Libyan Rebels Vie For Key Posts In Tripoli Libya's rebels came from different parts of the country and had only limited contact as they battled Moammar Gadhafi's regime. But now they must work out their differences as they figure out how to split up key posts in the capital.
NPR logo

Libyan Rebels Vie For Key Posts In Tripoli

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Libyan Rebels Vie For Key Posts In Tripoli

Libyan Rebels Vie For Key Posts In Tripoli

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, host: From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host: And I'm Melissa Block. Rebel soldiers in Tripoli are savoring their victory over the forces of ousted leader Moammar Gadhafi, but their commanders still have a difficult task ahead. They have to unite the many disparate rebel militias.

And as NPR's Corey Flintoff reports, some fear that members of a new umbrella security committee are more interested in jockeying for power than working out their differences.

COREY FLINTOFF: Young men in various forms of scavenged military garb chant, God is great, at a checkpoint in the city. This group is from Tripoli, but the fighters come from all over the country, Benghazi in the east and the coastal city of Misrata and the Nafusa mountains. Most had not met or fought together before their units converged in the capitol.

Officials say they are making progress at welding all these groups together.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: The army is regathering itself to have a national army where all the forces have united underneath and, of course, those who wish to leave and to go back to their lives are more than welcome to do so and those who wish to stay on and to be part of the new National Libyan Army are more than welcome to do so and a new force will be put together.

FLINTOFF: But the formation of a national army is still far off and people close to the process say there are divisions among the rebel groups and the Transitional National Council announced the formation of a Supreme Security Committee to oversee the process, but so far, no one seems to know who's on the panel or what it's doing.

In the meantime, rebel commanders are reportedly vying for control of key locations in Tripoli. The top commander in the capitol is Abdel Hakim Belhaj, whose Tripoli brigade had a key role in taking the city.

Belhaj, who's 45, has special reasons to despise the Gadhafi regime. He was part of an Islamist group that sought to raise an insurrection against Gadhafi in the early 1990s. When that effort failed, he escaped. A Libyan government warrant for his arrest charged that he spent time in Afghanistan helping to organize and train Jihadi fighters linked to the Taliban.

Belhaj was captured by the CIA in Thailand and rendered back to Libya, where he was imprisoned and, he says, tortured. Belhaj was freed in 2010 and became part of the new rebel movement that began its uprising in February.

Since the rebels took Tripoli, he's been consolidating control of key points in the city, including the ports and government buildings, such as this one, the prime minister's office. On his way to a meeting here, Belhaj sidestepped the issue of who controls what.

ABDEL HAKIM BELHAJ: (Foreign language spoken)

FLINTOFF: He says the rebels have formed committees to organize themselves and begin the creation of the national military as part of building a country of laws and civil institutions. Belhaj has played down his Islamist roots, although he has said he deserves an apology from the CIA for rendering him back to Libya.

For now, the second most powerful man in Tripoli is Major General Suleiman Mahmoud al-Obeidi, who defected from Gadhafi's army early in the rebellion. Obeidi was named interim chief of staff for the rebel forces in late July, so in theory, he is the top military commander, but in Tripoli, his forces reportedly occupy fewer key points than Balhaj is. And the two maintain separate headquarters.

David Gorman is with the Center for Humanitarian Dialogue based in Geneva.

DAVID GORMAN: So you had all these different units that were unified in fighting Gadhafi, but beyond that, you had to ask yourself, so wait a minute. When he goes, how unified are they really going to be? We don't know. They don't know.

FLINTOFF: Gorman's organization is working on ways to reduce conflict among the rebel groups and he says he's optimistic, in part because the rebels have managed to work through other divisive and potentially explosive situations in the past.

Other observers say there's a critical divide between the civilian rebel fighters and the career military men who came over from Gadhafi's armed forces. Army defectors helped train the civilian rebels, but some civilians feel they bore the brunt of the fighting. The military men say the rebels were reckless and ill-disciplined.

The sources who described these divisions weren't willing to talk on the record for this report because they're involved in efforts to unite the various sides.

Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Tripoli.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.