Libya (2011 – first combat deaths)



The Conflict at a Glance

Who (are the main combatants): State security forces are fighting rogue militias and separatist groups, especially in Libya’s eastern oil-rich areas. The Government of Libya is not a cohesive or stable body, and does not control the armed forces of the former regime. There are severe political divisions, both within Congress and among armed groups, fueling violent clashes and social unrest.

In 2015, key political actors signed the UNSMIL-mediated Libyan Political Agreement to create unity in national governance. It established a nine-member Presidency Council (controlled by the General National Accord) and a House of Representatives to act as the legislative body. Despite the agreement, the government remains divided into the General National Congress and the rival House of Representatives. The 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.

What (started the conflict): Along with citizens in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, and Yemen, Libyans were galvanized in 2011 by Arab Spring protests against entrenched power. Some armed groups and political leaders want to exclude Gadhafi-era officials from public service for 10 years. Civilians continue to protest the presence of armed groups and human rights abuses throughout the country.

In Barqa (Cyrenaica) region in the west and Fezzan region in the east, separatists have sought more autonomy from central rule, voicing the desire to return to pre-Gadhafi federalism and seeking a greater share of the profits derived from oil production. Militias have conducted attacks on oil ports and pipelines, political assassinations, and kidnappings.

During Gadhafi’s four-decade rule, Islamic fundamentalists opposed the nominally socialist, authoritarian leader; since his fall from power, they have sought greater control over the state. The Berber/Amazigh ethnic minority has been fighting for more recognition. The transition away from Gadhafi’s economic model has stalled completely as political chaos persists and security continues to deteriorate (CIA World Factbook).

When (has fighting occurred): In 2011, Libyan revolutionaries, inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings, planned a Day of Rage for February 17. The resulting protests led to security crackdowns, a massive outbreak of violence, and, eventually, a multinational military operation and a NATO mission. In October 2011, rebel forces killed Gadhafi in Tripoli and their umbrella group, the National Transitional Council (NTC), assumed control of Libya, supported by the international community. In August 2012, the Islamist-led General National Congress (GNC) took over from the NTC as the transitional power and remained in control until the end of 2014. In 2014, the House of Representatives were elected to power, but the GNC refused to surrender power and the results were ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. In 2015, the Libyan Political Agreement was signed to foster national unity, yet political divides continue to incite violence.

Where (has the conflict taken place): Most violence has occurred in Tripoli, the political capital of Libya, and in Benghazi, the country’s economic capital. Armed groups operate all over the country, but are concentrated near the two major cities and Libya’s oil facilities. Rebel groups control large areas in the south, guarding illegal trade, migration routes, and arms depots. Libya’s porous borders permit significant arms smuggling into neighbouring countries, including Algeria, Niger, and Tunisia; such smuggling helps to finance insurgent groups.



2017 Competing peace plans championed by countries including Italy, France and the United Kingdom were not able to restart the stalled peace process. In July, French president Macron hosted UN-backed Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj and Khalifa Haftar, the military strongman who controls the east of the country. The two leaders agreed to a 10-point joint declaration. However, talks led by UN envoy Ghassan Salamé to amend parts of the 2015 Libyan Political Agreement(LPA) faltered again in October as violence escalated in the west. On December 17, Haftar publicly rejected the LPA, raising concerns about new fighting.

 During the year, UN-backed government forces, Tobruk government forces, Tuareg tribes and smaller factions were all involved in active combat. Smaller skirmishes among tribal groups over resources and land occurred in the south.

Still operating was the UN-brokered provisional Government of National Accord (GNA) presided over by the Presidency Council led by Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj and the Tobruk Parliament led by Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thani. However, the GNA’s presence and power were in decline as the Council and Parliament each fought for control, encouraging smaller factions to mobilize and assemble forces. Moreover, Kaftar claimed that the GNA’s mandate expired on December 17, 2017, although the UN declared that the mandate remained in force until replaced. 

