Up until recently (2012), Libya was officially known as the Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya (الجماهيرية العربية الليبية الشعبية الإشتراكية العظمى). Berbers are the oldest known inhabitants, but it was the Phoenicians who first colonized the region from Tyre (in Lebanon) by establishing trading posts along the coast. The largest of these colonies, Carthage, became the center of a great Punic culture and the Carthaginian Empire that spread across much of North Africa. Greek cities were also established along the coast from the 7th to 5th centuries BCE, although they faced incursions from Carthage, Egypt and Persia. Carthage was ultimately defeated by Rome during the Punic Wars, after which the three regions of Libya became a Roman province during the 1st century BCE and remained such until the decline of the Roman Empire in 5th century CE. The region would then be routed by the Vandals, and in the 6th century CE would become a part of the Byzantine Empire.
While Byzantium controlled much of the coast, Arab Islamic armies conquered the regions of the Libyan interior during the 7th century and ultimately wrested control of the remaining cities from the Byzantines. Over the course of the following centuries, Libya came under the rule of several Islamic dynasties, although Berber tribes continued to offer resistance in defense of their traditional life ways. A Norman invasion from Sicily in the 12th century weakened the Arab hold on Libya, and by the 16th century the lands were incorporated into the Ottoman Empire which maintained control until the early 20th century.
Weakened by corruption, revolt and civil war, Ottoman rule eventually crumbled and was replaced during the "Scramble for Africa" by Italian rule. From 1912 until 1943, Italy administered the country as a colonial possession, adopting the name Libya in 1934, and enforcing their control militarily by suppressing a local resistance movement from 1928 to 1932. Following the abdication of Italy during Second World War, Libya was administered by both Britain and France, and in 1947 Italy officialy relinquished all claims to the territory. On November 21, 1949, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution stating that Libya should become independent and on December 24, 1951 the nation proclaimed itself the United Kingdom of Libya under the rule of King Idris.
Discovery of vast oil reserves enabled the monarchy to amass great wealth during subsequent years, but as a result popular resentment took hold, fueled by Nasserism and Arab nationalism spreading throughout the Middle East. On September 1, 1969, a small group of military officers led by 27-year-old army officer Muammar al-Gaddafi staged a coup d'état against King Idris, launching the Libyan Revolution. The officers abolished the monarchy, and proclaimed the new Libyan Arab Republic. Gaddafi was declared Revolutionary Leader and has retained the position of national leader into the present period.
Under Muammar Gaddafi, the armed forces of Libya consisted of the Army, Air Force, Navy and the People's Militia, with an estimated 119,000 active duty personnel in early 2011. The nation has historically been supportive of Arab nationalist and sovereignty movements, including the PLO, and it is believed a number of training camps for international terrorist organizations were at one time sponsored there. Libyan forces have intervened militarily in Chad on several occasions, but would ultimately be defeated and expelled during the Toyota War (December 16, 1986 to September 11, 1987).
Muammar Gaddafi played a prominent role in creating the African Union (AU), established in 2002, and in February 2009 was selected to be chairman for a year. Among the objectives of the AU are to achieve peace and security in Africa; and to promote democratic institutions, good governance and human rights. To this end, the AU has provided both intervention and peacekeeping forces to various nations in Africa.
In early 2011, brought about largely by regime changes in Tunisia and Egypt (resulting from the Arab Spring movement), anti-government protests and clashes with security forces swiftly turned into a full-scale Civil War. Between February and October of 2011, forces loyal to Gaddafi battled against the National Liberation Army, insurgent forces composed largely of civilians fortified by defectors from the regular Libyan Army. The brutal and draconian methods employed by loyalist forces did nothing to enlist international support for the Libyan government, and within weeks a coalition of mostly NATO countries (boosted by United Nations Security Council resolution 1973) actively engaged in a military intervention (comprising air and naval support) with the aim of toppling the Gaddafi regime. Following the capture and execution of Colonel Gaddafi on 20 October 2011, the war was largely over. Formed in August of that year, the National Transitional Council created an interim government in November and is currently working towards the formation of a constitutional democracy.
Today's military forces are known as the Libyan National Army. They comprise ground forces, an air force and navy, and are estimated at approximately 35,000 personnel as of May 2012.
Libyan Camouflage Patterns
- A copy of the Egyptian "sand" or two-color desert pattern was worn by Libyan forces as far back as the late 1970s.
- Libyan forces, in particular Airborne troops, have also worn a copy of the West German sumpfmuster camouflage pattern created for their Federal Border Troops. Produced in Asia, the pattern is essentially the same as the German version, but the uniforms are of Libyan style. It remains in distribution to some Libyan military personnel into the present era.
