Military Wiki
Libyan Army
Active 1951 – 2011
Country Kingdom of Libya
Libyan Arab Republic
Libyan Arab Jamahiriya
Allegiance Kingdom of Libya (1951–1969)
Libyan Arab Republic (1969–1977)
Libyan Arab Jamahiriya (1977–2011)
Type Army
Size 40,000
Headquarters Tripoli, LIbya
Engagements Libyan–Egyptian War
Uganda-Tanzania War
Toyota War
Libyan Civil War
Identification mark Flag of Libya (1977-2011).svg

The Libyan Army was the branch of the Armed Forces of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, the Libyan Arab Republic and the Libyan Kingdom responsible for ground warfare. The army was decimated in the Libyan Civil War and ceased to function as the army of Libya.

In 2009 the International Institute for Strategic Studies estimated that the Ground Forces of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya numbered 25,000 with an additional, estimated, 25,000 conscripts (total estimated 50,000). The IISS estimated that the Ground Forces were organised into 11 Border Defence and 4 Security Zones, one regime security brigade (the 32nd Khamis Brigade), 10 Tank Battalions, 10 Mechanised Infantry Battalions, 18 Infantry Battalions, 6 Commando Battalions, 22 Artillery Battalions, 4 SSM Brigade and 7 Air Defence Artillery Battalions.[3] Doctrine is a mixture of Egyptian doctrine which was adopted after the 1969 coup and socialist principles derived from the concepts of a People’s Army.

When Libya gained its independence in 1951, veterans of the original Sanusi Army formed the nucleus of the Royal Libyan Army.[4] Though the Libyan army has a large amount of fighting equipment at its disposal, the vast majority was bought from the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s and was largely obsolete at the time of the Libyan civil war. A high percentage remains in storage and a large amount of equipment has also been sold to various African countries. The Libyan Army was generally regarded as neither efficient nor well trained.

Libyan Arab Jamahiriya period

From the late seventies to the mid to late eighties the army was involved in four major incursions into Chadian Territory. The Libyan Army suffered great losses in these conflicts especially that of the Toyota War of 1987 largely due to poor tactics and western aid to Chad. All of these incursions were eventually repulsed and Libya no longer occupies Chad. This conflict was known as the Chadian–Libyan conflict. In February 2011, the Libyan civil war broke out and several units of the army mutinied and defected to the opposition, with battles taking place across much of the country.

In September 2011, the pre-civil war Libyan army had been effectively destroyed by a combination of NATO air strikes and combat with rebel forces, with the Libyan army forces still loyal to Gaddafi abandoning their posts in Tripoli as the rebels took the city, and the remnants of Gaddafi's loyalist army holed up in Sirte, Sabha and Bani Walid.[5]

Gaddafi's army was defeated in their last major stronghold of Sirte. Muammar Gaddafi, along with his son Mutassim and former defense minister Abu-Bakr Yunis Jabr were killed and the remnants of the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya army were completely destroyed.[6][7]


In the 1980s and 90s the high technological level of its huge amount of equipment demanded a level of technical competence in operation and maintenance that the Libyan Army lacked. Maintenance and repair problems were exacerbated by the diversity of arms sources. The numerous foreign advisers and technicians were insufficient to overcome low standards of support and logistics.

Recent years saw the Army undermined by the embargo, which deprived it of new weapons and caused major problems with equipment maintenance. In the 1990s Western agencies intercepted numerous shipments of spare parts and dual-use material being smuggled to Libya. After many years of sanctions, all major areas of the land forces equipment needed improvement, especially the replacement of obsolete main battle tanks and artillery. Over half of Libya's armoured forces were thought to be in storage due to the chronic shortage of spare parts and obsolescence.


