Libya (2011 – first combat deaths)

Tasneem Jamal Africa

Updated: June 2015

The Conflict at a Glance

Who (are the main combatants): The government of Libya is currently divided between the rival General National Congress and House of Representatives. State security forces are fighting rogue militias and separatists. There are also severe political divisions in Congress and among armed groups, fuelling violent clashes and social unrest.

What (started the conflict): The current goals of the transitional government are to draft a new constitution, create a permanent government body, and gain state control over the use of force after the fall of the Gadhafi regime in 2011. Eastern and southern separatists seek autonomy for Barqa (Cyrenaica) and Fezzan provinces, citing economic injustice related to oil production and a desire to return to pre-Gadhafi federalism. Oil ports and pipelines are a major point of leverage for militias and protestors. Some armed groups and political leaders want to exclude Gadhafi-era officials from public service for 10 years. There has been a wave of political assassinations and kidnappings. Civilians continue to protest the presence of armed groups and human rights abuses, and Berber/Amazigh minority groups fight for more recognition. Thirty thousand Tawerghans are still displaced and in crisis near Misrata.

When (has fighting occurred): The current conflict began in February 2011 when Libyan revolutionists, inspired by Arab uprisings, planned a Day of Rage for February 17. The resulting protests led to a massive outbreak of violence and eventually a multinational military operation and a NATO mission. On October 20, Gadhafi was confirmed killed by rebel forces in Tripoli; the National Transitional Council (NTC) announced Libya’s liberation soon after. In August 2012, the General National Congress (GNC) took over from the NTC and was established as the transitional power until the end of 2014. In 2014, the House of Representatives came to power through an election that was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. GNC refused to surrender power to the House of Representatives leading to a political conflict.

Where (has the conflict taken place): Most violence has occurred in the Libyan capital Tripoli and in Benghazi, considered the economic capital. Armed groups operate all over the country, but many are stationed near these cities and oil facilities. Others control large areas in the south, guarding illegal trade and migration routes as well as arms depots. Libya’s porous borders also permit extensive arms smuggling into neighbouring Algeria, Niger and Tunisia.


2015 The violent power struggle between the forces of the House of Representatives (HoR) and those of the General National Congress (GNC) continued. Islamic State consolidated its control over a major swath of territory in the Sirte Basin. Meanwhile, the United Nations Support Mission in Libya sought to establish lasting peace. On September 21, participants to Libyan peace talks agreed to all but one of the annexes of the July 11 Libyan Political Agreement. The UN then mediated a process of consensus-building on the remaining issue, the nature of the Presidency Council. These efforts resulted in a December 17 power-sharing agreement signed by the HoR, GNC, and other negotiating parties.

2014 Violent clashes between rival militias and between insurgents and government security forces killed at least 2,383. Notable armed clashes occurred in Tripoli, Benghazi and other eastern regions. June elections, marred by boycotts and violence, saw the replacement of the General National Congress with the House of Representatives. The Libyan Supreme Court ruled in November that the elections were unconstitutional; some members of the former legislature reconvened, claiming that they were the legitimate legislature and calling for the dissolution of the House of Representatives. Most foreign embassies and mass international agencies closed their Libyan missions as violence and political instability grew. The 60-member Constitution Drafting Assembly produced a new draft of the constitution in December.

2013 Communal clashes between tribes and fighting between militias decreased in 2013, but the political climate did not improve. According to the International Crisis Group and Human Rights Watch, approximately 283 people were killed and 767 were wounded. Most deaths and injuries were the result of civilian protests against the presence of armed groups, specifically in Benghazi in June and Tripoli in November. Political rivalries continued to divide the country, especially following the “political isolation law” passed in May and the implementation of Sharia as the foundation of criminal and financial legislation. Government buildings and foreign embassies remained targets of assassinations and kidnappings, including the high-profile abduction of Prime Minister Ali Zeidan in October. In Tawergha more than 30,000 people were prevented by Misrata militia from returning to their homes. Multiple oil port and pipeline shutdowns in July and August led to a substantial decline in national output and continued to be a source of leverage for armed groups and protestors. Armed groups in the east declared Barqa (Cyrenaica) an autonomous federal province in August; Fezzan followed suit in September. While the new Libyan constitution saw some progress, the government remained fragile.

2012 Fighting between militia groups increased significantly in 2012. According to International Crisis Group, 606 people were killed. Most deaths were the result of ongoing turf wars, communal clashes between tribes and inter-militia fighting. An attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi in September spurred a popular uproar against armed militia groups. Thousands of protestors condemned their presence on Libyan streets and called their disarmament and disbanding. Cities throughout Libya held reportedly successful collection drives for weapons. Interim Prime Minister Abdurrahim El-Keib stepped down in April after a series of disputes with the National Transitional Council (NTC) over his cabinet. Mustafa Abushagur was elected Prime Minister in September. However, he lost a confidence vote a month later; Ali Zeidan was elected Prime Minister and his cabinet approved. Libya prepared for elections in 2013 and began drafting a new constitution.

2011 Inspired by pro-democracy uprisings across the Arab world, Libyan dissidents planned a Day of Rage for February 17. On February 15, security forces arrested prominent lawyer Fathi Terbil, triggering large protests, many confrontational. Soon after, thousands began battling Gadhafi’s troops, and hundreds were reported killed. Anti-regime officials in Benghazi, Libya’s second-largest city, quickly set up a national council to coordinate opposition-controlled areas and reach out to the international community. Members of the Libyan armed forces began to defect and join the rebellion. Authorized by UN Resolution 1973 to use “all necessary measures” to protect civilians in Libya from pro-Gadhafi forces, a multinational coalition led by the United States began military operations in Libya on March 19. On March 31, NATO officially took command of the operation. On August 22, rebel forces easily entered Tripoli and on October 20 Gadhafi was confirmed killed. Three days later the National Transitional Council formally declared Libya liberated. The NATO mission officially ended on October 31. The conflict reportedly killed between 12,700 and 25,000 people.