2016 The peace process continued to unravel as the General National Accord (GNA) attempted to establish itself as the sole legitimate government under the Libyan Political Agreement. The House of Representatives, the Libyan National Army (LNA), and other internal actors opposed GNA control and attempted to weaken its power. Violent clashes between political actors, tribes, and militias created ongoing insecurity throughout the country. The Presidency Council struggled to maintain control over its territory in Sirte and the oil crescent. The LNA took control of the oil crescent, which had drastic economic and military repercussions for the Presidency Council. Various international actors interfered in Libya to ensure that the GNA remained in control of the country.

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. Government of National Accord (GNA): The GNA is the interim government established under the December 2015 Libyan Political Agreement. The GNA is made up of Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj and 17 ministers. The UN Security Council has recognized it as the sole legitimate government of Libya. Despite the agreement, the House of Representatives continues to vote against approving the GNA. According to the agreement, the GNA  controls the Libyan National Army and acts under the Presidency Council.

2. 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. The largest party in Congress was the National Forces Alliance (NFA), a liberal party founded by Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril. The second largest was the Justice and Construction Party (JCP), known as the Islamist political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood. One of the GNC’s first tasks was to draft a new constitution, which it completed in December 2014.

In August, following June 2014 elections, a new House of Representatives replaced the GNC. In November 2014, the Supreme Court ruled those elections unconstitutional and reestablished the GNC. Although the GNC was officially disbanded, some of its members reconvened and claimed to be the new GNC and legitimate government, with Omar-al Hasi as prime minister. The former GNC, the elected parliament, and foreign governments refused to recognize these claims.

Supported By

3. Libya Revolutionaries Operations Room (LROR): LROR was established in April 2013 by GNC chairman Nuri Abu Sahmayn. LROR was made responsible for security in Tripoli after numerous armed attacks on Congress meetings and buildings in March 2013. LROR members kidnapped Prime Minister Zeidan in early October, and 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.

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

5. Libya Shield Force/brigades: The Shield brigades were an umbrella group formed to integrate and support the national army after Gadhafi was ousted in 2011. Its members mainly came from previously established anti-Gadhafi armed groups, and were assigned security duties by army chief of staff Youssef Mangoush. However, the Shield brigades were difficult to control and sometimes clashed with other forces. Shields 2 and 10 were disbanded following the June 2013 “Black Saturday” killings in Benghazi with Shield 1 Brigade, and Mangoush resigned.

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

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

8. 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).


9. 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, in which the House replaced the General National Congress. While internationally recognized, the House of Representatives has struggled to consolidate power as the primary legislative authority in Libya. In November 2014, it was deemed illegitimate by the Libyan Supreme Court, but rejected the ruling and continued governing, with Abdullah al-Thinni as prime minister. Under the December 2015 Libyan Political Agreement, the House of Representatives acts as the legislative body in Libya and an advisory body to the Presidency Council.

10. Libyan National Army: This emerging national security force initially suffered from the inexperience of its soldiers. After substantial training in 2013 the army began providing regular security in Tripoli. Led by Major-General Khalifah Haftar, it has remained effectively under the control of the House of Representatives. Haftar rejected the 2015 Libyan Political Agreement, which states that the army is to be controlled by the GNA’s Presidency Council, and continues to support the House of Representatives. In September 2016, the Libyan National Army took control of crude oil exports, effectively defeating the Presidency Council-allied Petroleum Facilities Guards.

Supported by

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

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


Islamist Groups

13. Special Deterrence Forces (SDF): The force was originally a fighting unit that helped topple Gadhafi in Libya’s February 2011 Revolution. The SDF puts most of its efforts into combatting drug trafficking and often broadcast the burning of drugs on live television. It has been involved in clashes in Tripoli, and has controlled public buildings.

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

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

b. Ansar al-Sharia Brigade: This Salafi militia, al-Qaeda’s Libyan affiliate, has been most active in eastern Libya. Itcaught 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. It formally dissolved in 2017.

