Fears of escalation after militias enter Libya’s Tripoli

Libya has had rival administrations since 2014 when the recognized government fled Tripoli after a militia alliance advanced.

A group of Libyan militias entered the capital Tripoli this week and said they were creating a “Libyan National Guard,” to the alarm of the country’s unity government and Washington.

The Libyan capital has been controlled by dozens of militias with shifting loyalties and territories since the overthrow of dictator Muammar Qaddafi in 2011.

On Thursday, Mahmud Zagal, a militia commander from Misrata, announced the creation of the “Libyan National Guard,” saying it would stay out of “political, party and tribal disputes.”

It aims to continue the fight against Daesh, secure state institutions and diplomatic missions, he said in a statement.
It did not say whether or not it would support Libya’s UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA), which has struggled to assert its authority across Libya or even control the capital.

A GNA source said Saturday that most of the groups involved had taken part in a seven-month battle to oust Daesh from its stronghold of Sirte, which fell in December.

Misrata’s well-armed militias, which control much of western Libya, led the fight but say the GNA stopped supporting them after Sirte fell.

“They now feel marginalized and are looking for support,” the source said, asking to remain anonymous.
Misrata’s powerful militias, which led the fight, control much of western Libya.

GNA officials met on Saturday with the group’s leaders “to attempt to find a solution,” the source said.

Several locals said the militias included backers of Khalifa Ghweil, the leader of a self-proclaimed “Government of National Salvation” which in January tried and failed to seize three government ministries in the Libyan capital.

The US said Friday it had noted with “serious concern reports that numerous tactical vehicles from an organization claiming to be the ‘Libyan National Guard’ have entered Tripoli.”

“This deployment has the potential to further destabilize the already fragile security situation in Tripoli,” it said.
It said Libya should work to build “a unified national military force under civilian command that is capable of providing security for all Libyans and combating terrorist groups.”

The development adds to the chaos that has rocked Libya since Qaddafi’s fall.

It also weakens the GNA, which has been unable to establish its authority despite its efforts to create a “Presidential Guard” to secure state institutions and diplomatic missions.

Formed in March last year, the unity government faces hostility from a rival authority based in the east of the country, which refuses to recognize its authority.