This weekend, the leader of Libya’s governing National Transitional Council, Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, announced that the country was officially “liberated.” After eight months of civil war, Sirte, the last loyalist city and Col. Moammar Qaddafi’s hometown, fell to former rebel control on Thursday. In the midst of chaotic fighting, NTC forces caught the ex-Brother Leader hiding in a drainage pipe.
Grainy but graphic YouTube videos of Qaddafi’s capture show Libyan fighters slapping, spitting and cursing their former despot. When Qaddafi made it to Misrata, Libya’s third largest city, he was dead. Conflicting reports on how exactly he was killed continue to circulate, but an autopsy showed it was a bullet to the head. Libya’s new leadership has said Qaddafi died in a crossfire, but most suspect he was killed by his captors. That hasn’t stopped thousands from queuing to see the mercurial leader’s body laid out on display in a storage cooler.
Jalil’s speech marked a way forward for the embattled country, setting a timeline for national elections in 2012. But now, Libya’s new leadership faces its newest challenge: disarming regional brigades and convincing the citizenry to turn in their weapons.
To take down the Qaddafi military, former rebels formed makeshift militias to clear large expanses of desert as well as urban blocks. In order to pose a real threat to Qaddafi’s conventional force, men from across the country ransacked regime weapons stockpiles and carted off any arms they could find. They formed regional militias and modified old weapons in innovative ways. Today, the weapons used to vanquish the loyalist army are everywhere.
Former fighters brandishing AK-47s and FN FAL rifles are just the tip of the iceberg. When I was in Libya in September, heavy weapons mounted on trucks were all over the place. Weapons modification garages were churning out new ideas and fixing their weapons for the final Sirte offensive.
Former rebels took apart 14.5mm machine guns from Russian-designed ZPU-4 antiaircraft weapons and mounted each one on a pickup truck. They did the same with ZU-23mms, Soviet anti-aircraft twin-barreled autocannons, and Grad multiple rocket launchers. They took 106mm recoilless rifles and sawed off the truck cab to make space for the cannon.