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The Quest for New Sources of Arms: 1970-

After the young officers led by Qadhafi deposed the Idris regime, it was almost inevitable that their government would look for new sources of military equipment. One of the many causes of the coup was the monarchy's unwillingness to involve Libya militarily in the Arab-Israeli conflict. To have continued to rely solely on Britain and the United States for arms would have invited domestic and Arab criticism inasmuch as both countries were regarded as hostile to the interests of the Arab world because of their support for Israel. The Libyans therefore cancelled the treaty with Britain and, in March 1970, the British evacuated their bases near Tobruk and Benghazi. United States operational and maintenance support of the Libyan air force ended the following June when American personnel evacuated Wheelus Air Base. Overall American military assistance between 1958 and 1970 had amounted to US$17.4 million in grant aid and US$43.4 million in sales.

In 1970 the Libyan government announced that it had contracted for the purchase of French weapons systems, notably Mirage fighters, valued at US$400 million. Using facilities that were formerly part of Wheelus Air Base, French instructors engaged in the training of Libyan pilots and ground crews to operate and maintain the Mirages. The choice of France as an alternative arms supplier was a logical one for Libya. Not only was France increasingly dependent upon Libyan oil supplies, but its policy toward the Arab-Israeli dispute was acceptable to Qadhafi.

Failing in its efforts to acquire medium tanks from either France or Britain, Qadhafi turned to the Soviet Union. Moscow had quickly recognized the new Libyan regime and responded with equal speed to the request for weapons. In July 1970, the first Soviet military vehicles, including 30 medium tanks and 100 armored personnel carriers, arrived in Libya.

Apart from France, however, during the early 1970s neighboring Egypt had the greatest influence on Qadhafi's drive to upgrade his defense forces. Egypt had supported the coup by positioning Egyptian units at strategic points throughout Libya to help prevent any attempt by royalist forces to stage a countercoup. By 1972 an estimated 2,000 Egyptian soldiers were serving in the country as instructors. Training was also provided for both officers and enlisted personnel at installations in Egypt. After the military academy at Benghazi closed, a number of Libyans were trained at the Egyptian military academy.

The October 1973 War, which drew sharp criticism from Qadhafi over the Egyptian military effort and the willingness of President Anwar Sadat to accept a disengagement agreement with Israel, produced a rift between the two North African neighbors. Egypt withdrew from Libya all Egyptian pilots and two vessels it had lent the Libyan navy. Cooperation in air defense was also terminated as Egypt withdrew surface-to-air missiles it had provided earlier and halted work on the air defenses it had been developing to protect Tripoli, Benghazi, and Tobruk.

Libya then turned to Pakistan for help. A small Pakistani advisory contingent that had been giving training on helicopters and transport aircraft was expanded to about 600--including 40 pilots. Small numbers of Italian, French, and Yugoslav instructors were also introduced for training.

Data as of 1987