In a cloud of dust and with a rising roar, a Russian built Mi-8 transport helicopter swept down and hovered metres . . .[restrict]above a Tripoli parade ground, as newly trained soldiers leapt out and dispersed to take up defensive positions.
This dramatic display was staged by some of the 225 troops who formed the latest batch of recruits to graduate into the new Libyan army. The men have all undergone four months of basic military training. They will form the first elements of the 23 October Brigade, named after the date when the NTC declared Libya liberated. They now move on for further training.
Last October, the very first 500 official recruits of the new Libyan army paraded behind a military band through Tripoli’s Suq al-Jumaa district, after a passing out ceremony at the racetrack. Since then there has been a steady flow of recruit intakes. The majority of the new soldiers has been former militiamen,.
According to new army chief of staff, Yousef Al-Mangoush, some 5,000 militia members have taken the opportunity to join the police or armed forces for proper training and a steady salary. In January, the NTC established a Combatants’ Committee for militiamen wishing to join the armed forces. Last week Committee chairman Mustapha Al-Saqizly reported that more than 10,000 had so far registered.
The integration is taking place more easily in the east than in the west.
Two weeks, a new “Libyan Shield” brigade was formed by the Ministry of Defence from among the revolutionary brigades that participated in front line fighting at Ras Lanouf and Agdabiya. It has now been stationed at Kufra, scene of intercommmunal clashes last month, taking up duties there on 3 March.
A core of officers, non-commissioned officers and other ranks remains from Qaddafi army to undertake the training. Most of these men refused to fight against the rebels and joined the revolution. However, by no means all of them are qualified instructors and the task of training the new recruits is likely to be proving a challenge. Some of the new men will have had some experience from having served at some point among the 25,000 conscripts that made up half of Qaddafi’s army.
Both Jordan and Turkey have made offers to assist the new army with military training, the Jordanians saying they are prepared to work with 5,000 soldiers. The Turkish proposal is that Libyan army personnel go to Turkey for training.
Mangoush has said that officer training needs to be tightened up with courses of up to 10 months to create the core of a small but highly professional army.
The government is having to tread a difficult path as it woos militiamen into the ranks of the official security forces. Recruits so far have come mostly from smaller militias without the financial clout to sustain themselves independently. The authorities have tried to stop paying the militias directly, which has caused angry protests similar to that in Benghazi in February.
NTC chairman Mustafa Abdul Jalil has admitted that the government has made mistakes over the militias but at the same time has condemned them for seeking to form power centres independent of central authority. He said that both sides were at fault and accepted “ the government programme to integrate the militias has been slow and the revolutionaries do not trust it”.
His great fear, he said, was that if the militias did not amalgamate into the police and armed forces, the country could risk being dragged into a civil war. This danger is being borne out to some extent by the sporadic conflict between rival militias, jostling for local power and influence.
For their part, the militias have claimed that the government has yet to provide jobs and security for their members. They also say that because central authority is still so weak, only they can provide security for the revolution. [/restrict]