Libyan tribes, mercenaries and the military

A Point of View, Libya, Middle East & North Africa, Politics | | February 20, 2011 at 14:46

According the my twitter source @SultanAlQassemi, the International Institute for Strategic Studies puts the Libyan military at 76,000 men. There is an auxiliary People’s Militia of 40,000 reservists. It’s unclear if the 76,000 includes the reservists.

There are also personal battalions. Gaddafi’s son’s battalion is especially known for brutality. Another military group, coming from the Revolutionary Committees, answers directly to Gaddafi – a Praetorian Guard like in the Roman Empire.

The population of Libya is about 6 million (I’ve seen figures of 6.5, but  his second son Saif El-Islam Gaddafi kept saying 5 million during his televised speech.) Gaddafi has about 1 soldier for every 55-60 Libyans. The country is a complex society comprised of a number of tribes. According to the most recent tweets along with reporting by Al Jazeera Live, Toureg, Warfalla and Hasawna tribes have defected and are now on the anti-Gaddafi side.

The Sheik of the Zuwayya tribe in the oil-rich south has threatened to cut off the oil if Gaddafi doesn’t stop attacking the Libyan people.

If his army is comprised of tribal factions, it becomes clear why Gaddafi has brought in foreign mercenaries to put down the protests. The question is whether the company units, like one called “Thunderbolt” which changed sides in Benghazi, are composed of tribal elements. Tribal loyalties can easily override loyalty to Gaddafi who comes from his own tribe Qadhadhfah. His tribe has undoubtedly fared well in his concentration of power and wealth. note: Arabic spelling of Gaddafi is Qadhafi, as belonging to his tribe.

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