Warning: This site contains images and graphic descriptions of extreme violence and/or its effects. It's not as bad as it could be, but is meant to be shocking. Readers should be 18+ or a mature 17 or so. There is also some foul language occasionally, and potential for general upsetting of comforting conventional wisdom. Please view with discretion.

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Military Defected. Really?

Or: Fifty Ways to Leave Your Leader
November 5, 2011
last edits Nov. 7

The Army and the People are One. Really?
Nothing was a clearer benchmark of the Libyan uprising's claims to rightness than the widespread defection of government soldiers to the side of "the people." They refused the desperate and murderous orders of the Gaddafi regime to crush the uprising. Instead they demanded, as the people at large were doing, that the government itself step down. Or so goes the simplified narrative we've been given.

This wasn't an idea the Libyan massesjust invented, of course. It was fully in the esteemed and weeks-old "Arab Spring" tradition of allowing "the youth" - and always some opposition political leaders - to seize the country's future.  The military and the people and the Transitional National Council were now one, it was said, and they stood together, combining their strenghts, against the doomed regime.

As World Tribune reported, Feb.22
Units of Libya's military were said to be defecting to the opposition in the war to oust the regime of Col. Moammar Gadhafi. 
Opposition sources said [...] Gadhafi could no longer rely on his military and much of his police. They said the remaining loyalists were his Presidential Guard and special units comprised of foreign mercenaries...
"There have been several cases which a Libyan Army unit attacked Gadhafi's security forces rather than join them," an opposition source said.
The Qatari satellite channel A-Jazeera reported that Libyan military officers issued a statement that called on their colleagues to defect. It was not clear how many officers signed the statement.
Of course evidence was cited to support the powerful impression, and it wasn't completely untrue. However the reality was nothing like the cherished illusion it remained in the West. Back at the beginning, we heard from the insurgents that "the military units defecting to them are well-armed, well-disciplined and well- organised." [source] Where did they go when the fighting started? In March, we saw heavily-armed bearded civilians, who knew how to fire but not aim, being completely rolled back by a still-coherent national force.

Once NATO's aerial "protection"started, it required the systematic destruction, over several month, of probably tens of thousands of dedicated, loyal, and terribly brave members of the armed forces. That would have been an awkward reality, if we had bothered to notice it.

So what reason was there to ever believe Gaddafi had been stranded alone with his mercenary army as his people all walked out from beneath his authority? And if the military didn't side with the people, then why did they stop killing them, allowing revolutionary forces, armed with Libya's national weaponry, to come out in control of whole cities and regions?

Benghazi, Feb. 20: Like a Bolt From the Blue
As early as February 18, videos were claiming to show how in the uprising epicenter of Banghazi, just shy of three days into it, "Libyan army surrenders to protesters." A few soldiers amongst the people seem to be, for the moment, acting friendly and not firing, or being fired on. They smile and nod at the people proclaiming this victory. Two days later they'd be hunkered down in their barracks, under withering "protester" attacks.

February 20 was the big day for military defections in the big city of Benghazi, and the same day the "protesters" scored their new capitol. Sky News reported on that day about the most widely reported group involved in that:
Members of a Libyan army unit have told Benghazi residents they have defected and “liberated” the city from pro-Gaddafi forces. Speaking from Benghazi, a local man named Benali, told Sky News that members of the Libya’s armed forces have defected and that anti-regime protesters are now in control of the city. 
Habib al-Obaidi, who heads the intensive care unit at the main Al-Jalae hospital, appeared to confirm the reports, saying the “Thunderbolt” squad arrived at the hospital with soldiers who had been injured in clashes with Gaddafi’s men. “They are now saying that they have overpowered the Praetorian Guard and that they have joined the people’s revolt,” said Mr al-Obaidi. 
The same day, Reuters reported on this Thunderbolt defection, with a duplicateof Mr.al-Obeidi's line spoken by someone else:
In the port city of Benghazi, two residents said members of the army's Thunderbolt squad had arrived at the local hospital with soldiers wounded in clashes with Gaddafi's personal guard. "They are now saying that they have overpowered the Praetorian Guard and that they have joined the people's revolt," lawyer Mohamed Al-Mana said by telephone. It was not possible to independently verify the information.
One witness had earlier said that many police and soldiers had joined protesters. 
I can find no photos or video of this event, and little else about this brigade and its significance, before or since this dramatic abandonment of the Gaddafi regime. The only thing that popped up prominently was video of rebel units in June fighting against "Gaddafi's 32nd Thunderbolt Brigade."