15. 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).

16. Ajdabiya Revolutionaries Shura Council: This Islamist militant group, based in the town of Ajdabiya, west of Benghazi, has mainly fought the LNA.

17. Majlis Shura Shabab al-Islam (MSSI, also known as the Islamic Youth Shura Council): 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 territory in the city of Derna part of the Islamic State ‘caliphate’.

18. Islamic State: In November 2014, Islamic State (IS) announced that it was accepting pledges of allegiance from jihadists in Libya, which provided IS with a foothold in the country. IS established a growing presence in Derna, known as a jihadist hub. Although IS was later largely driven out of Derna, its ideology spread to other parts of Libya. By the end of 2015, IS had complete control of a 250-kilometre 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). In 2015, Islamic State seized control of a 120-mile stretch of territory in Sirte (International Crisis Group). In May 2016, both pro- and anti- GNA troops mobilized separately to retake Sirte; in December, Misratan-led forces, allied with the Presidency Council, defeated IS in Sirte and claimed full control of the city (International Crisis Group).

19. Benghazi Defence Brigade/Forces (BDB): Formed in June 2016, this militant group is composed of Islamic fighters who fled the cities of Benghazi, Derna, and Ajdabiya. BDB’s Islamist commanders fought against Gadhafi’s regime in 2011. The group’s purpose is to defend Benghazi from both IS and LNA forces and alleviate pressure on the Benghazi Revolutionaries Shura Council outside the city (Menas Associates). They played a major part in defeating IS in Sirte and have attacked the LNA in the oil crescent.

In addition to

Communal violence in southern Libya

In September 2014, Tuareg and rival Tebu smugglers began a turf war that developed into a general communal struggle. In November 2015, the two tribes signed an agreement in Qatar, which included an immediate ceasefire and the return of civilians displaced by the conflict. In January 2016, fighting resumed between the two tribes.

20. Tuareg: This tribal group has a homeland in southern Libya. Most Tuareg supported the Gadhafi regime, although a small number backed rebel forces. Today many Tuareg are impoverished and lack the identification documents necessary to access better education and white-collar jobs.

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

International Actors:

22. 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 (UNSC) unanimously adopted Resolution 1970 (2011) under Article 41 of UN Charter Chapter VII. This resolution demanded an end to the violence and referred 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, shortly after, 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 multinational coalition led by the United States took military action to enforce the resolutions under Operation Odyssey Dawn (OOD). On March 23, NATO began Operation Unified Protector (OUP) and, by the end of March 2011, had assumed command of OOD and all international operations in Libya. 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 UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL – see below), coinciding with the end of NATO’s OUP mission on October 31.

By 2013, the UNSC had not fully lifted the arms embargo on Libya, due to concerns about arms smuggling from neighbouring countries (International Crisis Group). In December 2013, the UN announced a 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) scheduled a 2014 visit to verify that the country had eliminated related material following its 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.

23. 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. In June 2016, the UN Security Council extended the UNSMIL mission until December 15, 2016; in December 2016, it was extended until September 15, 2017 (United Nations Security Council).

24. European Union: On February 28, 2011, EU governments approved sanctions against Gadhafi and his closest advisers. Several EU countries have publicly recognized and supported the GNA as the only legitimate government in Libya (International Crisis Group). In June 2016, the EU implemented Operation Sophia, an anti-smuggling operation in the Mediterranean. This operation looked to include training, intelligence-sharing, and capacity-building for the Libyan Coast Guard and Navy (Human Rights Watch).

25. 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 WatchWorld 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 Libya’s worsened security situation, political instability, and lack of funding.

The United States has endorsed the GNA as the sole legitimate government in Libya. In 2016, the United States expanded its military activities in Libya to fight extremists, conducting airstrikes on IS-controlled areas (Human Rights Watch). In February 2016, a U.S. airstrike on an alleged IS training camp in Sabratha killed 50 people, including two Serbian hostages.


