Buttressed by a Secret Alternative Army
It turned out this week that Muammar Qaddafi was the only Arab ruler who had been fully prepared for the coming deluge of popular uprisings sweeping the Middle East and North Africa and had lined up in good time the resources for withstanding the campaign to unseat him.
The precautionary measures permanently in place to sustain his grip on power have so far been effective in repelling the onslaught, DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military and intelligence sources report:
1. In the last two years, the Libyan ruler kept his 70,000-strong conventional army on the hop by frequent, unannounced personal inspections. Each visit occasioned sudden dismissals of commanders and their replacement with officers loyal to him who were sent to secret training camps. Soldiers were constantly shifted around the different units to prevent members of the various tribes getting together to plot against him.
Qaddafi stocked his elite units, such as the special commandoes, the air force, the navy and military intelligence, with men from tribes which he trusted implicitly.
2. In general, he found the rank and file more loyal than the officers, which led to his second precautionary measure of creating a secret alternative army of roughly the same size as the national army, which is divided into three militias. Had Western intelligence services paid attention, they would have made the surprising discovery that they mirrored the revolutionary People's Militia which he established in the 1980s when he was closely involved in the activities of Middle East and Islamic terrorist organizations.
Qaddafi's Libyan Foreign Legion of mercenaries
3. The largest is the Libyan Popular Revolutionary Army, which numbers about 55,000 troops from tribes and clans loyal to Qaddafi and is commanded by his son Mutassim Qaddafi, whom he secretly anointed successor in 2007, while misleading the West into thinking the urbane sophisticate, Seif al-Islam, his eldest, was heir apparent.
Whereas the original Popular Militia was designed as protector of Qaddafi's Revolutionary Committees, the political bodies which take the place of political parties in Qaddafi's Libya and form the groundwork of his government, it has since evolved into highly-trained military units, which are better armed with more advanced weapons than the conventional army.
When in his speech of Feb. 22, he said he had no title, office or throne to give up, Western observers thought this was a smart move to dodge demands for him to step down or devolve power. But to Libyans, most of whom remember no other form of government, this made sense. His Revolutionary Committees and Popular Revolutionary Army are so structured that to topple him, the entire revolutionary edifice must first be dismantled. Street protests, the torching of buildings or even the seizure of military bases by insurgents are powerless to do more than scratch the surface of this artfully constructed political bastion. To remove Qaddafi, the Popular Revolutionary Army must go – and it is still fully intact.
4. It is not the Libyan ruler's only layer of protection: He has fashioned a corps which is essentially the offspring of the Libyan Pan-African Legion he founded in the 1980s and whose mercenaries news reports held responsible for conducting massacres of Qaddafi's opponents this week.
Recruited from among African expatriates from Sudan, Egypt, Tunisia, Mali, Chad and other West African countries, this force resembles the French Foreign Legion of colonial times, its combatants highly trained by mercenary British, German, Serb and French officers who are Saharan combat veterans.
A tough and loyal military support system
5. A second group of mercenaries – mainly from Serbia, Bosnia, Albania and the Russian Caucasus – perform as fighter jet and helicopter air crews, run electronic systems and command special raider units, including marines, for covert assassination missions.
The two pilots who deserted to Malta with Libyan Air Force Mirage fighter jets on Monday, Feb. 21 were Serb mercenaries. They were afraid that obeying Mutassim's order to bomb anti-Qaddafi demonstrators would end their military careers at the War Crimes Court in The Hague with long prison sentences. But the other 80 or so foreign pilots who serve Qaddafi have no qualms about following his son's orders.
Thursday night, Feb. 24, the Libyran ruler's military situation saw a serious downturn when most of his air force commanders turned against him and joined the anti-Qaddafi movement.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly's military sources say that these paramilitary forces answer to only four Libyan figures – none of them averse to callous tactics: Col. Muammar Qaddafi, supreme commander; his son Mutassim, who leads the campaign in and around the capital Tripoli; brother-in-law, Abdullah Senussi, head of the Cyrenaica front and the senior Qaddafi's constant sidekick Ahmed Gaddaf Al-Dam, head of intelligence and troubleshooter in places where his master's military support system looks like sagging.
Influenced by the loyalty of the powerful machine buttressing the Qaddafi regime, large sections of the conventional army are also careful to maintain their allegiance. They are also terrified that if he comes out of the ordeal victorious, he will wipe out the disloyal with the same ruthlessness as he deals with his opponents on the streets and other ill-wishers.
Thanks to this steadfast military infrastructure, informed Western intelligence and military watchers can only rate Muammar Qaddafi's situation as serious, not hopeless.