Benghazi Feb. 20: The Younes and Barracks Defections
Besides this group, the other important true defection in Benghazi that day was by one man. The Interior minister and nominal military leader Abdel Fateh Younes, for whatever reason, joined the uprising late on the 20th. The whole military didn't necessarily follow him, however, nor even those in Benghazi and closest to his supposedly transformative defection.

He'd been sent there to reinforce the besieged al-Fadhil bin Omar Katiba barracks ("the Katiba"), Benghazi's main army base. This had actually been blown open by a suicide bomber earlier on the 20th (see image at right), as part of the fourth and final day of "protester" attacks there.

Soldiers were holed up in buildings within the stormed compound, gradually succumbing to insurgent guns, swords, and flames, as Younes arrived. As the UK Guardian reported, only two months after the fact, on the suicide bomber and what he enabled:
What followed wasn't pretty. "(The revolutionaries) were beating Gaddafi people they captured, it's true. When they captured a Gaddafi soldier they said: 'What was this man doing? He was shooting us.' Gaddafi's soldiers wanted to kill anyone. They were using anti-aircraft weapons on humans. It cut people in half. People were angry," says Fasi. So angry that some of Gaddafi's soldiers were lynched. At least one was beheaded. 
The remainder either joined the rebels happily, surrendered to them under force, were killed by them, or, for the most part, walked away in the opposite direction following the amnesty Younes negotiated as a term of his own defection. Already we can see that "defected" is a broad term applied to many things. Readiness can be signaled with a flashed victoy sign, a white flag, or red drips, like these down the basement wall of the Benghazi barracks. One way or another, they stopped opposing the uprising, and the one way sounds best, so it's used universally. They just "defected."

It should also be noted February 20 was by all accounts the deadliest day of the uprising in Benghazi. Reuters added this:
Habib al-Obaidi, who heads the intensive care unit at Benghazi's Al-Jalae hospital, said at least 50 people had been killed and 100 seriously wounded since 1300 GMT on Sunday.

"Today has been a real tragedy ... since 3 p.m. (1300 GMT) and up to 9.15 pm, we received 50 dead, mostly from bullet wounds," he said. "There are 200 wounded, 100 of them are in very serious conditions."
The idea behind the rebel takeover of al Jalaa hospital (effective February 18) seems to have been, in part, denying treatment to soldiers. So if this number is credible, it's of protester deaths only. 50 martyr's from a six-hour pitched battle they threw themselves into isn't outlandish. The number of military deaths from the battle has never been compiled or broadcast, but it was likely higher yet. All we heard was that collectively they had "defected." And they were among the first, as the World Tribune heard it:
The sources reported the first defections of Libyan soldiers on Feb. 20 in Benghazi. They said both soldiers and officers refused orders by the military brass to shoot protesters and were instead allowing them to take over facilities and seize weapons. 
This seems to refer not to the Thunderbolts but to the conquest of the Katiba, where the military "allowed them to take over." If the bolded is true, it means they only "refused" to kill "protesters" starting the same day they were militarily defeated by them. 

Benghazi After the 20th: Wow, More Defections!
Others in Bengazi, apparently in less crucial facilities, took longer before deciding to follow their conscience and/or survival instincts and side with "the people" rather than trying to fight them. The Huffington Post reported on one of them, February 24
The security chief in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi announced his resignation on Thursday, voicing his support for the opposition to head of state Muammar Gaddafi in a video aired by Al Arabiya TV.

