Tripoli will remain generally stable, however, there is an ongoing risk of clashes involving opposing militia groups and tensions are likely to increase in the run-up to a deadline set by the local council for militias to be disarmed, and those from outside the city to return home.
Benghazi will remain calm but there is a risk of further demonstrations over working conditions, the perceived lack of transparency of the NTC and by local tribal groups who feel they are under-represented in the new government. These will remain largely peaceful.
There will be a continued risk of lawlessness throughout the country as the NTC attempts to disarm the various regional militia groups and bring them under the control of the Interior Ministry. Clashes between local tribal militia groups and those belonging to major towns and cities may continue as local power brokers continue to attempt to exert their authority.
Gunfights broke out near the international airport on 11 December when militiamen opened fire on the convoy of army chief Major-General Khalifa Haftar. The initial incident was followed by hours of armed clashes, with army officials claiming that former rebel militiamen from the Zintan brigade were responsible for the initial attack. Tensions are likely to increase further in the capital as a deadline for militia groups to return home moves closer. There is a risk of further clashes, with some rebel commanders stating recently that their militias will only leave when a functioning national army capable of filling the security vacuum is formed.
AKE sources on the ground have highlighted that the relatively young age of many of the militiamen manning checkpoints throughout the city means there is potential for seemingly innocuous incidents to escalate into violence. AKE has long highlighted the problem of disarming the disparate militia factions as the most immediate challenge facing the NTC.
A number of demonstrations have taken place in recent weeks, with Tripoli citizens calling for rebel militias to lay down their arms and leave the city. There is a risk of further demonstrations, most of which have occurred in the Martyrs’ Square area of the city. Some demonstrations by militiamen calling for more pay sprang up around hotels housing Western media personnel in recent months and AKE assesses that the risk of continued protests of this nature remains. Government buildings, particularly the Interior Ministry, are also at risk of being targeted by demonstrators; however, so far these protests have remained non-violent.
Between 20,000 and 30,000 people assembled in Benghazi on 12 December to protest against the perceived lack of transparency of the NTC and interim government. The demonstration took place in the central Sharja square and nearby Abdel Nasser Street. Demonstrators expressed their anger at former regime members who retained positions within the NTC. While the protests remained non-violent, there is increasingly noticeable frustration among Libyans in the majority of major cities over the slow pace of progress in the political and security fronts.
President Mustafa Abdel Jalil called for patience following the demonstrations and promised that a website listing the council’s members and its activities will be made public. This is unlikely to immediately appease many of the protestors however, and AKE assesses that there is an ongoing risk of further demonstrations in Benghazi, most of which will be focused in central areas of the city, particularly Sharjah square.
There are also concerns over levels of crime in the city, which increased following the ousting of pro-Gaddafi forces in February.
The South (Wamis)
Clashes that erupted south of the capital around the town of Wamis ended with a ceasefire on 13 December. The clashes involved fighters from the town of Zintan and the al-Mashasha tribe over an old rivalry that has gained new momentum following the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi. Wamis is located to the south west of the Nafusa Mountains region along the main arterial road north towards Gharyan and then on to Tripoli.
Locals in Wamis reportedly claimed that militiamen from Zintan fired rockets and artillery into the town causing visible damage to buildings. Other clashes resulted in deaths to fighters on both sides and the fighting only ended when a committee of elders agreed a ceasefire and the release of prisoners on both sides.
AKE assesses that there is an ongoing risk of clashes of this nature. There have been a number of instances where larger militia groups have caused increased tensions resulting in clashes by attempting to exert their authority in areas traditionally controlled by smaller local tribes.
The Ras Ajedir border crossing between Libya and Tunisia fully opened on 19 December after being closed on 30 November following clashes and an increase in attacks on the border from the Libyan side. The violence, which Tunisian border guards claimed involved Libyan militia groups firing on Tunisian border posts, affected both the Ras Ajedir and Dehiba border crossings.
US-Libyan Weapons Disposal
A joint team of US and Libyan bomb disposal experts claim to have secured around 5,000 surface-to-air missiles that were stockpiled by the former regime. Thousands more of the weapons were also reportedly destroyed during the NATO bombing campaign. The Gaddafi regime are thought to have stockpiled around 20,000 shoulder-fired missile systems before the revolution began, many of which are unaccounted for. Western governments have highlighted the threat posed by these weapons if, as feared, they have fallen into the hands of local militant groups.
Alan Fraser is a Libya specialist with AKE, a British risk mitigation company working in Libya throughout the crisis. You can access AKE’s intelligence website Global Intake here.