Type of Conflict

State control
State formation
Failed state

Parties to the Conflict:

1. General National Congress (GNC): On August 8, 2012 the National Transitional Council (NTC) handed power over to the newly elected 200-member General National Congress (GNC). Eighty seats were reserved for parties (proportional representation) and 120 for independents. One of the GNC’s first tasks was to form a committee to draft a new constitution; the draft was completed in December 2014. The largest party represented in Congress was the National Forces Alliance (NFA), a liberal party founded by Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril. Next was the Justice and Construction Party (JCP), known as “the Islamist political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood.” In August 2014, after June elections, the GNC was replaced by the House of Representatives. In November the Supreme Court ruled that the elections were unconstitutional and reestablished the legitimacy of the GNC. Members of the GNC reconvened, claiming to be the legitimate government, with Omar al-Hasi as prime minister.

Supported By

2. Libya Revolutionaries Operations Room (LROR): The LROR was established in April 2013 by GNC chairman Nuri Abu Sahmayn and made responsible for security in Tripoli after numerous armed attacks on Congress meetings and buildings in March. After LROR members kidnapped Prime Minister Zeidan in early October, the group and Abu Sahmayn were stripped of official security powers. LROR still operated under the chief of General Staff, with an eastern branch in Benghazi.

3. National Security Directorate (NSD): Libya’s official police force, the NSD grew out of the former Supreme Security Committee (SSC) and other militias in 2012. The SSC, the official national military organization, was established by the NTC in October 2011.

4. Libya Shield Brigades/Forces: The Shield Brigades were an umbrella group formed as an integration tool and to support the national army after Gadhafi was ousted in 2011. Created mainly from previously established anti-Gadhafi armed groups, the Shield Brigades were assigned security duties by army chief of staff Youssef Mangoush. However, they were difficult to control and some clashed with other forces. Mangoush resigned and Shields 2 and 10 were disbanded following the June 2013 “Black Saturday” killings in Benghazi involving Shield 1 Brigade.

5. Misrata Militias/Brigades: After Gadhafi’s fall, more than 200 brigades of 40,000 fighters registered with the Misratan Union of Revolutionaries. There were also as many as nine “unregulated brigades”; all these groups were heavily armed, with as many as 800 tanks, 2,000 armed vehicles, and dozens of heavy artillery systems. In Tripoli on November 15, 2013 Misrata militias fired on civilians protesting the presence of armed groups; the ensuing conflict left at least 43 dead and more than 460 wounded. These militias also prevented the population of Tawergha—nearly 40,000 people—from returning to their homes, accusing residents of supporting the Gadhafi regime and committing war crimes in Misrata during the revolution. Human Rights Watch believed that the actions of the Misrata militias could constitute crimes against humanity.

6. Libya Dawn: Libya Dawn, a pro-Islamist militia, came to prominence in the summer of 2014 when it attacked Tripoli International Airport and seized large areas of the city. It controlled all coastal cities from Misrata to the Tunisian border as well as a number of cities further south in the Nafusa Mountains. Libya Dawn was widely considered the GNC’s armed forces. Its links to Misrata militias weakened in 2015 (BBC).

7. The Libyan Petroleum Facilities Guard (PFG): The PFG provided security for key Libyan oil infrastructure, including Es-Sider, the country’s main oil port. According to the BBC, the PFG could be regarded as a parastatal force that generally supported the GNC (BBC).


8. House of Representatives: Referred to as Majlis al-Nuwaab (“Council of Deputies”), the Libyan House of Representatives took power in August 2014 following June parliamentary elections, replacing the General National Congress. While internationally recognized, it struggled to consolidate power as the primary legislative authority in Libya. Although in November it was deemed illegitimate by the Libyan Supreme Court, it rejected the ruling and continued, with Abdullah al-Thinni as prime minister.

9. Libyan National Army: Although its soldiers were inexperienced, the Libyan National Army was an emerging national security force. After substantial training in 2013 the army began providing regular security in Tripoli. The Libyan Army, led by Major-General Khalifah Haftar, was under the control of the House of Representatives.

Supported by

10. Al-Saiqa Forces/Special Forces: Al-Saiqa, considered the Libyan National Army’s “special forces” or elite fighter group, emerged in 2010. With a few thousand members, the group was deployed in Benghazi at the end of 2012 to control lawlessness. It actively opposed the Islamist Ansar al-Sharia militia.

11. The Zintan, al-Sawaiq, and al-Qaqa Battalions: These battalions supported the House of Representatives and were anti-Islamist. Operating mainly in western Libya, they supported the LNA in the fight against the GNC and Libya Dawn (BBC).


Islamist Groups

12. Special Deterrence Force: The SDF put most of its efforts into combatting drug trafficking. It often broadcast the burning of drugs on live television. It was involved in recent clashes in Tripoli, but no longer controlled public buildings.

13. Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council: This umbrella group included Ansar al-Sharia, the 17 February Martyrs Brigade, and the Rafallah al-Sahati Brigade. It fought against the LNA and held territory in eastern Benghazi (BBC).

13a. 17 February Martyrs Brigade: Based in Benghazi, this Islamist group, named after the 2011 Day of Rage, was considered the largest and best equipped militia in eastern Libya, with approximately 12 battalions. It performed security tasks, mostly in eastern and southern Libya. The Rafallah al-Sahati brigade, numbering about 1,000, broke away from the 17 February Martyrs Brigade.

13b. Ansar al-Sharia Brigade: This Salafi militia was al-Qaeda’s Libyan affiliate, most active in eastern Libya. It caught national and international attention in June 2012, demanding Sharia by parading armed vehicles through Benghazi streets. The United States accused the group of involvement in the September 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi that killed Ambassador Christopher Stevens. Ansar al-Sharia was involved in the destruction of Sufi shrines and committed human rights abuses, while also providing some public security.