Status of Fighting

2017 The exact number of combatants is not known. The disunity of the GNA led to a rise in active factions. On May 18, forces supporting the GNA in Tripoli attacked an airbase of Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) in southern Libya, killing 141, including civilians. The LNA has opposed the Tripoli government and supported the parliamentary faction in the east.

During the year, NATO-allied nations including Egypt launched airstrikes on groups they denounced as terrorist organizations. After 29 Egyptian Coptic Christians were killed in terrorist attacks south of Cairo, Egypt launched airstrikes on an al-Qaeda-affiliated  group in Libya on May 27. It should be noted that Islamic State, not al-Qaeda, claimed responsibility for the attacks in Egypt.

Also on May 27, 52 GNA fighters were killed in clashes with rival militias in the capital, Tripoli. The violence came after months of calm as the GNA and its allies managed to push back opposing groups from the central areas of the city.

On October 30, 17 were killed and more than 30 wounded in airstrikes by an unknown party on the eastern city of Derna, which had been under siege by LNA forces for more than a year. UNSMIL condemned the attack on a residential neighbourhood.

2016 The United States conducted airstrikes in IS-controlled areas, both with and without Libya’s consent. In February, a U.S. airstrike targeted an alleged IS training camp in Sabratha, killing approximately 50 people, including two Serbian citizen abducted by IS (Amnesty International). This attack drew criticism from the Serbian and Libyan governments, which insisted that the United States should have informed them of its intention to act (BBC). In March, a confidential briefing that was leaked to the media showed that the U.K.’s Special Air Service had been fighting extremist groups since January, although it remained unclear if the Libyan government was aware of their presence (Human Rights Watch).

In June, GNA-allied armed groups from Misrata, Libya’s third-largest city, challenged IS control of the coastal city of Sirte. In July, France acknowledged their military presence in eastern Libya when a French helicopter was downed, allegedly by an Islamic militia, killing three French soldiers who had been gathering intelligence (Al Jazeera). The GNA condemned the intervention of France, which it suspects of backing government opponent, General Haftar, in the east (Al Jazeera). In August, at the GNA’s request, the United States began airstrikes in Sirte to help the government reclaim territory from IS (CNN).

In September, Haftar’s Libyan National Army attacked the Petroleum Facilities Guard and took control of Libya’s oil crescent (International Crisis Group).The United States and the European Union condemned the takeover, demanding that oil reserves be under the control of the Presidency Council (Al Jazeera).Despite heavy casualties, Misratan forces defeated IS, with the help of U.S. airstrikes; by December, the Presidency Council had taken full control of Sirte (International Crisis Group). In December, a group of militias attacked Haftar’s troops in the Gulf of Sirte in an attempt to regain control of oil reserves. The unsuccessful mission was allegedly financed by Libyan defence minister Barghathi (International Crisis Group).

Civilians were targeted by all groups. In Benghazi, Derna, and Sirte, armed groups indiscriminately shelled civilian areas, killing 141 civilians and injuring 146 (Human Rights Watch).A UNSMIL and OHCHR report detailed violations of the rights of migrants by all actors, including torture and physical and sexual violence (OHCHR).IS executed, publically flogged, and lynched residents in the areas they control (Human Rights Watch).Armed groups, including IS, abducted and held foreign nationals for ransom, both to fund operations and to force key actors to negotiate with them. Two Italians and a Canadian who were abducted in September were released in November (Amnesty International).

Communal violence resumed in two different areas. In January, armed conflict resumed in Obari, despite a local peace agreement between the Tebu and Tuareg tribes, and persisted (International Crisis Group). In November, a Gaddadfa shopkeeper’s monkey in Sabha attacked a group of Awlad Suleiman schoolgirls, sparking armed retaliation from the Awlad Suleiman tribe (Reuters). Clashes between two powerful tribes occurred throughout the region of Sabha, killing 16 and injuring 50 in four days (The Guardian).

