4 Nov 2014

‘Asking for trouble’: Libyan soldiers sent home amid rape allegations

The debacle of Libyan soldiers accused of rape while on a training course near Cambridge symbolises both the chaos of post revolutionary Libya and British policy.

Ill-disciplined Libyan revolutionaries, shooting wildly into the air, were backed by Nato air power in their struggle to overthrow Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. If it hadn’t been for British, French and American bombers, it’s unlikely that the revolution would have succeeded.

But when the colonel was ousted western nations, including the British, left it to Libyans to sort themselves out. They had learnt the lesson of Iraq: those seen as liberators one day will be seen as occupiers the next.

Britain, along with Italy, Jordan and Turkey, decided that their contribution would be army training. The chaotic, disunited militia needed to be welded into one force that would defend the state.

The problem is that there is no state in Libya. After three years of creeping chaos, the legitimately elected government has fled to the eastern town on Tobruk, while a coalition of rebels from the port of Misrata and Islamist brigades hold sway in the capital, Tripoli.

Libya’s second city, Benghazi, is the scene of fierce fighting this week as Islamists try to beat off the forces of a secular general, Khalifa Heftar, who has the backing of Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.

Libyan rebel fighters with the Tripoli Revolutionary Brigade raise their weapons after a live firing exercise near Nalut

Ill discipline

One source involved in the recruitment of soldiers to train in the UK said the committee which made the selection chose the wrong men.

“People chose from their own militia. It wasn’t a proper recruitment process,” he said.

The problems began immediately the recruits arrived in the UK in June. About 90 out of 300 have already been sent back to Libya for ill discipline, medical reasons or general unsuitability.

Most Libyans sent to Turkey for police training last year were also sent home, while those being trained in Jordan allegedly got out of their barracks and set up checkpoints, just as they used to do as militia back home.

Military training in Italy and a second batch in Turkey went better because the Libyans went to boot camp in Libya first and only those who were successful were allowed to go overseas.

Shocked and embarrassed

The 300 recruits sent to Bassingbourn, near Cambridge, were under the command of four or five Libyan officers.

“They were not paying enough attention,” said a source close to the Libyan government. “They should never have let the trainees out of the barracks. It was asking for trouble.”

Most of the Libyans had been rough militiamen until recently – they had no experience of a western town.

The allegations of rape and sexual assault have further tarnished Libya’s reputation.

“We were so enthusiastic when these guys arrived,” said the source. “The chaos back home has resounded in the barracks here. It’s a sad day. We are shocked and embarrassed.”

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