General Haftar’s Mötley Crüe

Within the bleak desert wastes of eastern Libya, work is ongoing to improve and professionalize the Libyan National Army. By Western military standards, this is essentially an army in name only. In reality, this 25,000-strong force is primarily a patchwork of militias bound together by their ardent loyalty to the 80-year-old strongman, General Khalifa Haftar (Delalande, 2019). At the core of this motley force is General Haftar’s regular army, consisting of 7,000 soldiers (Delalande, 2019).

At the disposal of this patchwork force are a variety of vehicles including aged T-54 and T-55 tanks, BM-21 Grad missile launchers and self-propelled howitzers (Delalande, 2019). Additionally, a great number of Toyota pickup trucks (referred to as “technicals” once armed) are employed because they can be outfitted with various weapons, including lite antiaircraft cannons, recoilless rifles, and mortars.

Flashback: Arab Spring

The year was 2011. From North Africa to the Middle East, regional leaders were shocked and swept up by popular protests aimed at authoritarianism, corruption, and poverty. The protests threatened their regimes’ stability, albeit briefly. Libya was no different. Its dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, witnessed mass protests spring up against his iron-fisted rule, protests he vowed to crush without mercy.

The United Nations responded with Resolution 1973. This provided NATO with the green light to intervene in Libya to protect civilians under threat. Despite the limited mandate of Resolution 1973, it became clear that the military intervention was primarily designed to cripple and topple the Gaddafi regime (Mezran & Miller, 2017).

 Operation Odyssey Dawn (March 2011)

With the passage of Resolution 1973, NATO states deployed and struck Libya with a combined force that totaled 20 naval vessels and 350 aircraft. As the greatest contributor, the U.S. deployed 12 naval vessels and approximately 150 to 175 aircraft (Bell & Witter, 2011).

From “March 19 to March 31…U.S. aircraft had flown 1,206…of the 1,990…total coalition sorties over Libya and conducted 463…of the 952 total coalition strike sorties” (Bell & Witter, 2011, p. 27). In addition to the overwhelming and destructive use of airpower, the U.S. launched 221 tomahawk cruise missiles at Libyan targets (Bell & Witter, 2011). The result was the swift destruction of Gaddafi’s military as a capable and functioning military force.

Once the dust had settled and the smoke had cleared, the Gaddafi regime was in ruins, and anarchy quickly set in. Islamist militants moved in, and domestic militias began to entrench themselves in towns and villages across the country.