Middle East Online, March 3, 2011
By Danny Kemp – CAIRO
Libyan strongman Moamer Gathafi is relying on militias, mercenaries and Soviet-era airpower to prop up his regime as he tries to fight back against rebels in the east, analysts said.
A bid by Gathafi loyalists to retake the eastern oil port of Brega has thrown the spotlight on the relative strengths of the regime’s forces and the ragtag opposition army.
On paper, Gathafi has 115,000 troops and militiamen but most are poorly armed and under-trained because for years Gathafi has concentrated power in an elite Tripoli-based brigade led by one of his sons.
Coupled with thousands of African mercenaries being hired for up to $2,000 (1,435 euros) a day, the militias are his only real hope of resisting the challenge to his 41-year rule.
“There is an army within an army. There are special brigades that are run by his most trusted people. The rest of the army is history,” Saad Djebbar, a London-based Libya analyst and lawyer, said.
In 2010, Libya’s armed forces had a nominal strength of 76,000, most of them conscripts, according to The Military Balance, a survey published by the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) in Britain.
But Gathafi knows the perils that a strong military can pose to an unpopular ruler, having seized power himself as a young colonel in 1969 in a coup that toppled King Idris.