Six weeks ago, the US and UK issued travel warnings to avoid Libya if possible, and not to go outside of Tripoli unless unavoidable. Both countries reduced their diplomatic staff in the capital they liberated through an air war that toppled former dictator Moammar Qaddafi two years earlier, as militias rolled into the streets and the Libyan government could do nothing to dislodge them. Over the last two days, those militias have begun fighting in Tripoli, and residents now seek shelter from the war that has arrived on the last holdout in Libya:
A tense calm prevailed over Libya’s capital Thursday after days of chaos left at least seven people dead — including a 12-year-old boy.
But it’s unclear if the violence is really over — or even who the warring groups are.
Sounds of heavy gunfire and explosions echoed across Tripoli on Wednesday night, sending waves of confusion and panic as residents weren’t sure who was behind the attacks. …
On Tuesday, an armed group attacked the headquarters of the Petroleum Facilities Protection Guard (PFG) in the Salaheddin district of the capital.
The Libyan government said at least five people were killed and nearly two dozen others wounded in the heavy fighting.
The PFG — a Ministry of Defense force tasked with protecting Libya’s oil field — said an armed group from the western city of Zintan surrounded at attacked its Tripoli headquarters.
Reuters has more on the rise of the militias outside of Tripoli, and their ambitions to seize power:
Armed groups made up of former rebel fighters from different parts of the country have grown in power and ambition nearly two years after Gaddafi was ousted and the government has struggled to impose its authority over them.
The latest fighting started on Tuesday morning when a militia given the job of guarding a major Libyan oil field attacked the headquarters of the national body set up to guard oil facilities across the country.
The group from the western town of Zintan was disgruntled after another group was given supervision of a drill in the area, officials said.
That fighting triggered widespread resentment in Tripoli against fighters from Zintan and by Wednesday, parts of the city were caught in fighting between people from that town and other areas.
The Libya Herald reports that the clash comes from militias loyal to different ministries within the Libyan government itself:
For the second day running, violence returned today to Tripoli with confused fighting between rival groups in and around the Abu Saleem district which left at least two people dead, including a young bystander and around two dozen people injured.
The renewed fighting was between brigades nominally under the control of the Interior Ministry and other units supposedly taking their orders from the Ministry of Defence and by extension the armed forces.
If that’s not enough to bring confidence in a central government to microscopic proportions, the response from the government itself shows just how impotent they are in the face of the militias:
Nevertheless the violence prompted an angry denunciation from the Acting Chief of Staff Salem Gnaidi this evening in a radio statement. He warned that anyone carrying a weapon in the capital should be disarmed. However he went on to say that the army was not yet strong enough to disarm outside militias itself unaided and therefore called on local militias to assist it.
The government meanwhile issued a statement confirming GNC Resolution 27 demanding Tripoli be made free of all armed groups.
If statements and resolutions could clear streets, no nation would ever need security forces. The Libyan government put into place by NATO intervention and largely propped up by Western diplomacy and cash can’t even control the streets of its own capital.
All of this should be an object lesson to those who want to intervene on behalf of radical Sunni militias in Syria against another entrenched dictator, especially by claiming the pretense that the moderates will control the outcome. It should be an object lesson … but probably will be ignored, at least until the terrorist networks sack Tripoli and raise a black flag over its ruins.