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.

2017 Since 2011, Libya’s civil war has resulted in approximately 18,298 fatalities, including 4,057 civilians.  In 2017, approximately 433 deaths were due to the conflict.

According to the UNHCR, in October 2017, there were 217,002 IDPs in the country, as well as 43,113 refugees and asylum-seekers.

2016 There were 2,870 conflict-related deaths, including 2,231 from clashes between armed groups, 405 from remote violence such as IEDs or air strikes, and 189 related to violence against civilians (ACLED, All Africa Files, ACLED Version 7 [1997-2016] standard file).

Refugees and IDPs: There were an estimated 435,000 internally displaced people in Libya in 2016 (Human Rights Watch). Libya remained a major transit point for migrants, asylum-seekers, and refugees from Africa and the Middle East seeking passage to Europe. An estimated 4,518 people have either died or gone missing while being transported in unsafe vessels (Human Rights Watch). Of the 100,000 refugees and asylum-seekers estimated to be in the country, 37,443 refugees and asylum-seekers were registered (UNHCR).

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

2017 In late December, Khalila Haftar, commander-in-chief of the Libyan National Army that  controlled eastern Libya, stated that the UN-backed peace agreement for Libya had expired. He claimed that after December 17, he would not recognize any decisions by the political institutions created in that agreement.

The existence of numerous state actors in Libya complicated the peace process, with as many as “six or seven different operations” vying for attention. In June, a Libyan militia freed Saif-Al-Islam Gaddafi after six years of detention; Kaftar later gave him full amnesty, although he had been sentenced to death in 2015.  

The UN criticized the EU policy of helping Libya intercept migrants, describing it as “inhuman.” The Libyan department for combatting illegal migration held approximately 19,900 individuals in detention centres, where conditions were described as deplorable.

2016 The implementation of the Libya Political Agreement and the formation of the GNA created political tensions in Libya. As part of the agreement, the House of Representatives needed to vote to endorse the GNA and its cabinet. In January, Prime Minister al-Serraj proposed his first cabinet, which was rejected by the House of Representatives. In August, the House of Representatives voted against endorsing the GNA, thereby weakening al-Serraj’s authority in Libya (International Crisis Group). The United States and several European countries recognized the GNA as the sole legitimate government before endorsement was given, which enraged anti-GNA supporters. In March, al-Serraj and the GNA arrived in Tripoli to take up their role as the Presidency Council; this resulted in pro- and anti- GNA militia clashes in Tripoli (International Crisis Group).

The UN-backed GNA faced strong opposition to their role as the only legitimate government. In June, the president of the House of Representatives, Agilah Saleh, declared martial law in eastern regions of Libya; this allowed him to appoint LNA chief Abdulrazeq al-Nadouri military governor (Human Rights Watch). The LNA then replaced elected municipal officials with military-appointed governors (Amnesty International). In September, General Haftar took control of the oil crescent and publicly announced his opposition to the GNA (International Crisis Group). In October, the former prime minster of the National Salvation Government, Khalifa al-Ghwell, seized key state buildings and a TV station in an attempted coup against the GNA (The Guardian). In response to these incidents and growing unrest, representatives from the Presidency Council, including al-Serraj, the Central Bank of Libya, and the National Oil Corporation convened in London with world leaders to discuss the crisis (International Crisis Group). Despite agreement at the meeting, the peace process in Libya continued to unravel, as opposition actors grew stronger.

The ongoing conflict has severely weakened the legal and justice systems in Libya. In eastern Libya, most courts are shut down; in other parts of the country, they are operating at a minimal level (Human Rights Watch). As a result, perpetrators of violence are not being held accountable. Prisoners are held in detention centres without being charged and are often mistreated (Human Rights Watch). In April, Libya’s Constitution Drafting Assembly announced a revised draft of the constitution. Although the constitution must be approved through a national referendum, the Assembly had not set a date for it to take place (Amnesty International).

