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Conscription and the People's Militia


Military and People's Militia units on parade in Tripoli

The concept of universal military service is embodied in Statute 3 for 1984, approved by the GPC in March 1984. This law declared that all Libyans coming of age, whether male or female, were to receive regular military training, as long as they were physically able. Military studies were to be among the basic subjects of the educational curriculum at all stages above the elementary level. Military studies and training in regular military establishments of "specialized cadres in warfare" were to be restricted for the present to males.

The statute provided for Libya to be divided into defense regions, the responsibility for defending each region being that of its inhabitants. Defense regions were to regard themselves as strategic reserves for each other. The new law did not supersede the provisions of the Compulsory Military Service Statute of 1978, which made all males between the ages of seventeen and thirty-five subject to a draft commitment of three years of active service in the army or four years in the navy or air force. Students could defer service until completion of their studies. The actual application of conscription laws in 1987 was not entirely clear. In one case, a young man called up for two years' service was required to serve six years. In 1986, of 936,000 men in the 15 to 59 age category, about 550,000 were fit for military service. About 39,000 Libyans reach military age each year; many, however, lack the basic education needed to absorb training in the use and servicing of modern weaponry.

The implementing regulations for the 1984 statute stipulated that all secondary schools and equivalent institutions were to be assigned to various military units (see Education , ch. 2). Each student was to devote two days each month to training with the nearest military element having a specialization approximating that of the unit to which the student had been assigned. One month each year was to be spent with the student's original military unit.

Members of all government and business enterprises as well as artisans, professionals, and farmers, were also to train for two days a month and one month a year. At some factories, the military commitment was more onerous. When the work day finished at 2:00 P. M., employees were obliged to spend three to four hours with their military units five days each week. Such periods of intensive training continued for six months or more at intervals of every few years.

To a considerable extent, the new law merely reinforced a program in existence for some years to mobilize the entire population of physically fit students and working people into local militia units centered on schools, communities, and workplaces. The number of individuals organized into paramilitary units has been estimated at 45,000 but may have increased with the application of the new law. In 1987 the People's Militia was headed by Major Khuwayldi al Hamidi, one of the original members of the RCC. The militia units reportedly were generously equipped with arms, transport, and uniforms. In November 1985, it was announced that the first contingent of "armed people" trained as paratroopers had made a demonstration drop.

In early 1986, Western reporters were shown military training at a high school in Tripoli at which a minimum of two out of thirty-six class hours a week were devoted to military studies. In addition, one of three summer months was spent at a military camp. Graduates either entered the army directly or went on to college. Those entering college had to continue reserve training at their former high schools. The weekly lessons included hand-grenade throwing, signals and codes, and machine-gun maintenance. High schools concentrated on designated specialties, which in the case of the institution visited was the operation of the Soviet truckmounted Katyusha rocket launcher.

The mission of the People's Militia was territorial defense, and it was to function under the leadership of local military commanders. Qadhafi contended that it was the People's Militia that met the Egyptian incursions during the border clash of 1977, although the Egyptians insisted that their successful raids had been contested by regular army units. The militia forces are not known to have faced any other test that would permit an appraisal of their performance in home defense or as auxiliaries to the regular army. There was some evidence that local commanders had not responded energetically to their responsibility for training and supervising militia units.

Data as of 1987

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