With Libya’s Military Fractured, Gaddafi Unleashes Foreign Fighters Against Protesters

Julia Steers, Huffington Post, February 24, 2011

The security chief in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi announced his resignation on Thursday, voicing his support for the opposition in a video aired by Al Arabiya TV.

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Huwaidi became the latest in a wave of defections among members of the Libyan military refusing to order or carry out violence against their own countrymen. {snip}

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But Gaddafi isn’t solely dependent on national military forces, which Byman said he has long sought to divide against itself by means of coercion and favoritism. The Libyan head of state can also rely on local-level tribal militias, which are hardly the equal of a conventional army but have been gaining strength for years and are expected to fight for Gaddafi even if the military turns on his regime.

Gaddafi has also unleashed foreign mercenaries against the opposition, according to new reports detailing African fighters roaming the streets and opening fire on citizens in Benghazi and the Libyan capital of Tripoli.

Fred Abrahams, a special adviser for Human Rights Watch said he can confirm those reports. “African fighters were brought in because Gaddafi fears Libyan forces in the police and army will not open fire on their brothers and sisters,” Abrahams said. “The defections of police and military in the east prove that he was right in that assumption. He can rely on mercenaries to do the dirty work that Libyans will not.”

Human Rights Watch has not released estimates regarding the number of mercenaries in Libya, but there are unconfirmed claims of thousands of foreign fighters. Abrahams said his organization has confirmed the presence of mercenaries flown in from African states including Chad, Niger and Sudan. Gaddafi has supported rebel groups in each of those countries.

According to Al Jazeera, pamphlets have been circulated to mercenary recruits from Guinea and Nigeria, offering foreign fighters $2,000 per day to quell the Libyan unrest.

Reports speculate that mercenaries are primarily targeting the uprising in the eastern part of the country, and witnesses also report mercenaries in Tripoli and around the western district of Zawiya.

A Libyan citizen living in the U.S. told The Huffington Post that his brother, a Libyan living in Tripoli, has seen armed foreigners taking control of the streets.

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