14. Derna Mujahidin Shura Council: This coalition of Islamist groups formed in December 2014. It cleared Islamic State fighters out of most areas of Derna in July 2015 (BBC).

15. Ajdabiya Revolutionaries Shura Council: This Islamist militant group was based in the town of Ajdabiya, west of Benghazi, fighting mainly the LNA.

16. Majlis Shura Shabab al-Islam or the Islamic Youth Shura Council (MSSI): On April 4, 2014 the Islamic Youth Shura Council took to the streets in Derna wearing military uniforms and brandishing rocket grenade launchers, machine guns, and antiaircraft cannons. They declared themselves the new city security force and instituted Sharia law. Using Islamic State iconography, MSSI published a statement in June 2014 expressing support for Islamic State and leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, later declaring its captured swath of the city of Derna part of the Islamic State ‘caliphate’.

17. Islamic State: In November 2014 Islamic State (IS) announced that it was accepting pledges of allegiance from jihadists in Libya. These pledged militant groups then provided IS with a foothold into Libya. IS established a growing presence in Derna, known as a jihadist hub. Although IS was later largely driven out of Derna, it spread to other parts of Libya. By the end of 2015 IS had complete control of a 250-km area, including the important city of Sirte. IS expanded toward Libya’s oil-producing region and had a presence in Benghazi and Tripoli (BBC). According to UN data, IS had 1,500 fighters in Sirte, with a total in Libya between 2,000 and 3,000 (BBC).


Communal Violence

In September 2014 Tuareg and rival Tebu smugglers entered into a turf war that expanded into a more general communal struggle.

18. Tuareg: This tribal group has a homeland in southern Libya. Most Tuareg supported the Gaddafi regime with a small number backing rebel forces. Today, many Tuareg are impoverished lacking the identification documentation necessary for education and better white collar jobs.

19. Tebu: This tribal group has ties to Chad and has a homeland in southern Libya. The Tebu people supported the rebels against the Gaddafi regime. The new transitional government rewarded the Tebu by making them guards of Libya’s southern borders.

International Actors:

20. UN/UNSC and NATO: On February 26, 2011, deploring what it called “the gross and systematic violation of human rights” in strife-torn Libya, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1970 (2011) under Article 41 of UN Charter Chapter VII, demanding an end to the violence and referring the situation to the International Criminal Court, while imposing an arms embargo on the country, banning travel and freezing assets of the families of Gadhafi and top government officials. On March 17 the UNSC passed Resolution 1973, authorizing “all necessary measures” (including a no-fly zone) to protect civilians in Libya from pro-Gadhafi forces. On March 19 a U.S.-led multinational coalition took immediate military action to enforce the resolutions under Operation Odyssey Dawn (OOD). On March 23 NATO began Operation Unified Protector (OUP) and had assumed command of OOD and all international operations in Libya by the end of the month.

On September 16 the UNSC unanimously adopted Resolution 2009, which reasserted NATO’s mandate to protect civilians in Libya. The new resolution also established a United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), leading to the end of the NATO OUP mission on October 31.

According to International Crisis Group, the UNSC did not fully lift the arms embargo in 2013, concerned that arms would flow from Libya into neighbouring countries. In December the UN announced a planned visit to assess Libya’s 6,400-barrel uranium stockpile in the south. A team from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) was scheduled to visit in 2014 to verify elimination of relevant material following the destruction of nine metric tonnes of mustard gas in 2013. In February 2014 OPCW announced that Libya had destroyed its remaining chemical weapons. By the end of 2016 Libya was expected to have destroyed its stocks of precursor chemicals. 

21. United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL): In September 2011 the UN established a political mission to support Libya’s new transitional authorities. In March 2014 UNSMIL was tasked with supporting the transition to democracy and a transparent and inclusive process of national dialogue. This included promoting the integration of ex-combatants into Libyan national security forces or civilian life; promoting the rule of law and protecting human rights, especially of women, children, and vulnerable groups such as minorities and migrants; controlling arms, countering their proliferation, and supporting national security mechanisms; and engaging in government capacity-building. On September 10, 2015 the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2238 to extend UNSMIL until March 15, 2016 (United Nations Security Council).

22. European Union: On February 28, 2011 EU governments approved sanctions against Gadhafi and his closest advisers.

23. United States: On March 1, 2011 the U.S. Senate unanimously passed non-binding Senate resolution S.RES.85, urging the UNSC to impose a no-fly zone over Libya and encouraging Gadhafi to step down. According to the Human Rights Watch World Report, the United States, along with the UK, Italy, France, and Turkey, planned to assist in training up to 8,000 personnel for a General Purpose Force that would be integrated into Libya’s army and police forces. In June 2014 the U.S. Department of Defense stated that the initiative was progressing slowly due to, inter alia, Libya’s worsened state of security, political instability, and lack of funding.


Status of Fighting

2015 Fighting between forces loyal to the House of Representatives (HoR) and forces loyal to the General National Congress (GNC) continued. Clashes were particularly heavy in January. In March forces loyal to the GNC attacked the city of Zintan and the port of Sidra. On April 17-18, GNC forces clashed with the Libyan National Army (LNA) in Tripoli, resulting in at least 20 deaths (International Crisis Group).

In mid-April heavy fighting between the two groups broke out in the city of Benghazi. Clashes continued in July and intensified in September, with the GNC receiving support from Islamist groups, including some allied with IS.

Fighting erupted again in Tripoli in December, killing at least 10 (International Crisis Group). That same month, conflict in Ajdabiya intensified as the LNA and Salafists battled Islamist armed groups.

