Capital of Militias: Tripoli's Armed Groups Capture the Libyan State

On 30 March 2016, the Presidency Council (PC) of the Government of National Accord (GNA) arrived at Tripoli’s Abu Sitta naval base by boat from Tunisia. The PC was created in December 2015 by the Libyan Political Agreement, which was signed in Skhirat, Morocco (ICG, 2016). From its creation, the PC was pressured by its external backers—the UN and Western governments—to relocate to Tripoli, even though it did not command any regular forces that could offer protection. By the time it arrived in Tripoli, the PC could rely on promises from a handful of armed groups in the capital that they would support it. A range of other militias were explicitly hostile, while most armed groups in Tripoli were non-committal.

From 2011, Tripoli’s security landscape was a highly fragmented and unstable patchwork of multiple armed groups. But in the year that followed the PC’s arrival, four militias that had associated themselves with the PC from the outset divided up the capital between themselves. These four militias—the Special Deterrence Force (SDF), the Tripoli Revolutionaries Battalion (TRB), the Nawasi Battalion, and the Abu Slim unit of the Central Security Apparatus—expanded their control across central, southern, and large parts of western Tripoli, gradually displacing rival armed groups during a series of heavy clashes. In parallel, they converted their territorial control into political influence and financial gain, consolidating into a cartel.

This Briefing Paper analyses the implications and the risks associated with this evolution. The first part traces the rise of the Tripoli militia cartel and frames this development against historical struggles for power within Libya’s capital. The second part analyses changes in the financial basis of Tripoli’s armed groups over the past few years, their move towards capturing state institutions, and the implications of this development for conflict dynamics and the prospect of a wider political settlement. The Paper is based on 55 interviews with leaders of armed groups, government officials, and local observers in Tripoli and Misrata, which were undertaken during March and April 2018. It also draws on the authors’ previous interviews and observations during regular research visits made since 2011.

For full access to the briefing paper, Capital of Militias: Tripoli's Armed Groups Capture the Libyan State, please follow the link. 


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