waiting, in order to safeguard the 'ideals of the revolution'."

McQuinn's research indicates that the revolutionary forces still command 75-85 per cent of fighters and weapons not controlled by the government.

However, the revolutionary forces are not one cohesive group. For example, in Misrata, as of November 2011, 236 revolutionary separate brigades were registered with the Misratan Union of Revolutionaries, accounting for approximately 40,000 members.

While some of the armed groups pose a potential threat to stability, others are participating in securing the country, according to the findings. The National Shield has collaborated with other state and non-state armed groups in campaigns to subdue violence in several Libyan cities.

The national elections in July will be critical in establishing a government that is seen as legitimate, McQuinn points out. Delays in demobilisation has led to disappointment among fighters and is "weakening their commitment to participate in the transition", he warns.