Islamic State (IS) was active in Libya. On January 12 an IS attack on a Tripoli hotel left 12 dead. The following month IS claimed responsibility for simultaneous car bombings in Qubba that killed 45. In March IS launched a series of attacks on oil fields in the Sirte basin. In May IS took credit for a string of suicide bombings in al-Qabba, Sirte, and Misrata. By November 23, IS had consolidated its control over a territory covering more than 250 km in the Sirte region. Foreign fighters from Iraq and Syria added to the troop strength of IS forces.

Intermittent communal violence also occurred in Libya. Clashes between Tebu and Tuareg tribesmen flared up in July. A tentative ceasefire was reached on July 25, but violence again broke out in September. On November 23 the Tebu and Tuaregs signed a peace agreement, but fighting broke out again soon after.

2014 Unlawful killings were concentrated in Benghazi and Derna; approximately 250 people died in targeted assassinations in the first nine months. In May Army General Khalifa Haftar launched a military operation against extremist factions in eastern Libya in an attempt to “eradicate terrorism.” His opponents, including Islamist and Misrata forces, united in operation Libya Dawn, calling for the reestablishment of the General National Congress (GNC) and accusing the new government of being dominated by Gadhafi supporters. By August Libya Dawn had captured the international airport and established control over Tripoli. The House of Representatives fled to Tobruk. Egypt and the United Arab Emirates reportedly provided military assistance to Haftar’s operation and carried out a series of airstrikes—although both states denied this. Evidence indicated that one or more militia groups had used antipersonnel landmines during the armed conflict at the Tripoli Airport in July and August. The unit of Libya Dawn tasked with clearing the area stated in November that it had discovered and cleared approximately 600 landmines. In mid-June Senior Ansar al-Sharia member Ahmed Abu Khattala—suspected of taking part in the September 2012 US Embassy attack in Benghazi—was captured during a U.S. military raid.

In April the Islamic Youth Shura Council established a stronghold in Derna. Insurgent groups targeted  foreign nationals and diplomats: two Tunisian embassy workers and Jordan’s ambassador were kidnapped in March and April. Unsecured borders encouraged human trafficking as well as drug and weapons smuggling. Amidst growing insecurity, security and military units and insurgent militias frequently clashed.

2013 Fighting in Libya largely shifted to infighting and turf wars between various armed militias seeking power and influence. Some armed groups set up blockades, seized buildings and shut down oil pipeline, demanding political and economic concessions. Foreign embassies and Libyan government offices were also targets of violence. Civilians protesting the presence of armed militias clashed with the armed groups, causing many fatalities and injuries. Violence peaked in June and November during protests against the Shield Brigades in Benghazi and Misrata Militias in Tripoli. This year also experienced a slew of political assassinations by armed groups and the kidnapping of Prime Minister Ali Zeidan in early October.

On the second anniversary of the February 17 revolution, thousands of supporters and protesters took to the streets. The unveiling of the proposed Political Isolation Law in February was followed by violence, including armed sieges of GNC meetings and attacks on GNC members. The law was passed in May. June saw a substantial increase in violence; June 8 “Black Saturday” clashes between protesters and the Libya Shield 1 Brigade in Benghazi left 32 dead and many wounded. In Tripoli, militia infighting over the guarding of an oil facility left 10 dead and more than 100 wounded. On July 26, prominent political activist Abdelsalam al-Mosmary was assassinated, sparking major public protests. Human Rights Watch estimates that there had been more than 51 targeted killings since the toppling of Gadhafi, with numbers peaking in January and July 2013. Following a riot on July 28, more than 1,100 inmates fled a prison near Benghazi.

In August and September armed groups and protestors shut down oil terminals, attempted black market sales and blockaded ports. In early October, U.S. forces seized al-Qaeda suspect Anan al-Liby in Tripoli. On October 10, Prime Minister Ali Zeidan was briefly abducted by the LROR, possibly in retaliation for his support of the U.S. mission. In Tripoli on November 15, militias from Misrata fired on peaceful protesters, killing several; ensuing clashes between armed groups left at least 43 dead and over 460 wounded. Two separate attacks on weapons depots on November 28 and 29 left 50 dead. In mid-December, 150 armed protesters stormed Libya’s largest internet provider, demanding it shut down. A U.S. teacher was shot dead in Benghazi and at least 15 members of security forces were killed in various attacks.

2012 Residents in Tripoli called for armed militias to give up their guns and return to their homes. Many former rebel fighters retained weapons and ammunition, reluctant to turn them over until they were satisfied that the government’s revived national army and police forces were strong enough to resume security operations. The fear among many rebel groups was that Gadhafi loyalists were waiting for an opportunity to come back. The interim government sought to find opportunities for rebel fighters in the national army and police force. Fighting between militia groups increased significantly in 2012. Turf wars and tribal clashes were a major problem. Longstanding rivalries, divided communities and widely available weapons contributed to post-revolution violence. During his rule, Gadhafi created tension by favouring some groups and oppressing others. His divide-and-rule tactics ensured continuing tensions between groups.

In January, Chairman Jalil was attacked when the NTC office in Benghazi was stormed by protesters. Jalil admitted that the NTC had no control over the militias. In February, two British journalists were detained by militiamen. In June a convoy carrying a U.K. ambassador was attacked; a bomb exploded outside the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi; a Red Cross office in Misrata was attacked; and the Tunisian consulate in Tripoli was bombed. July saw pre-election violence by groups seeking more autonomy for the east: election material in Benghazi was destroyed; a storage centre for election materials in Aidabiya was attacked; and a helicopter carrying election material was struck down by anti-aircraft fire near Benghazi. In September the U.S. consulate in Benghazi was bombed. The attack killed U.S. ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others. Fifty people were subsequently arrested. Also in September rebels demanding more recognition from Libya’s new rulers opened fire outside the office of the National Congress.