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 under King Idris gained its independence in 1951. 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, Moammar 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, Gadhafi was captured and killed during the Battle of Sirte. The conflict then evolved into a struggle between Islamists and nationalists. Massive violence followed the defeat of Islamists in June 2014 parliamentary elections.

In December 2015, both the Tripoli and Tobruk governments signed the Libya Political Agreement. The peace accord was intended to appease both parties by creating a GNA-controlled Presidency Council and a legislative body controlled by the House of Representatives. Despite the agreement, struggles between supporters and opponents of the Government of National Accord (GNA) have resulted in continued instability in Libya.

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.

In March 2016, the UN Security Council extended the arms embargo on Libya for another year. A UN Panel of Experts revealed that several countries, companies, and individuals had violated the embargo and advocated for its renewal (Atlantic Council). The United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Qatar, Turkey, and Sudan had transferred weapons and military vehicles to parties in the conflict (Human Rights Watch). In May 2016, world powers considered exempting the Presidency Council from the arms embargo to support its fight against IS, but did not operationalize the exemption (Al Jazeera). Because of unstable conditions inside Libya, the Military Balance 2017 was unable to determine Libya’s exact defence budget or military capabilities.

Economic Factors

With approximately 46.5-billion barrels, Libya holds Africa’s largest and the world’s ninth largest oil reserves. 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. More than 80 per cent of oil is located in the eastern part of the country. Armed groups and protestors have used oil pipelines as hostages for their demands, including territorial secession from Libya proper. The 2011 civil war practically halted all oil output, causing the economy to contract by 41.8 per cent.

Between June and September 2013 and again in December of that year, there were more than a dozen blockades, which caused disruptions and shutdowns of ports, oil fields, and pipelines. In August, armed groups shut down a pipeline linking Libyan oilfields to western markets, closed oil terminals in the east, and attempted to sell Libyan oil on the black market; Libyan oil exports dropped 70 per cent. In late October, additional shutdowns in the west reduced oil exports to below 10 per cent of capacity. In January 2014, protests and violence caused oil exports to drop to 110,000 barrels per day, well below July 2013 levels of one million.

In early 2015, fighting for control of Libya’s largest oil terminals resulted in a major decline in oil production. Since then, output has only recovered to one-third of its pre-civil war average (of 1.6-million barrels per day). The presence of Islamic State near Libyan oil and gas facilities also keeps current and future government revenue under threat (CIA World Factbook). In September 2016, General Haftar seized control of the oil crescent, an essential economic resource for the country, from the Presidency Council. Oil production has since increased from 400,000 to 600,000 barrels per day, but Libya has remained in fiscal deficit, with cash reserves severely depleted (International Crisis Group).

Due to major economic disruptions in the post-Gadhafi era, government employees have gone unpaid for as long as a year. However, the Central Bank has continued to pay government salaries and fund fuel and food subsidies, which have created a budget deficit of approximately 49 per cent of GDP. The Libyan leadership has not used government revenues to invest in national infrastructure. Libya’s largest cities suffer from widespread power outages, caused by fuel shortages. Living conditions have worsened with the population displacement of the civil war, reducing access to clean drinking water, medical services, and safe housing. High unemployment has increased the recruitment of young men to both the military and militant organizations. Inflation has weakened the Libyan dinar and increased the cost of living. In the first quarter of 2015, food prices rose 14.3 per cent (World Bank).

During the Gadhafi era, the banking sector was largely state-owned and the economy tightly controlled by the state. At the end of 2013, reports surfaced that Islamic law would be introduced into the Libyan banking system, partly in response to the U.S. and European financial crises. Thisaligned with December 2013’s GNC vote to make Sharia the foundation of national legislation, thereby banning interest and investment in gambling, alcohol, and pornography.With the 2014 government transition from the GNC to the House of Representatives, the status of Sharia law was unclear.

map: CIA Factbook 

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