"I am Brigadier Ali Huwaidi, the director of Benghazi's security popular committee. I tendered my resignation and I am ready to stand behind the youth," he said in the video.
Russia Today obtained a video of more defectors in Benghazi on February 25. We see some camouflage jackets, and modified civilian vehicles with weapons that do look military, being driven through the streets. There's little discipline anywhere, however, just a whole lot of yelling, and a special emphasis on showing off shiny swords, machetes, and other blades, in the hundreds. 

It wasn't until February 26 that the holdout Naval base in Benghazi, the largest in the country it's said, came over, more peacefully than the army barracks had. Euronews covered this:
There is mounting evidence that a growing number of Libyan military personnel are defecting and joining the opposition against Colonel Gaddafi. At the nation’s biggest navy base in opposition- controlled Benghazi, officers have declared a ‘free Libya.’ 
People have resigned themselves to homes destroyed by natural disasters before. That doesn't mean they support the disasters, really, or that the disasters were winning moral victories.

Nationwide "Defections" 
It was back on February 21 that the Libyan Air Force joined the game. On the same day the first bombings of Tripoli were falsely reported (bombing wouldn't begin until NATO started it), two fighter pilots famously defected, stole their jets, and took them to Malta. The day after Benghazi had fallen militarily, they said they were sent to bomb "protesters" there, but just had to refuse.

There's no compulsion evident in this case. These guys were eager to defect, to be seen, and to have their wild stories heard widely. Considering the illogic of their alleged orders, the conveninece of them for villifying Gaddafi and greasing the way to air war, and the mysterious Frenchmen that they almost seem to have escorted out of benghazi, these defectors seem more the conspiratorial than the conscientious type. They fit better with schemers like Mesmari and Dabbashi than anything like the heroes of the people they were painted as.

Euronews trumpeted that "in the western city of Zawiya, amateur film shows soldiers being carried by protesters. “One Libya, one people” they chanted." The video is around, for example as Libyan Army With The Protesters, from February 24. About five armed, uniformed, apparent army defectors are shown and carried by the enthusiastic crowd. The rest of what happened in Zawiyah for the three weeks "protesters" had run of it is murkier and far more troubling than this one nice little moment. The army base was raided, many people were killed in often horrific ways, much was looted and burned. The army and police were ordered to keep back as armed gangs scored numerous rifles and RPGs on the 24th (but only the five "defectors" we've seen), and massive machinery including a couple dozen tanks following a morning raid on the 27th.

As for how the insurgents came to be armed, a UN Human Rights Commission investigation acknowledged defections and gifts were only part of the picture (how large a part is unclear):
58. According to information received by the Commission, the weapons and vehicles available to the opposition forces initially comprised equipment captured during battles with governmental forces or taken from military posts and warehouses upon gaining control of such facilities together with equipment belonging to the defecting military units. The opposition armed forces are also believed to be receiving equipment from foreign countries including uniforms and communication means.
A news video I stumbled across on Youtube called  Libyan Army Gives Weapons To Revolutionaries is of interest here. This staged media event, broadcast by NBC, seems to have been in the far eastern city of Tobruk, no later than February 24, per this other posting. The army guys aren't directly joining the fight, nor are they being killed or robbed. But neither are they shown. Rather, they're down in the basement, we hear, freely handing out weapons for the fighters to take. "They say now that the people and the military are together," the reporter says. 

Al Baida and Dernah: The Cyrenaican Hard Core
The cities of al Baida and Dernah, between Benghazi and Tobruk, were overwhelmed even earlier than their capitol. AFP (via Jihad Watch) has an interesting piece here, citing Libyan government sources on the creation, in Dernah, of an "Islamic emirate of Barqa." By this, a single defector helped allow a raid as early as Wednesday, February the 16th, scoring some serious weapons and started them towards conquest. When exactly they got control of the city isn't clear, but the Barqa people were, by this report, active in al Baida as well by the 18th, helping a mob hang two policemen among other things.

The combined insurgent forces in al Baida also attacked the army base that day and the nearby airport, both locations containing soliders and alleged "African mercenaries" (actually extra Libyan security flown in from Sabha). At the base, Time reported after speaking with one of the Sabha men, "a protest outside the base turned into an intense firefight" and "by the night of Feb. 18, soldiers began to defect, joining the revolution." Those who didn't were captured or killed when the insurgents conquered the base that same night. By the 20th, somehow, al Baida and Dernah had both fallen, along with the airport and all roads and towns between them. Unknown hundreds of loyal forces were killed in the process.

