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The Libyan Conflict: A War of Propaganda

The Libyan conflict, which took place between February and October of 2011, is described as a civil war fought between supporters of Colonel Gaddafi and opposition rebel groups. Protests at the beginning of the year over a number of domestic issues soon spread fuelled to a large extent by the Arab Spring. Protesters took control of government buildings and large areas of the country fell to rebel hands. The Libyan security forces at the time were simply overwhelmed. In March Gaddafi ordered a military counter offensive to retake the rebel held areas. Not long into the offensive NATO imposed a no-fly zone over Libya and it was at this point that a wider military conflict commenced.


But we must ask ourselves whether the Libyan conflict was indeed just a civil 

war or was not purely a war fought between NATO forces and Colonel Gaddafi? It would seem certain that without the intervention of NATO, Gaddafi would easily have retaken the rebel held areas and would therefore have regained complete control of the country.

Libyan rebels assemble in desert

A convoy of rebels assembling themselves in the dersert in Libya.

Official news coverage of the conflict was keen to create the picture of the rebels winning the war equipped with little more than rocket launchers and heavy machine guns strapped into the back of trucks in addition to small arms. And these poorly trained and poorly equipped rebels were fighting against the highly trained Libyan Army with their tank battalions and artillery units. Time and time again the TV news coverage showed the rebels in the middle of the desert firing their arms from the back of their trucks and cheering triumphantly as they do so. But what exactly were they firing at in the middle of the desert? By the casual behaviour of the on looking members of the press it doesn’t exactly appear as if they are receiving any return of fire. Had the whole thing just been staged for the camera?


Some critics of the war in Libya have described it as a full scale air assault launched by NATO forces against Gaddafi. Early on in the campaign Libyan tanks were being targeted from the air and loyalist convoys were also being fired upon by NATO. By 23 March, Gaddafi’s air force had been almost completely neutralised leaving his ground forces entirely vulnerable to air strikes. NATO also targeted ammunition depots and command centres and continued to take out tanks, armoured vehicles and artillery units on the ground.

Libyan Army tank in pieces

A tank of the Libyan Army lies in pieces in the desert, the result of a NATO air strike.

At the close of the conflict on the 20 October, Colonel Gaddafi was captured by National Transitional Council forces who appeared to beat him and then shoot him dead. Officially the NTC claimed Gaddafi had died in a fire fight but video images strongly suggest this wasn’t the case. Such an act by the rebels belied their general fitness for government and also their willingness to abide by international law. The UN and a number of governments called for an official investigation into Gaddafi’s killing and a year later Human Rights Watch revealed evidence of mass executions committed at the site where Gaddafi lost his life (Human Rights Watch - Libya: New Proof of Mass Killings at Gaddafi Death Site).

NATO air strike in Tripoli

Damage done to a residential area of Tripoli by a NATO air strike.

Source: PressTV.

From official figures released by the NTC, it is thought that a total of 25,000 people lost their lives during the Libyan conflict and this is contrasted to the fact that there wasn’t a single combat casualty among NATO forces.


There have been allegations that Libyan rebels committed atrocities against supporters of Gaddafi with some 300 graves being discovered at Sirte where it was obvious the victims had their hands tied behind their backs and had been shot in the head (CBS News - Signs of ex-rebel atrocities in Libya grow).


The rebel government has also been accused of carrying out acts of ethnic genocide against its darker skinned, African population (Human rights investigations - Ethnic cleansing, genocide and the Tawergha). Mass executions and beheadings of Libya’s black population have caused a widespread panic with an entire town of over 30,000 people being emptied of its population at Tawergha amid reports of ethnic cleansing within the town itself and the surrounding areas. 

Tawergha is now a ghost town

Tawergha is now a ghost town.

Another issue of concern in Libya is the situation regarding al-Qaeda and its supporters. It has now been publicly admitted that the US, in arming the Libyan rebels who helped topple Colonel Gaddafi, had inadvertently been arming al-Qaeda fighters to the tune of some $500 million (Mail Online - $500 MILLION of weapons to reach al-Qaeda militants, reveals damning report). Clare Lopez, a former CIA officer and member of the Citizens Commission on Benghazi, was quoted as saying, “The United States switched sides in the war on terror with what we did in Libya, knowingly facilitating the provision of weapons to known al-Qaeda militias and figures.”


After Gaddafi’s defeat in Libya an al-Qaeda flag could clearly be seen flying over the courthouse in Benghazi, considered the very epicentre of the rebellion (The Telegraph - Libya: Al Qaeda flag flown over Benghazi courthouse). Also Islamist rebels could be seen in the same city driving around in their cars flying the black flag of al-Qaeda.

al-Qaeda flag in Benghazi

Libyan rebels parade in Benghazi carrying the flag of al-Qaeda.

Indeed there have been reports of a growing al-Qaeda threat in Libya as a result of the underlying weakness of the US and NATO backed government in dealing with the problem (WMD Politics - Obama blamed for rebirth of al-Qaida). According to French sources, as of June 2013, al-Qaeda was in control of most of southern and eastern Libya and was making plans to overthrow the Libyan government ( - France announces that east and southern Libya under al-Qaeda control). On 10 October 2013, the Libyan Prime Minister was kidnapped by Islamist rebels in an apparent retaliation to the arrest of an al-Qaeda suspect in the country by US Special Forces. In April 2014 it was reported that Al-Qaeda had seized control of a US base near Tripoli which was being used to train Special Forces in order to combat al-Qaeda militants in Libya (Grassroot Journal - Al-Qaeda Now Controls U.S. Base in Libya). The camp was turned over for use by Islamist extremists whose aim is to overthrow the government of Libya. 

General Khalifa Haftar
Storming of government building Tripoli, 18.5.14

General Khalifa Haftar and the storming of the government building in Tripoli on 18.5.14

On 18 May 2014 General Khalifa Haftar headed a coup against what he termed ‘the al-Qaeda extremism’ he said had taken over much of the country (Larouche Pac - Coup Attempt Against Al-Qaeda Controlled Libya Continues). His Libyan Liberation Army forcibly took control of the Libyan parliament in Tripoli. To counter General Haftar the Libyan government called upon a number of militias, one of whom, Ansar al-Sharia, is considered a terrorist organisation in the US (Wikipedia - Ansar al-Sharia (Benghazi) ).


As has happened in Iraq, military intervention by NATO powers has left an entire nation destabilised with a severe security threat from extremist insurgents. Members of ISIS, an organisation considered even more extreme than al-Qaeda, now pour into Iraq from Syria intending to take over the country. The US backing of the rebels in Syria has, at the end of the day, only worsened the security situation of the entire region.

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