The Slatest

Libya Cracks Down On Militias

A Libyan demonstrator holds a sign as people gather for a protest calling for uniting the army and disarming militiamen in the eastern city of Benghazi on December 13, 2011

Photo by Abdullah Doma/AFP/Getty Images.

The Libyan military ordered militias and armed groups in and near Tripoli to evacuate and disband within 48 hours on Saturday. The ultimatum came one day after thousands of Libyans participated in large, anti-militia protests in Benghazi.

Reuters, citing Libyan state news, reported that the army ordered “all individuals and armed groups occupying military compounds, public buildings or property belonging to members of the former regime to evacuate these sites within 48 hours.”

The Libyan government has a complicated relationship to militias in the country. While some have been incorporated into the state, other, “illegitimate” groups are something of a dilemma: the groups refuse to defer to the state, yet the government relies on some of these groups for regional security, the AFP notes. The government’s commitment to clear the country of rogue militia groups comes with a risk: if they’re unable to fill the security gap left by disbanded militias, the groups could likely resurface, as the Wall Street Journal’s analysis of militias in Libya implies.

But the scales of that uneasy dilemma were apparently tipped — slowly — by the September 11 attack on the U.S. Consulate that killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens. The Slatest’s Daniel Politi broke down the escalation of Friday’s anti-militia protests: after the planned demonstrations, hundreds of protesters stormed the Islamist Ansar al-Shariah militia’s compound, and they gave up their base with little resistance. But the protesters’ sweep of militia-held compounds met stronger resistance when, believing the group to be Islamist, they stormed a pro-government militia building. Eleven were killed and over 60 wounded.

At least some Islamist militias are voluntarily disbanding after the government’s announcement of a crackdown. The Guardian’s Chris Stephen reported from Libya that five groups will disband in the Islamist stronghold of Derna:

“Derna has long been the Islamic centre of Libya. It has also become a centre for various jihadist militias, it has become a recruiting ground for various jihadist militias. They had five quite powerful bases there, and government forces basically stayed out of the city … They have obviously decided that it was a bad idea to stick around, because people power is taking on these bases one after the other. And they’ve dispersed. Are they actually going to disband or are they going to regroup and think again? But at the moment no militia want to advertise being in a base anywhere in Libya.”

Meanwhile, back at home, Obama campaign advisor Robert Gibbs was busy on “Fox News Sunday” defending the U.S. government’s initial position that the September 11 attacks on the U.S. Consulate were simply a spontaneous result of protests against an anti-Islam film. the White House later acknowledged that the attack appeared to be planned in advance. As Politico reports, Gibbs said that “Absolutely no one intentionally or unintentionally misled anybody” on the attacks.”