This spree of early conquest included the February 19 taking of the military base at Shehat, home of the ancient site of Cyrene, namesake of the eastern region Cyrenaica. Rebel video from there shows a mechanical digger tearing open the concrete walls of the barracks on that day; the base was apparently already seized and they were working at their leisure. There was a vary large hole there to start with, apparently blasted out by a tank from the inside. All this elborate hassle to circumvent the walls could suggest the gates were still locked and they didn't have any defectors left alive handing them the keys.

Army Person? Yes. Al Baida, Feb 22
However, we have been shown how a "Military Unit From Jab'al AlAkhthar (Green Hill) Defect and Declare Support For People." That's the title of a video posted by SaveLibya on February 22, though it might have been days old by then. Jabal al Akhtar is the name of the administrative district for for the city of al Baida, I found elsewhere. They had decided to defect, no more than four days after the main army base there was overrun, and here's the proof: a distracted youth and a bearded insurgent with rifle flash victory signs while flanking one uniformed officer who sits less at ease. The one clear representative of the military makes the announcement under rebel guard, reading from a sheet someone else probably wrote for him. The English transcription provided says, in part, "we declare that we have fully joined the youth movement and are under orders of the people." Which people exactly? Well the ones with guns might have some immediate influence.

Armed Amateurs
The first thing that really struck me as odd about the first days of the civil war is how non-violent protesters, whom I then believed were being shot dead in droves, were able with just anger, and despite the heavy losses, simply take military control, even briefly, of half of the cities in the country. I sensed we were missing something there, and the things I've found since are starting to reveal what that was.

Army weapons, yes. Army people? No. Benghazi, Feb. 20
For just one important example, the Katiba in Benghazi yielded much hardware like that seen at right. Tanks, Grad rocket launchers, and more, where wheeled out for use in the next battles. But as they made off with this arsenal, it was enthusiastic civilians doing the driving and handling, not military professionals. As we've seen, at the Katiba anyway, these were happy just to be allowed to leave the scene alive and intact, in the opposite direction.

Other weapons taken from Zintan to Zawiyah, Misrata to Dernah, were shown in other videos made by protesters, and largely included in R. Breki Goheda's documentary Libyan Crisis: Events, Causes, and facts. This explains that "rebels stormed most of the military camps in the country," along the way seizing "different types of weapons, including 250 tanks, 72 armored vehicles, 112 artillery, 176 anti-aircraft machine guns, 254 rocket launchers, 222 light [artillery] machine guns, 3,628 rifles, and a large quantity of ammunition." I can't vouch for all of that, but it sounds reasonable considering the small samples we've been able to see of rebel arsenals coming together all across "Free Libya" in those early days and weeks.

Army weapons, yes. Army people? No. Az Zawiyah, Feb. 27
Every time a new city center saw its display of rebel-held weaponry, the "freedom fighters" would trumpet that the military there had defected, bringing their weapons along. For example, consider the Youtube video "Army Battalion Joins Al Zawiya Protesters." Just their weapons, actually, are shown (still at left). It's Feb. 27 and they have anti-aircraft, artillery, and tanks all over the main square.The people holding the weapons are clear amateurs clearly excited to be far better armed than they deserved to be.

By the time of this March 2 PBS report, the tide was turning already. The initial victory phase had run its course, and now the only question was how deep into the ensuing government rollback things would be allowed before a NATO bail-out could be arranged.
At a nearby arms dump, where the guards had joined the rebellion, they're taking ammunition and handheld weapons to get them down the road to their colleagues. But what they have in supplies, they lack in expertise.

FATHI ABDUL MENOUM: We are taking most of the RPG and the other things, the machine guns, the -- it calls for -- to use for the planes.

JAMES MATES: So, anti-aircraft weapons?

FATHI ABDUL MENOUM: Yes, anti-aircraft.

JAMES MATES: Do you have enough people who know how to use them?