- During the wars with Chad some Libyan personnel were observed wearing the Belgian-inspired jigsaw camouflage design issued in Chad. It is likely these were simply captured uniforms, and their usage does not seem to be widespread.
- Between the 1980s and 1990s, a colorful "leopard spot" pattern was reputed to be worn by some Libyan personnel, similar to that worn by Zaire and Chad. Although examples of the pattern are known to exist, there is no known photographic evidence supporting its use by Libyan personnel.
- First observed during the uprising against Muammar al-Gaddafi, this four-color desert DPM design seems to have had limited use with Libya. It is essentially the same pattern worn by Kuwait during the 1980s, and later removed in large quantities by Iraqi forces following the invasion of that country in 1990. The Libyan uniforms appear in the local-style, and were probably contracted specifically for some unit of the Libyan forces. Today, some paratrooper units have been documented wearing it.
- In the modern era (mid-1990s to present), Libya has discarded some of its more colorful and unique camouflage designs in favor of slightly more practical ones such as copies of the US m81 woodland pattern. One version (below, right) incorporates an "eagle" motif within the design itself.
- Also in common usage is a copy of the US six-color "chocolate chip" camouflage design, with slightly more contrasting colors.
- Several other variations of the six-color "chocolate chip" design are also documented in use by various Libyan military and paramilitary personnel, including the People's Militia. Seen below are several versions incorporating various colorways.
- A variation of the standard "chocolate chip" desert pattern incorporating only five colors (no black) has also been observed in recent years. This appears to be exactly the same pattern as worn in the United Arab Emirates.
- A variation of the standard six-color "chocolate chip" camouflage, known to have existed for many years but of undetermined origins, emerged in use with Libyan military forces during the brief civil war. The variations are nicknamed "barbed wire" due to the fact that the black shapes normally present in the chip elements of the design are shaped like the silhouette of old-fashioned barbed wire. The drawings of this design are very similar to those of the Kuwaiti pattern worn by their National Police and Installation guards. However, the colorways of the documented Libyan patterns are predominantly green and/or grey, as seen here. As both nationalist and revolutionary factions wore uniforms in this pattern during the conflict, it is impossible to document whether they were original stocks from Libyan government warehouses, or possibly sourced through an external party during the time other materiel was being sought.
- Additionally, a copy of the US tricolor desert pattern has also been worn, produced in Asia as are most other contemporary patterns. This is one of many patterns that continues in service with the Libyan National Army.
- In service with some units of the Libyan police force is a bright blue colorway of the "chocolate chip" camouflage design.
- Another commonly encountered pattern within the Libyan police force is a blue woodland design seen here.
- At least one unit of the Libyan Armed Forces wore a copy of the South-Korean "waves" pattern. This design has certainly fallen into disuse.
- During the rebellion of 2011 against General Gaddaffi, many insurgents have been documented wearing copies of the American designed UCP pattern. The source of these uniforms is unknown, but it is believed the pattern was not part of the Gaddafi-era Libyan government arsenal. This pattern, and uniforms copied in the US ACU style, are now in general circulation with many units of the LNA.
- The newly constituted Libyan National Army, established in 2011 by the National Transitional Council, began wearing a pixelated desert camouflage design - essentially copied from that worn by the UAE - in mid 2012. Itself a copy of the USMC MARPAT design, the pattern has a slightly modified colorway and lacks the USMC EGA symbol embedded in the US version. A full ensemble of uniform items have been produced in this pattern, including BDU, field jacket, sun hat, blocked field cap, and even boots.
- Another pixelated camouflage design adopted recently by the Libyan National Army is this one, copied from the USMC MARPAT design with a slightly altered colorway. This pattern, first produced in China, has seen use with military forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years as well.
- The Jordanian KA2 desert pattern, designed by Hyperstealth Industries, has appeared in limited numbers among some Libyan troops recently. It is uncertain whether the uniforms were available as a small, surplus quantity, or whether this nation will adopt them into standard circulation.
- Commandos, probably of the Ministry of Interior or Federal Police, have been observed wearing uniforms in this Turkish camouflage design, having black & brown shapes with olive green & greyish-green background.
Libyan Camouflage Designs for the African Union
The following six patterns were reputedly created specifically for use by the African Union (AU), possibly by Muammar al-Gaddafi himself. All six designs incorporate dark-colored shapes in the outline of the African continent, both small and large sized, on a lighter colored background. The variety of color combinations suggest different patterns would have been issued for different climates, terrains or missions, although it is also possible some of the patterns were intended for specific types of units (non-combatants, police, etc). Thus far, none of the patterns have been documented in use by the AU, but at least two of these have been worn by Libyan military or paramilitary personnel. The patterns have no official designation and as they are all identical but for the coloration we simply list them here together as a reference.