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Tubu Militias

Note: the flag below is the flag of the Toubou Front for the Salvation of Libya; Tubu Militias do not have one general flag.

Introduction & Overview

There are a variety of local militia groups which are composed of the Tuba people in southern Libya, which has seen large amounts of violence post-2011. The deposed Libyan leader Muammar Ghaddafi (who died in 2011) sought support from cross-border communities such as the Tubu (or Teda amongst other names), whom he viewed as essential to securing the southern Libyan border against hostile powers. This in turn elicited support for the Tebu militia group's varying aims of resisting the Chadian and Nigerien governments in their respective countries by providing them with arms, while also enlisting the militias to protect oilfields (Tubiana and Gramizzi 2018a, pp26). However, the fall of Ghaddafi’s regime in 2011 has caused the southern Libyan border to become a lawless center full of trafficking and violence. The autonomous nature of the Tubu militias’ operations in the south of Libya has led them to seek international and national legitimacy as this will help to secure funding and cement their footing as a regionally-influential ethnic group.

History & Foundations

The varying Tubu militias, many of which are unnamed, formed mostly after 2011 and this was mainly due to the massive discrimination that the Libyan Tubu suffered under Ghaddafi. This discrimination acted as a catalyst for the Tubu, and they formed militias to topple Ghaddafi and assist anti-regime forces in the war. However, they then subsequently took control of the Libyan border with Chad and Niger and began taxing gold miners and smugglers (Tubiana 2019a). These groups initially formed out of an ideology of Tubu nationalism and a willingness to defend the rights of the Tubu people in the regions in which they are present. However, they have quickly descended into armed banditry following the fall of Ghaddafi in 2011 and this has contemporarily led to them mainly acting out of interest – instead of prioritising the protection of the Tubu people. For instance, this includes the smuggling of both cigarettes and gold, but also weapons seized from the armouries of Ghaddafi which were raided following the revolution (Tubiana 2019b).

Objectives and Ideology

Although the Tubu militias as a whole don’t have one main ideology which is universally subscribed to, one of the most prominent groups – known as the Toubou Front for the Salvation of Libya – does. This group was formed in mid-2007 to defend against aggressions by the Libyan government and to defend the rights of the Tubu people in Libya. This led to an eruption of violence in 2008 in the oasis town of Kufrah, during which 11 people died after the Libyan government enforced discriminatory laws against the Tubu (Rafei and Daragahi 2008). They were disbanded in 2011 following the fall of Tripoli and were heavily involved in the Libyan Civil war on the side of the National Transitional Council (NTC – UN-recognised government of Libya during the war). However, in March 2012, the group was revived with the stated aim of “protecting the Toubou from ethnic cleansing” and they subsequently aligned themselves under the Government of National Accord against the Libyan National Army led by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar.

Paramilitary Capabilities

Due to the informal nature of these organisations and their structure being extremely decentralised, this has led to the varying militia groups using only small arms such as AK-47s and other regionally-omnipresent weapons. Almost all of these weapons have been looted from Ghaddafi’s weapons stockpiles or bought on the black market. This reliance on the purchasing of their weapons has led some groups to need to drum up funds for this equipment through the smuggling of drugs and the kidnapping and ransoming of gold miners (Tubiana 2019c)

Approach to Resistance

The groups of Tubu tribesmen which are present in southern Libya began to fragment following the revolution. This has led to difficulties in terms of approaching their proclaimed aim of defending the Tubu people in the region against discrimination. The Tubu forces have only united when their community was under threat during interethnic conflicts, such as against Awlad Suleiman Arabs in Sebha in March of 2012 (Tubiana and Gramizzi 2018b, pp27). The decentralised nature of their forces has even led the Tubu militias to be used in an irregular infantry fashion and this has therefore led to an overall ineffectiveness in combat (as they are simply not equipped effectively).

International Relations & Potential Alliances

Tubu militia allegiances have been shaped by foreign interference from countries such as Chad and the UAE. Both of these nations provided support to Barka Wardougou (who was a major Tubu militia leader) in the form of vehicles, arms, and food, amongst other supplies. This factor which is shaping the loyalty of the Tubu militias serves two primary purposes; one is to seek international recognition which they believe may end the discrimination against their group by the Libyan government, and the other is that they desire to be seen as a regular and legitimate force within the Libyan political sphere. This seeking of national legitimacy would mean that the Tubu would be able to seek payments and salaries from the northern Libyan governments, as Tubu militiamen were under government payroll by guarding petroleum facilities (Tubiana and Gramizzi 2018c, pp28).

Works Cited

Rafei, Raed, and Borzou Daragahi. 2008. “11 Dead as Violence Erupts in Libya.” Los Angeles Times, November 8, 2008.

Tubiana, Jérôme. 2019a. “After Libya, a Rush for Gold and Guns.” August 13, 2019.

———. 2019b. “After Libya, a Rush for Gold and Guns.” August 13, 2019.

———. 2019c. “After Libya, a Rush for Gold and Guns.” August 13, 2019.

Tubiana, Jérôme, and Claudio Gramizzi. 2018a. “Lost in Trans-Nation - Tubu and Other Armed Groups and Smugglers along Libya’s Southern Border.” Small Arms Survey. Switzerland: Small Arms Survey. Pp 26

———. 2018b. “Lost in Trans-Nation - Tubu and Other Armed Groups and Smugglers along Libya’s Southern Border.” Small Arms Survey. Switzerland: Small Arms Survey. Pp 27

———. 2018c. “Lost in Trans-Nation - Tubu and Other Armed Groups and Smugglers along Libya’s Southern Border.” Small Arms Survey. Switzerland: Small Arms Survey. Pp 28

Additional Resources


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