2011 In January people in the Libyan cities of Bayda, Derna and Benghazi occupied hundreds of homes that were still under construction and ransacked the offices of foreign building contractors, protesting against political corruption. Libyan writer and political commentator Jamal al-Hajji issued an appeal via the Internet for demonstrations in support of greater freedoms in Libya, in the manner of recent mass protests in Tunisia and Egypt. A week later al-Hajji was arrested on apparently trumped-up charges. (He was released in April and continued to call for greater freedom in Libya.) Lawyer and human rights activist Fathi Terbil was arrested on February 15, causing several hundred in Benghazi to demonstrate. The next day, Gadhafi supporters clashed with protesters in Bayda and Benghazi.

On Facebook and Twitter, a national Day of Rage was proclaimed for February 17. Protests took place in Benghazi, Ajdabiya, Derna, Zintan, and Bayda. Libyan security forces fired live ammunition into the crowds. On February 18, government forces withdrew from Benghazi after being overwhelmed by protesters. By late February, the regime had lost Benghazi, Tobruk, Misrata, Bayda, Zawiya, Zuwara, Sabratha and Sorman to the rebels. There was also mounting international isolation and pressure. But in March, Gadhafi’s forces pushed the rebels back and eventually reached Benghazi and Misrata.

On March 19, authorized by UN Resolution 1973, U.S. and British naval forces launched more than 110 Tomahawk cruise missiles into Libya; the French Air Force and British Royal Air Force undertook sorties across Libya; and coalition forces set up a naval blockade. On March 31, NATO took sole command and control of the international military effort. On April 30, a NATO missile attack on a house in Tripoli killed Gadhafi’s youngest son and three grandchildren, according to his government. On June 27, the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for Gadhafi, his son Saif al-Islam and intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi on charges of crimes against humanity. In July, top rebel military commander General Abdul Fattah Younes was killed. In August, Gadhafi interior minister Nassr al-Mabrouk Abdullah reportedly defected to Cairo. In August, rebels easily entered Tripoli and on August 23, overran Gadhafi’s fortified Bab al-Aziziya compound in Tripoli. On October 20, fighters captured Gadhafi’s hometown Sirte, ending a two-month siege. On October 20 Gadhafi was confirmed dead after being captured near Sirte. On October 23, the NTC formally declared the liberation of Libya. Sporadic low-intensity clashes between NTC and former loyalists continued across Libya. On November 19, Muammar Gadhafi’s son Saif al-Islam was captured near the town of Obari by rebel fighters.


Number of Dead and Displaced

Total: Fatality estimates from the beginning of the conflict in February 2011 until December 2014 ranged from 15,970 to 28,270.

2015 ACLED recorded 2,705 fatalities in Libya as a result of violence and protests (ACLED, All Africa Files, ACLED Version 6 (1997-2015) standard file).

Refugees and IDPs: According to the UNHCR, there were 434,869 internally displaced people in Libya in June 2015. As well, 4,317 refugees and 5,219 asylum seekers originated from Libya (UNHCR). Libya was a major transit point for migrants from neighbouring countries attempting to reach Europe. A UN briefing estimated that 250,000 migrants were in or transiting through Libya in August 2015 (United Nations Support Mission in Libya, Briefing, August 26, 2015).

2014 According to ACLED, Libya was the fourth most active armed conflict and sixth most violent country, with 2,383 fatalities resulting from battles and violence.

Refugees and IDPs: According to Human Rights Watch, there were 400,000 internally displaced persons in Libya—approximately 100,000 from Tripoli–while an additional 150,000 people, including foreigners, have fled the country. UN OCHA maintained that there were 36, 984 refugees and 287,318 IDPs in Libya in August 2014. UNHCR reported 3,353 refugees originating from Libya in July 2014.

2013 International Crisis Group and Human Rights Watch reported more than 283 fatalities in 2013, significantly down from 606 deaths in 2012. Approximately 767 were wounded. It is difficult to assign affiliations in this complex conflict, but the dead included 95 police officers and soldiers, 30 militants, and 97 civilians.

Refugees: As of April 2013, the UN Refugee Agency estimated there were nearly 60,000 internally displaced persons in Libya. Most of the 550,000 persons displaced during the revolution had returned to their homes. However, between 30,000 and 40,000 people in Tawergha were prevented from returning home by Misrata militias.

Detainees: Of the 8,000 detainees held since the revolution, 5,000 were in militia-run prisons. Most had no access to lawyers or due process. Arbitrary arrests and mistreatment were major human rights concerns throughout Libya. Multiple prison riots and one large-scale prison break occurred in July and August.

2012 The BBC estimated that by the end of the NATO mission as many as 30,000 people had been killed. In 2012, according to International Crisis Group, 606 people were killed, most in combat, but some during protests. The greatest number of deaths in 2012 were from ongoing turf wars, clashes between tribes and inter-militia fighting.

2011 According to the National Transitional Council, 25,000 people were killed in 2011. According to various media and human rights sources the number of fatalities ranged from 12,700 to 17,800, including 5,000 to 7,000 civilians, 5,500 to 7,500 rebels and 2,200 to 3,300 Gadhafi loyalists.


Political Developments

2015 In the first quarter of the year, UN-sponsored peace talks produced inconclusive results. On April 27 UN chief negotiator Bernardino León introduced a new proposed draft agreement, with which both sides disagreed. Another draft was released in early June, but the UN was unable to broker a deal. Some Libyan factions did reach an agreement on July 11, but the GNC did not sign on. Discussions between the GNC and the HoR proved inconclusive in August and September, missing a September 20 deadline imposed by León.

The following day all sides agreed to all the annexes of the July 11 agreement except the list of members to the Presidency council. On October 8 the UN announced a list of six nominees to the Presidency council, with three additional names added later. On November 17 new UN Special Representative to the Secretary-General Martin Kobler replaced León as chief negotiator. A month later, the HoR and GNC signed an agreement accepting a new Government of National Unity with Faez Serraj as Prime Minister. However, leaders of both the HoR and GNC rejected the deal and drafted a separate peace plan. The President of the GNC also declared that the deal lacked legitimacy. Nevertheless, the United Nations Security Council endorsed the accord on December 23.

