Libya: The Price Of Freedom Just Went Up

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December 30, 2011: The year ends with over a hundred rebel "brigades" refusing to disband. These rebels act like the war is still on and sustain themselves by taking what they want. This makes the brigades increasingly unpopular. The new government is trying to recruit the rebels into government jobs (including the army, but preferably a job that does not require weapons) or at least get the "brigades" (each with anywhere from a few dozen to a few hundred armed men) to surrender the heavy weapons (armored vehicles, mortars, missiles, and heavy machine-guns) they took from Kaddafi era troops and military bases. The government does not want to use force to disarm the brigades, but for many of these rebels that will eventually have to be done, with some violence and residual bad feelings. Meanwhile, the government has all that oil money and, as Kaddafi discovered, you can calm down a lot of people with steady, and well paid, employment.

Meanwhile, the majority of the rebel brigades has apparently organized themselves into the "Union of Rebels in Libya" and is demanding 40 percent of the seats on the NTC (National Transitional Council) that now tries to run the country. It's a common problem that the armed men who did most of the fighting during the revolution tend to demand a large reward, often in the form of political power, after victory is won. If these privileges are obtained, they often last for generations, usually until the next revolution. Giving into the rebels guarantees continuing unrest because the rebel factions disproportionately represent some tribal, ethnic, or political groups and this generates continuing friction. Elections are supposed to take place in June and this rebel demand will have to be settled by then.

The government has prioritized its security efforts. Taking control of border crossings, providing security for oil facilities, and seeking to maintain controls in the largest city (Tripoli) are all under way. But that means rebel brigades operate unhindered in many parts of the country.

The U.S. has offered to help disarm the rebel brigades by offering cash for the surrender of shoulder fired anti-aircraft missiles. Over the last three decades some 20,000 of these weapons were bought by Libya. During the 2011 rebellion, thousands of these missiles were believed to have been stolen. Many older Sa-7Bs were seized by the rebels early on and some were used against Kadaffi's aircraft. But it was soon found that some had been taken by criminals or Islamic radicals and moved out of the country. NATO forces teams have seized 5,000 of the Libyan missiles, and at least as many were destroyed from the air. But about half of Kaddafi's missiles are unaccounted for. Most are older, and now, useless models. But some of them are of a more recent vintage.

The most dangerous of these missiles are the recently (2004) introduced Igla-S models. Also known as the SA-24, this one is a post-Cold War upgrade of a design that was introduced the same time as the American Stinger. The Igla-S in the hands of terrorists could bring down helicopters and airliners taking off. The exact number of these missiles Russia sold to Libya has not been made public (estimates vary from hundreds to thousands). Nor is it known how many of these missiles Libya still had when the rebellion broke out earlier this year.

December 16, 2011: The U.S. has lifted most economic sanctions on Libya, enabling the new government to gain access to billions of dollars the Kaddafi government has stashed overseas. But many Libyans fear that many of the unelected members of the NTC will try, and succeed in stealing, a lot of this money. The NTC is not being very open about how it operates and this is usually a sign that bad things are going on behind the bureaucratic smokescreen.  

December 10, 2011: There was gunfire in Tripoli, as one of the rebel brigades got into a gunfight with one of the new army units. At least two people were killed and several others wounded. The troops are trying to shut down all the rebel brigade checkpoints, which are often used to extort money and goods from travelers. In one incident, rebels tried to kill the head of the new Libyan Army.

December 9, 2011: Britain announced that its Libyan military operations had cost about $300 million. A third of that was for munitions (mostly smart bombs and missiles). The total cost of NATO operations in Libya was probably less than $5 billion.

December 8, 2011: The NTC announced that it would provide amnesty to most of the men who fought for dead dictator Kaddafi.

 

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