By Mustafa Fetouri
Mr. Ali Zeidan, Libya’s prime minister, is seeking help from different countries to train Libyan would be military and police officers in order to solve his country’s security problem. Dozen countries have already lined up to help Libya build professional army and police forces in order to stabilize the north African county. On offer: various training plans both inside and outside the country aimed at integrating the rogue militias’, playing havoc on Libya, into the yet to be established army and security forces and claim back the country from the hands of gangs, outlaws, and tribal militias which have been controlling the state since the NATO helped rebels took over the country. The misery reach a level where in any personal argument between to drug addicts or militia members could turn into full war particularly in Tripoli and Benghazi.
According to the Pentagon spokesman Col. Steve Warren the US is ready to “provide training for 5,000 to 8,000 personnel” while the EU, UK, and France among the leading western countries expressed willingness to help. Actually countries like Jordan and Turkey have already received batches of would be Libyan trainees. The Libyan authority seems to think that its salvation lies in exporting as many criminals as possible could well be a solution.
This is the wrong solution to Libya’s security mess and an ill-advised policy for the country in the long term. Such policy will not yield national army neither shall it help any Libyan government exercise its sovereignty over the entire territory of Libya. I even dare to say that certain countries are trying to make money out of Libya’s misery.
Mr. Zeidan’s government cannot be trusted because it lacks not only support by its citizens but it has a huge credibility deficiency. It is militia infested, weak, corrupt, and has so far failed to deliver anything to its people. This government cannot come up with any executable plan to answer the following questions: who will be trained and for what? What are the rules applied? What will be the role played by the militias in such raining programs?
After failing miserably the government is trying to buy time in office, present itself as a trustworthy partner to the international community and the locals alike. In essence it is trying to integrate thousands of criminals, assassins, professional thieves, drug dealers, and terrorist into the national army and police while using the training program as a cover.
Those who are being shipped out of Libya or indeed trained inside the country are militia members and some of them are violent, criminals, outlaws, and many have blood of Libyan civilians on their hands. Most of them should be in jail and not given the opportunity to recycle themselves and live a comfortable life abroad while being paid by the Libyan government, only to return home and do the same all over again.
Above all any gang members or militia thug for that matter is only loyal to his gang or at best to his tribe as is the case generally in Libya today. Recent past experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan has taught us one important lesson: gang members and militias will never be loyal to the state but to themselves. Hodgepodge training them will only serve their own needs with no benefit to the state.
The recent looting last August of arms cache from a facility outside Tripoli used by US forces to train Libyans is only an example of the risks of training when done at random.
Before any training is offered the Libyan authorities should ensure that not a single militia or gang member be given the opportunity of training. If there is good or bad gang or militia member let’s remember the good ones are not going to come forward for any training. Simply because they have no trust in the state and are too busy doing that little good they do for their communities, cities, and tribes. Not necessarily good to Libya. At the same time they are leading a comfortable (sometimes luxurious) lives inside Libya so why bother.
Rigors and comprehensive screening process should be in place to check all individuals to be trained. The aim here is to be as certain as possible that any active or former gang and militias members particularly those who took part in well-known bloody crimes are excluded better yet brought to justice. Such crimes are well documented by local and international civil organizations including rights groups. Furthermore any individual who fought anywhere in Libya after November 2011,after the war ended, should not be accepted as a trainee nor integrated into any future police or army for that matter. The current government as well as the corrupt General National Conference know only well who those people are just as it knows who fired on civilians killing over fifty of them on Friday.
An independent body with no government involvement at all should handle the screening process. Members of such body could be drawn from judiciary, security experts, and helped by tribal leaders and local civic organizations. This might take time but delay is better than having failed project. Bear in mind that Libyans have now been suffering for almost 3 years and would not mind a little more time as long as it will assure them.
All former rebel groups must be open, forthcoming and willing to share information with the government starting by handing over lists of its rank and file to the screening body. This way we ensure that all those who formed or joined any group after November 2011 are identified and excluded. One of the reasons of this mushrooming of rebels from couple of thousands to well over 100,000 after 2011 has been the new gangs that appeared after the war ended. It’s those groups, in addition to jihadists, who have been the most notorious of offenders. Together they are the strongest opposition to any professional army or police. If integrated to any future army or police they will destroy it from within.
Furthermore, members of the militias on the pay role of either the ministry of interior and defense are involved in criminal activities or have been as such. The militia that seized Ali Zeidan actually work for the ministry of Interior while those who led the invasion of Bani Walid last year belong to Libya Shields supposedly part of the phantom Libyan army. Militias that make up the Supreme Security Committee top the category of looters, thieves, torturers, and property confiscators. They shouldn’t only be immediately dismissed but brought to justice for what their crimes committed over the last two years. In just short while they gained such notoriety that surpasses the entire forty years of the former regime’s horrible security organs.
Without due process of background checks any training offered is likely to upgrading and further enriching the personal knowledge of criminals, and gang members making them even more sophisticated. They would soon be doing what they usually do: inflict more suffering on Libyan citizens, hamper any effort by the state to have its own professional army and police, and above all support jihadists in neighboring countries a Mali is a recent example.
It is a fact that known violent individuals and suspected terrorists have managed to recycle themselves into religious preachers, politicians, community leaders, and some of them were even elected into the dysfunctional GNC. Abu Annas Alibi, whether guilty or not, was living in the heart of Tripoli before his abduction. Many more Libyans and foreign Jihadists are now living in eastern and southern Libya and the recent bloodshed in Benghazi is only a reminder of not only their presence but their ability to inflict more damage almost with impunity. Ain Amnas’s tragedy in Algeria earlier this year- in which terrorists killed and kidnapped hundreds of hostages in a desert gas facility-has a very strong Libyan connection.
The latest failed training endeavor is that of the EU’s border security programs already under way in Libya. It is failing precisely because of the lack of proper and adequate background checks of trainees. Since the program started few months ago we have seen surge in the number of illegal immigrants coming out of Libya. One likely cause could well be is that some of those trainees, doing the patrolling work on the ground, have become part of the network of traffickers since it is financially more rewarding than the miserable usually late government salaries.
– Mustafa Fetouri is a Libyan analyst at IHS Global Insight, an author and award-winning freelance journalist. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.