2014 In March Prime Minister Ali Zeidan was ousted after losing a no-confidence vote in the General National Congress (GNC). A 60-member Constitution Drafting Assembly, elected in late February,  produced a new draft constitution in December. Following an incredibly violent election period in June, the GNC was replaced with the House of Representatives, although only 188 of 200 seats were filled. The Libyan Supreme Court ruled in November that the June elections were unconstitutional, effectively proclaiming the House of Representatives illegitimate—a claim rejected by the House. Many members of the dismantled GNC reconvened, claiming to be the legitimate state legislature and demanding the dissolution of the House of Representatives.

Militias attacked prominent members of the legal profession, including judges, prosecutors and lawyers, as well as witnesses. The government failed to secure control of detainees held by militia groups, including Saif al-Islam Gadhafi, wanted by the ICC for crimes against humanity. On March 24 the trial began for 37 members of the Gadhafi regime who were accused of serious crimes during the 2011 revolution. As violence escalated in Tripoli in mid-August, the UN attempted and failed to broker a ceasefire between armed factions. In mid-September the House of Representatives passed a counterterrorism law. With political insecurity and violence increasing, most foreign embassies, the United Nations and many international organizations pulled out their staff and closed offices and missions. On March 13 the United Nations Security Council renewed the UNSMIL mandate for another year.

2013 Political developments in 2013 related to three main themes: matters of Congress, concerns and issues about security, and a growing secessionist movement.

Matters of Congress: In February, on the second anniversary of the revolution, the GNC unveiled a draft “political isolation law” designed to block Gadhafi-era officials from as many as 36 categories of public service for the next 10 years. Armed groups that wanted the law passed responded with a series of violent events in March and April, including besieged GNC meetings, multiple shootings, and blockades around foreign and justice ministries. The law was passed May 5, sparking protests in Tripoli and Benghazi; almost 30 GNC members were barred from senior government posts.

On July 16, after months of infighting, Congress passed a law that allowed for the election of a 60-member committee tasked with writing the new Libyan constitution. On December 4, the GNC voted to make Sharia law the foundation of national legislation, which may change banking, criminal and financial law. On December 23, Congress extended the period of government transition by a year and set August 2014 as the deadline for the draft of the new constitution. Following elections, a new Parliament is to be sworn in by December 24, 2014.

Security Concerns: Government buildings and foreign embassies continued to be targeted by armed groups. On April 9, the GNC passed a law criminalizing abductions and torture. Ongoing efforts to integrate armed groups into state security forces faced substantial difficulties. Following the “Black Saturday” killings in early June, the government implemented law 27/2013 and law 53/2013, which demanded the disbanding of all “illegitimate” armed groups.

On October 10, Prime Minister Zeidan was briefly kidnapped by members of the Libya Revolutionaries Operations Room (LROR). Zeidan accused two congressmen of complicity. Some suggest that the abduction was in retaliation for Zeidan’s silent approval of U.S.-led capture of former al-Qaeda operative Anan al-Liby on October 5. On October 27, 94 congressmen boycotted the GNC, protesting the obstruction of the investigation into Zeidan’s abduction. On November 12, the GNC voted to place LROR under the command of the military Chief of Staff.

Secessionist Movement and Ethnic Tension: Early in the year a growing secessionist movement based in eastern Libya called for political decentralization and power-sharing. Armed groups that supported the old federal system (with three autonomous regions) shut down pipelines and ports in July and August. On August 17, armed groups declared Barqa (Cyrenaica) an autonomous federal province. The region of Fezzan followed suit on September 26. Members of Libya’s Berber, or Amazigh, community stormed the GNC building August 13, demanding greater recognition of language, ethnicity and culture. Zeidan announced a national dialogue initiative on August 25.

2012 Libya struggled to form a legitimate government that would represent all segments of Libya’s diverse society. Disarming and disbanding armed rebels remained a challenge. Public discontent with the NTC grew, as reform came slowly and Gadhafi-era officials remained in power. In February, the interim government changed electoral law, guaranteeing 40 seats for women and 80 seats for previously barred political parties in the 200-seat National Congress. But some critics claimed that the public had not been properly consulted, the new rules did not meet democratic ideals and women should be guaranteed more seats. Some protested the clause that denied Libyans with dual citizenship the right to run for election. The division of voting districts was also unclear and a concern.

In March the emerging eastern federalist movement announced their intention to establish a semi-autonomous eastern region within Libya. Barqa covers nearly half the country from central Libya to the Egyptian border in the east and south to the borders with Chad and Sudan. Under their plan Barqa would have its own parliament, police force and courts. Foreign policy, the national army and oil reserves would be left to the federal government in Tripoli. The NTC opposed the plan, claiming it would lead to the breakup of Libya. NTC Chairman Jalil advocated for a system that would give considerable power to municipal and local governments, while preserving a strong central government in Tripoli. The NTC threatened to use force against the emerging movement if necessary. Both pro- and anti-federalism rallies occurred in Tripoli and Benghazi. Easterners feared a continuation of the marginalization suffered under Gadhafi’s rule and accuse the NTC of continuing to favour the west.

In April, the NTC passed a law banning parties based on religious principles. In May, the NTC passed a series of laws prohibiting the glorification of Gadhafi, which were later declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Another new law absolved rebels of crimes committed during the revolution. Voting registration began in May, but June elections were postponed until July to allow more time to campaign and gather election materials. In August, the NTC announced a transfer of power to the newly elected General National Congress. In September, thousands of Libyans marched to support democracy and demand the disarmament and disbanding of militias. Hundreds turned in their weapons during collection drives. Also in September, the Congress selected Mustafa Abushagur as Prime Minister. When he lost a non-confidence vote in October, Ali Zeidan was elected Prime Minister. His cabinet was approved in October and he was sworn into office in November.