Shortly after this, the rebels would hit their first complete rout in Bin Jawad before beingpushed back east.

Consider also this video analysis by C.J. Chivers on the rebels in Misrata. Even into August, as "defections" intensified, and as the Gaddafi loyalist graveyard filled up, they still held far more weaponry than experts in running it. Not a person on the crew running this heavy artillery piece knew they were standing ten times too close to that wall for safety. At least two rebel fighters were injured by the sloppiness, including one whose femoral artery was severed and who likely died soon after. But they did the job - the place they were blasting was like charred swiss cheese, and had several very destroyed government soldiers and a mysterious carbonized boy inside.

The Power of the People, Overridden

World Tribune had acknowledged "for its part, the regime has maintained that the military remained under control but acknowledged the opposition seizure of military bases and heavy weapons." It was a well-planned, bold, surprise attack, a populist blitzkrieg whose advantage was now gone. The Libyan government and military, supported by much of the population in no mood for this rebellion project, pushed back. In Az Zawiyah and eastward, starting at the end of February, the minority status of the people demanding violent change was coming into focus. The Libyan forces remained coherent on land, sea, and in the air, and successfully crushed the armed rebellion in city after city. 

They pushed almost to the gates of Benghazi before the NATO bombs started coming down on March 19. This opened a second phase of military "defections," eventually numbering in the deep thousands, and by now pretty much the entire military force of Libya has stopped fighting the new government, one way or another.

That's people power, huh?


  1. A much later AFP video uploaded on 21 July, "Many roads to defection in western Libya" shows some interesting pink faced military advisers from about 1.41 onwards, whom I don't think have defected from anywhere.

  2. I watched it and was struck again at the ethnic diversity of Libyans.Some are black as anything, some almost as white as anything (esp.earound Misrata I hear). Context too is more like grunt training / re-training /indoctrination / confidence-building under rebel leadership. Mercs have their training down already. So IMO from first look, not the clue you took it for.

    And anyways, once it became war things change -real defections start occurring more, more mercenaries possible for both sides, etc. The main focus is the early days where people said soldiers were defecting on principle. Other than a few Islamist conspirators and traitors, that's bullshit. They were defeated and then captured, surrendered,or died.

  3. Yes,there is a wide range of complexions. But the guy who interested me was at about 1.46, with hat - looked like he ought to be grouse shooting in Scotland rather than in the Nafusa mountains...

    By the way, do listen to this CNN broadcast, uploaded 20 February 2011 by MrGlasgowTruther4U to YouTube, in which an anonymous phone caller talks of Genocide and the army defecting to join the uprising.

  4. And this anonymous caller is a cracker! (CNN again, 19 Feb) "we are near the big camp downtown in Benghazi ..is Gadhaffi's house ... house...soldiers shoot the people and killed many many young people...make a bomb with TNT I think ...shot inside the camp and take bulldozer to remove the walls ...new army.. shot everybody in the street in ?Burka? and ?akeesh??
    "so you are saying the military there in Benghazi has come over to the side of the protesters .." (at about 2.30)"...we have no hospitals , no schools, everything is dead..." ...the words about defection come from the CNN anchor, put into the mouth of the ?female actor? who said no such thing. In fact she answers that she doesn't speak english very well. She goes on to say that the troops allegedly said we are with the people, then opened fire on the people...(about 4.30)
    "60 people died in Benghazi after 3pm" "special forces people from Ghana, Benin, Tunisia Bangladesh they are kill the people with big knives
    Anchor: "just so our audience understands, there have been reports of Mercenaries... involved in maintaining security of their country" (6.20 onwards)

    That woman deserves an Oscar for that fakery.

