On Saturday January 18th, a group of heavily armed fighters stormed an air force base outside the city of Sabha in southern Libya, expelling forces loyal to the “government” of Prime Minister Ali Zeidan, and occupying the base. At the same time, reports from inside the country began to trickle in that the green flag of the Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya was flying over a number of cities throughout the country. Despite the dearth of verifiable information – the government in Tripoli has provided only vague details and corroboration – one thing is certain: the war for Libya continues.
On the Ground
Libya’s Prime Minister Ali Zeidan called an emergency session of the General National Congress to declare a state of alert for the country after news of the storming of the air base broke. The Prime Minister announced that he had ordered troops south to quell the rebellion, telling reporters that, “This confrontation is continuing but in a few hours it will be solved.” A spokesman for the Defense Ministry later claimed that the central government had reclaimed control of the air base, stating that “A force was readied, then aircraft moved and took off and dealt with the targets…The situation in the south opened a chance for some criminals…loyal to the Gaddafi regime to exploit this and to attack the Tamahind air force base…We will protect the revolution and the Libyan people.”
In addition to the assault on the airbase, there have been other attacks on individual members of the government in Tripoli. The highest profile incident was the recent assassination of the Deputy Industry Minister Hassan al-Droui in the city of Sirte. Although it is still unclear whether he was killed by Islamist forces or Green resistance fighters, the unmistakable fact is that the central government is under assault and is unable to exercise true authority or provide security in the country. Many have begun speculating that his killing, rather than being an isolated, targeted assassination, is part of a growing trend of resistance in which pro-Gaddafi Green fighters figure prominently.
The rise of the Green resistance forces in Sabha and elsewhere is merely one part of larger and more complex political and military calculus in the South where a number of tribes and various ethnic groups have risen against what they correctly perceive to be their political, economic, and social marginalization. Groups such as the Tawergha and Tobou ethnic minorities, both of which are black African groups, have endured vicious attacks at the hands of Arab militias with no support from the central government. Not only have these and other groups been the victims of ethnic cleansing, but they have been systematically shut out of participation in Libyan political and economic life.
The tensions came to a head earlier this month when a rebel chief from the Arab Awled Sleiman tribe was killed. Rather than an official investigation or legal process, the Awled tribesmen attacked their black Toubou neighbors, accusing them of involvement in the murder. The resulting clashes have since killed dozens, once again demonstrating that the dominant Arab groups still view their dark skinned neighbors as something other than countrymen.
Undoubtedly, this has led to a reorganization of the alliances in the region, with the Toubou, Tuareg and other black minority groups that inhabit southern Libya, northern Chad and Niger moving closer to the pro-Gaddafi forces. Whether or not these alliances are formal or not still remains unclear, however it is apparent that many groups in Libya have come to the realization that the government installed by NATO has not lived up to its promises, and that something must be done.
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