Peacekeeping Operations: In September 2011, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 2009, which established a Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL). UNSMIL was mandated to support Libya’s new transitional authorities in their post-conflict efforts. It was tasked with assisting Libyan authorities in restoring public security and the rule of law, promoting inclusive political dialogue and national reconciliation and helping the NTC embark on drafting the new constitution and laying the foundation for elections. UNSMIL was also intended to help to strengthen emerging institutions, restore public services, promote and protect human rights (particularly for vulnerable groups), support transitional justice and initiate economic recovery.

2011 Inspired by pro-democracy uprisings across the Arab world, Libyan dissidents planned a Day of Rage for Thursday, February 17. On February 15, security forces arrested a prominent lawyer named Fathi Terbil, who had represented families of some of the 1,200 prisoners massacred by Libyan security forces at Abu Slim prison in 1996. The arrest triggered larger protests; many became violent as pro-regime groups battled anti-regime protesters. Thousands engaged with Gadhafi’s troops and hundreds were reported killed. Opponents to the Gadhafi regime in Benghazi, Libya’s second-largest city, quickly set up a national council to coordinate opposition-controlled areas and reach out to the international community. Members of the Libyan armed forces began to defect, and the situation began to look like a civil war.

On February 21, Libyan deputy Permanent Representative to the UN Ibrahim Dabbashi called on the UN to impose a no-fly zone over Libya, block any movement of arms or mercenaries into the country, ensure safe passage for humanitarian supplies, and investigate crimes allegedly committed by the regime. On February 26, deploring what it called “the gross and systematic violation of human rights” in strife-torn Libya, the UN Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1970, demanding an end to the violence and referring the situation to the International Criminal Court, as well as imposing an arms embargo on the country and banning travel by, and freezing the assets of, the family of Gadhafi and top government officials. Two days later, EU governments approved sanctions against Gadhafi and his closest advisers. On March 1, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed non-binding Senate resolution S.RES.85, urging the UNSC to impose a Libyan no-fly zone and encouraging Gadhafi to step down. On March 5, the rebel National Transitional Council (NTC) in Benghazi declared itself Libya’s sole representative. On March 17, the UNSC passed Resolution 1973, authorizing “all necessary measures,” including a no-fly zone, to protect civilians in Libya from pro-Gadhafi forces. A multinational coalition led by the United States began military operations on March 19. On March 31, NATO officially took command of the operation, which was mandated to protect civilians, but appeared by most accounts to support anti-regime forces in removing the Gadhafi regime. On August 22, rebel forces easily entered Tripoli and on October 20, Gadhafi was confirmed killed. Three days later the National Transitional Council formally declared Libya liberated. The NATO mission officially ended on October 31.



Libya gained independence in 1951, under King Idris. Oil was discovered in the late 1950s. After independence, both the United Kingdom and the United States maintained their military bases and control over foreign and defence policies. In September 1969 Gadhafi seized power. Gadhafi’s decisions to nationalize oil production, seize a majority share of revenues and demand the closure of the British and U.S. bases were widely popular. But his rule became increasingly eccentric. Ideas put forward in his Green Book aimed to set forth an alternative to both communism and capitalism. Gadhafi called the new system a jamahiriya, loosely translated as a “state of the masses.” In theory, power was held by people’s committees in a system of direct democracy, with no political parties; in practice, Gadhafi’s power was absolute, exercised through “revolutionary committees” of regime loyalists. After Libya was accused of the 1988 bombing of a PanAm plane above the Scottish town of Lockerbie, the Gadhafi regime was shunned by much of the international community. But in 2003 it underwent a dramatic rehabilitation by taking formal responsibility for the bombing, paying compensation and handing over two Libyan suspects. The UN responded by lifting sanctions. Under Gadhafi’s rule, political parties were banned and his critics were imprisoned, tortured and on some occasions killed. By 2011 Libya had no established opposition groups, civil society groups or strong state institutions. Reporters without Borders described press freedom in Gadhafi’s Libya as “virtually non-existent.” In October 2011, soon after being ousted by Libyan militiamen aided by NATO airstrikes, Muammar Gadhafi was captured and killed during the Battle of Sirte. The conflict then evolved into a struggle between Islamists and nationalists. Massive violent conflict followed the defeat of Islamists in June 2014 parliamentary elections.

Arms Sources

Gadhafi used oil revenues to purchase arms, according to Andrew Feinstein in The Shadow World: Inside the Global Arms Trade. Between 1970 and 2009—even with a UN arms embargo in place between 1992 and 2003—Libya spent approximately $30-billion on weapons, $22-billion to Russia/USSR. According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Libya imported more than 2,000 tanks, 2,000 armoured fighting vehicles, 350 artillery weapons, dozens of ships, and fleets of aircraft from Russia. According to the Institute for Security & Development Policy, Belarus exported $1.1-billion in arms to Libya between 1996 and 2006. From 2005 until 2009 EU countries reported exports of just over €834-million to Libya, including military planes worth €278-million, small arms valued at just under €100-million and €85-million in electronic equipment. Italy exported arms worth €276-million between 2006 and 2009, including helicopters worth €110-million. France exported arms worth $3.2-billion, while German sales over the period were worth $1.4-billion. U.K. sales reached €119-million. U.K.’s BAE Systems sold 200 Milan anti-tank missiles in 2007, which were delivered in 2009-10. EU weapons and equipment approved for export included:

  • German electrical exports, including jamming equipment used to block mobile phones and GPS networks
  • Tear gas, crowd control ammunition and sniper rifles exports from the U.K.
  • Military planes from Slovakia, Portugal, Poland, Slovenia, Latvia, Germany, the U.K., France and Italy
  • Ammunition and fuses from France, the U.K., Malta, Bulgaria and Austria
  • Tear gas, chemical weapons and radioactive weapons from France, the U.K., Germany and the Czech Republic
  • Electronic equipment from Italy, France, the U.K., Germany and the Czech Republic
  • Small arms from France, the U.K., Malta, Belgium and Austria.

