In Former Gadhafi Stronghold, a Sign of Libya’s Deepening Divide

Conquering Militia Keeps Checkpoints in Town as Locals Fume

The 2011 Libyan Civil War narrative of a brutish collection of Gadhafi “loyalists” and a heroic band of rebels ready to do anything for victory caught on for a few weeks in the West, when the Obama Administration and others were looking to bomb the nation. But that narrative continues to play out in the minds of those same rebels more than a year after the war, with increasingly horrific results.

Bani Walid was one of the last pro-regime cities to fall last year, and it has kept falling. Sacked multiple times since the end of the war, the latest seems to be the most devastating, as the Misrata militia poured into the town, forced all the civilians out, burned and looted, and is just now starting to allow civilians back in.

But back in to what? Homes are burned or in ruins, the municipal buildings are all bombed out. The militia fighters are still there, manning checkpoints and only too eager to hassle the “loyalist” civilians as they try to reclaim their lost homes. Many are reluctant to even try to return until the militia leaves, fearing they’ll just start attacking again at some random moment.

It’s a disconnect not only in military might, but in narrative, as Misrata fighters revel in their victory and proclaimed the “loyalists are causing so many problems for the security and stability of Libya.” Sacking a town full of civilians was never an easier sell.

But as locals flee to neighboring towns, they face persecution in some, faced with the label that all Bani Walid are “Gadhafi loyalists” and persona non grata, and in those cases where they are welcomed they are left to wonder how long until some militia attacks that town as well, since it is clearly at odds with the founding myths of “new” Libya.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is Senior Editor for He has 20 years of experience in foreign policy research and his work has appeared in The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.