  5. And Dominic Waghorn of Sky news, uploaded again by MrGlasgowTruther4U on 26 Feb produces another wonderful piece of propaganda, unearthing a (face hidden) captured Gaddafi soldier (allegedly) who draws a circle and a square on a piece of paper (the Khatiba?) and says he fired on protesters, and any soldier who refused was taken aside and burnt alive (petrol). The video "under constant gunfire ...as bullets whistle past..." is complete fakery. Just a bonfire and a bit of shouting. Plus weapons show from the captured base (all used against protesters, of course, including anti-aircraft , and a cemetery scene showing well nothing. " 500 are thought to have died ..with 2000 injured ..in the battle for Benghazi " (a very high death to injury ratio)

  6. You know, I managed to completely ignore those soldiers who "wanted to defect" and "join the mazing rebels" only to be "killed by their bosses." As far as that burning goes, there's another confession, possibly the same guy, of Afro-mercs doing the burning, at the Katiba. The man saying it was himself a suspected mercenary, black as pitch, in the Benghazi courthouse, Feb. 25, cutting plea deals perhaps.

    Any reference to this practice prior to the burning of the five Chadians on the 20th? Or is this all after and inspired by that?

  7. Sounds like a cover story for the burnt Chadians. I am intrigued by the mercenaries from Bangladesh in the 19th Feb CNN broadcast.

  8. Plus of course demonization. Especially of Chadians.

    Also on that caller, that is of some interest now I can read it.Too swamped now, but it's on the long list... "Birka" is app. another name for the "Katiba" barracks, or a part of it maybe, so no surprise there. (This name is on Google maps, and nowhere else I can recall, but I presume locals use it too sometimes).

    The 19th... no actual defections mentioned...

    TNT and bulldozers and shooting in all seem like candid admissions, and in line with what that propagandist Goheda said in his video about the early days. But I won't listen now or I'll get sucked in!

    On the Bangladeshis, perhaps some of them were also being used as adjunct security at the base, like the Sabha guys. Maybe it's just some grudge against them, hoping to spur some lynching, who knows.

  9. War-nerd Alert : http://exiledonline.com/war-nerd-alert-this-guy-look-libyan-to-you/

    A picture that had appeared on an Al Jazeera live blog and then vanished shows a suspiciously light-skinned Libyan 'rebel'.

  10. Captured weapons proudly on show here uploaded 21 February by rahat1com شباب من بنغازى يعرضون اسلحة القناصة المرتزقة (Young people from Benghazi displayng mercenary sniper weapons) The town looks a bit small for Benghazi.

  11. There is very little footage of Tobruk - but this video, مظاهرات ليبيا طبرق
    طبرق ليبيا -قبيلة الاعبيدات+ المنفه كلهم
    - Demonstrations in Tobruk , Abid and Minifa tribes
    shows burnt out cars and demonstrators hoisting the new flag and marching in celebration, uploaded 20 February by superzezoboy.
    Also celebrations here مظاهرات مدينة طبرق ضد حكم القذافي - التجمع في ساحة جامع الملك ادريس السنوسي
    وحمل علم المملكة السنوسية

    Demonstrations against Gadaffi in King Idris Mosque courtyard which are after the transfer of power in Tobruk, because the new flag has been raised on the mosque and covers its wall.(Uploaded 20 February also)

  12. Preceding the coming out in Malta in September 2011 of the defecting (allegedly) pilots, we have a planted report in the Sunday Times of Malta, Ex-Gaddafi colonel says the regime is crumbling
    ,dated 14 August via AFP. Speaking from a prisoner of war camp in the rebel enclave of Misrata, Colonel Wissam Miland.....tells it like the media have been portraing it since February.
    Thanks Colonel, you may go now. You are a free man. "Within my unit there were a lot of mercenaries" and so it goes on.

  13. “We will capture and judge all those responsible for war crimes when we get to Tripoli. And we will be implacable.”
    Such was the advice of rebel military official, Abdullah al Mehdi, to “all those Libyan soldiers who have not yet defected.”

    A colonel with the Libyan air force until last February, Mehdi was presiding over an unprecedented event in Zintan: the graduation of the first battalion of soldiers based in Libya’s Western mountains as part of the newly created National Army.

    “Among the 350 soldiers who deserted the region, 70 re-graduated again this afternoon,” Abdulla al Mehdi told Deutsche Welle. The rebel leader added that their training had been fast “because everyone already had military training.”

    Tripoli Brigade fighters training in Zintan

    Colonel Abdullah Al Mahdi: Death Toll 6,000


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