In September 2011 The Globe and Mail reported that China had offered to sell Gadhafi weapons in the waning days of his regime and that in mid-July Gadhafi’s top security aides made a trip to Beijing, where they met officials from China North Industries Corp. (Norinco), the China National Precision Machinery Import & Export Corp. (CPMIC) and China XinXing Import & Export Corp. Their entire stockpiles were reportedly offered for sale, along with promises to manufacture more goods if needed. Beijing denied selling any weapons to the regime that violated the UN arms embargo then in place.

During the revolution Libyan rebel groups struggled to arm themselves against Gadhafi’s professional armed forces. Most of their weapons were captured, altered, repaired and reused. Weapons included rigged anti-aircraft guns and aircraft rocket launchers mounted on the backs of civilian pickup trucks; vehicles rigged with armoured plating cut from destroyed tanks, homemade bombs with elements extracted from mines and rocket-propelled grenades refitted with high explosives. Captured weapons were stored in warehouses across the country. Rebel groups also held weapons workshops and training camps in which weapons were repaired, tested and used.

Military Balance 2012 could not determine the extent to which Libya’s state-owned weapons and equipment were still operational and available to the new government. When war ended in Libya, many weapons were stolen and sent to Mali. The 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi led to a popular uproar against armed militias. Thousands of protestors marched in Benghazi to condemn the presence of armed groups; in Tripoli hundreds rallied in support of a national army and for the disarmament and disbanding of militias. Some cities held collection drives for weapons. Reported turnout was impressive. One man interviewed by Al-Jazeera claimed that “hundreds of citizens [have come] since the early hours of this morning to hand over their weapons. [The people came] from all segments of society—men and youth, women, and even children came to hand over bullets they found in the streets.” In Tripoli at least 200 former fighters handed in their weapons, including two tanks. More than 800 citizens delivered weapons to a collection point in Benghazi. Although only a small fraction of the weapons were turned in, organizers believed that the response represented an important step forward for Libya.

Russia announced a $1.8-billion arms deal with Libya in 2010, but delivery was halted when the UN arms embargo was imposed in 2011 at the beginning of the revolution. Russia lifted its embargo in May 2013 and 10 Khrizantema-S tank destroyers and 500 anti-tank missiles were delivered in September. In 2013 the government controlled only 20 of 400 arms depots, according to intelligence estimates. More than 3,000 portable anti-aircraft missiles were missing. Much of the Gadhafi-era weaponry had been smuggled across borders into neighbouring conflict zones. In October, days before his kidnapping, Prime Minister Zeidan pleaded for international help with weapons proliferation. On July 9, 2013 Libya signed the UN Arms Trade Treaty, but had not ratified it as of March 2015.

Economic Factors

With approximately 46.5-billion barrels, Libya holds Africa’s largest proven oil reserves and the world’s ninth biggest. During Gadhafi’s rule, oil accounted for 95 per cent of export earnings, 75 per cent of government receipts, and 25 per cent of gross domestic product. Libya’s civil war reduced oil output to almost nothing. As a result, the economy contracted by 41.8 per cent in 2011. The oil sector was crippled again in mid-2013 as violence and protests led to the closure of ports, oil fields, and pipelines.

Libya’s civil war reduced oil output to almost nothing. As a result, the economy contracted by 41.8 per cent in 2011. In the post-Gadhafi era, some government employees have gone unpaid for as long as a year. However, the CIA World Factbook suggested that previously restrained entrepreneurial activity had been unleashed and that a more market-based economy could evolve. The service and construction sectors had expanded. The oil sector was crippled again in mid-2013 as violence and protests led to the closure of ports, oil fields and pipelines.

With more than 80 per cent of Libya’s oil in the east, oil has been a substantial factor in the eastern secessionist movement. Oil pipelines have been used as leverage by armed groups and protestors, with more than a dozen blockades and shutdowns or disruptions between June and September and again in December 2013. Oil exports dropped 70 per cent in August after armed groups temporarily shut down a pipeline linking western oilfields, closed oil terminals in the east, and attempted a black market sale of Libyan oil. Additional shutdowns in the west reduced oil exports to below 10 per cent of capacity in late October. In January 2014, oil exports were down to 110,000 barrels per day, well below July 2013 levels of one million barrels per day.

The CIA World Factbook indicates that fighting for control of Libya’s largest oil terminals at the start of 2015 resulted in a decline in oil production. Afterwards, output only managed to recover to at most one-third of the pre-civil war average of 1.6-million barrels per day. The continued presence of Islamic State near Libyan oil and gas facilities meant that current and future oil production remained under threat (CIA World Factbook).

Reports that Islamic law would be introduced into the Libyan banking systems surfaced at the end of 2013, partially in response to U.S. and European financial crises. Sharia law would ban interest payments and investment in gambling, alcohol, and pornography. This was in line with the December 4, 2013 GNC vote to make Sharia the foundation of national legislation in Libya. With the 2014 government transition from the GNC to the House of Representatives, and the subsequent political divide, the status of formal implementation of Sharia law in Libya was unclear.

During the Gadhafi era, the banking sector remained largely state-owned and much of the rest of the economy was tightly controlled by the state. The CIA World Factbook suggested that when Gadhafi fell, previously restrained entrepreneurial activity was unleashed and that a more market-based economy could evolve. The service and construction sectors expanded. However, employment remained tenuous, with some government employees unpaid for as long as a year. High unemployment encouraged more military and militant recruitment.

Libya still risked a humanitarian crisis. The CIA World Factbook indicated that living conditions, including access to clean water, medical care, and safe housing, declined during the civil war (CIA World Factbook). The World Bank further noted that inflation was an issue, with food prices rising 14.3 per cent in the first quarter of 2015 (World Bank). 

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