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article imageOp-Ed: Security situation worsens in Benghazi area of Libya

By Ken Hanly     Feb 7, 2013 in World
Benghazi - While many articles in the press continue to discuss the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi that killed four Americans including the ambassador, much less attention is given to the continuing deterioration of security in the area.
Westerners are continuing to flee the Benghazi area after several countries including Germany, Britain, the Netherlands and Canada have warned their citizens to evacuate. As reported earlier in the Digital Journal jihadists threaten security in the Benghazi area and other parts of Libya. Kidnappings and assassinations are common. Residents also worry that there may be US drone strikes in the area against militants, as the government seems unable to provide security or attack them on their own. Benghazi resident Jalal Elgallal, who used to be a spokesperson for the now-defunct National Transitional Council, said:“The situation has obviously deteriorated. It is a systematic deterioration.We don’t do a lot of going out now. There is uncertainty about what is going to happen in the very near future.” . Elgalla, recently had a narrow escape from harm as a bomb exploded nearby as he waited at a traffic light.
Some of the violence is perpetrated by heavily armed militias that control the city, who are still settling scores with those who were part of the Gadaffi regime. William Lawrence, who is director for the North Africa Project of the International Crisis Group, said:“It has been a series of attacks, kidnappings and assassinations. The general situation in Libya continues to be bad, primarily because of the weak security infrastructure that existed before and after Gadhafi.”
The violence is not confined just to the Benghazi area but has spread to the west in the city of Misrata and also to the south where the president of the General National Congress narrowly escaped an assassination attempt in January. As well as the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, within the past year militants attacked the UK envoy's motorcade, as well as the offices of the International Red Cross, and Italy's top diplomat in Libya. However, most of the targets are Libyans. Over two dozen security officers have been killed including the Benghazi police chief. The head of the Criminal Investigation Division who was investigating that killing was kidnapped and has yet to be found.
The government is so weak that the police forces and the courts have done little or nothing to arrest or prosecute those responsible for these attacks. The investigation into the US consul attack seems to be going nowhere. Karim Mezran, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council's Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East claims:“The Libyan government does not have the strength to tackle this problem. The government has been paralyzed and has allowed the jihadist groups to establish camps in the south and in the east.”
Many worry that the French military drive into northern Mali will result in many jihadists returning to Libya to add to the insecurity. The US has surveillance drones tracking jihadists and flights have been stepped up over eastern and southern parts of Libya.
William Lawrence said that people of quite different views on issues all had concern about the US drones. A Libyan source said:“People were puzzled by the timing of the European warnings, but they are now connecting the dots. They believe that the Europeans are leaving out of fear of retaliation for a drone strike.”
For their part, local officials expressed surprise at the warnings to westerners even though some admitted that there was a security problem in Benghazi. Ibrahim Sahad, the representative for Benghazi in the governing General National Congress said: "...t I do not see any reason to justify the warnings of the Western countries. Maybe they know something that we don’t know, but I am here, and I see no reason for concern.”
One of the main security problems is the lack of a strong central government with its own security forces. Often armed militias have contracts to provide security but they then act as if they are the authorities and above the law.
Another recent attack in Benghazi was against the illegal immigrant detention center in which the administrative offices were set on fire. The attack happened after a local man was arrested who was allegedly involved in human trafficking. The attackers released the man as well as an unknown number of other inmates. The prison is guarded by a battalion form the Libyan Shield Two forces. The battalion commander said that some of the attackers wore military uniforms.
Unless the government is able to develop its own national security forces and disarm the militias the security situation is not likely to improve. Should the US decide to use drone attacks against Islamic radicals the entire Libyan government may be in danger of even more attacks against it. As the appended video shows, Pepe Escobar was predicting that the US would drone the jihadists to death back in Sept. of 2012. It hasn't happened yet.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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