The IISS estimated tank numbers in 2009 as 1,514 (not including those proven to have been captured/destroyed by rebels during the Libyan civil war as of 6 June 2011): 181 T-72; 115 in store; 89 T-62; 70 in store; 495 T-55; 1,040 T-54/T-55 in store. The IISS estimated there were 50 BRDM-2 and 70 EE-9 Cascavel reconnaissance vehicles, 986 BMP-1s, plus BMD-1s.[8] Russian official sources reported in 2010 that T-72s would be modernized with help from Russia.[9] 540 BTR-50 and BTR-60s were also reported by the IISS. Other reported wheeled vehicles in service include 100 EE-11 Urutu, and Polish-Czechoslovak OT-64 SKOT.[10]


The IISS estimated artillery in service in 2009 as totaling 2,421 pieces. 444 SP artillery pieces were reported; 122mm 130 2S1 Carnation; 152mm 140: 60 2S3 Akatsiya; 80 M-77 Dana; 155mm 174: 14 M-109; 160 VCA 155 Palmaria. 647+ towed artillery pieces were reported: 105mm 42+ M-101; 122mm 250: 190 D-30; 60 D-74; 130mm 330 M-46; 152mm 25 M-1937. 830 Multiple rocket launchers were reported: an estimated 300 107mm Type-63; 122mm 530: ε200 BM-11; ε229 BM-21 Grad; ε100 RM-70 Dana (RM-70 multiple rocket launcher?). The IISS also estimated that Libya had 500 mortars: 82mm 428; 120mm ε48 M-43; 160mm ε24 M-160. Surface to Surface Missiles reported in service include FROG-7 and SCUD-B, (416 missiles).

Anti-Tank weapons

Anti Tank missiles reported in service included 400 French/German MILAN, and 620+ AT-3, AT-4, and AT-5, all of Soviet manufacture. Libya also purchased 3 9M123 Khrizantema batteries from Russia prior to the civil war.[15]

Anti-air weapons

In 2009 the IISS estimated that Libya had Crotale, SA-7 Grail, SA-9/SA-13 surface to air missiles, and AA guns in Army service. A separate Air Defence Command has SA-2, SA-3, SA-5 Gammon, and SA-8b Gecko, plus guns.

Many of Libya's air defence systems were destroyed during the civil war,[16] how much, if any, remained intact afterwards is unknown. Many of the anti-aircraft guns captured by rebel forces were turned on Libyan Army ground forces after being bolted onto pick up trucks.[17]

Reported anti aircraft artillery includes Soviet 57 mm S-60, 23 mm self-propelled ZSU-23-4 and ZU-23-2, Czech M53/59 Praga, and Swedish Bofors 40mm guns.

Small arms

Small arms reported in service included TT pistol, Beretta M12, FN P90, SKS, AK-47, AK-74 and AKM assault rifles, the FN F2000, Soviet RPD machine gun, RPK machine gun, PK machine guns, DShK heavy machine gun, KPV heavy machine guns, SG-43 Goryunov, and a number of RPG type and anti-aircraft missile systems: RPG-2, RPG-7, 9K32 Strela-2.

Combat experience

A sharp series of border clashes occurred with Egypt in 1977, and Libyan forces were flown into Uganda in 1978 in an unsuccessful effort to defend Idi Amin's Uganda against invading Tanzanian forces. In addition, the Libyans conducted a series of campaigns in Northern Chad since 1980, launching a campaign against Chad that year and again in 1983. In April 1987, Libya suffered a disastrous defeat in Chad, losing nearly a quarter of its invasion force.


On 19 July 1977, after a protest march by Libyans was stopped by Egyptian border guards, Libyan artillery units fired into Egypt. After further border violations were alleged by both sides, fighting escalated on the same day with an artillery duel, and, two days later, a drive along the coast by Egyptian armor and infantry during which the Libyan army was engaged. Egypt claimed successful surprise air strikes against the Libyan air base at Al Adem, just south of Tobruk, and surface-to-air missile batteries and radar stations were knocked out as well.

When the Egyptians withdrew on 24 July, most foreign analysts agreed that the Egyptian units had prevailed, although Libyan forces responded more effectively than had been expected. Libyan army hailed the encounter as a victory, using the fight as a justification for further purchases of modern armaments.


In the case of Uganda, Libya had intervened on Idi Amin's behalf during his first confrontation with neighboring Tanzania in 1972 by airlifting a contingent of 4000 troops. During the invasion of Uganda by Tanzanian troops and Ugandan exiles in 1978, a new Libyan force estimated at 2,000 to 2,500 was sent, assisting in the defence of Entebbe and Kampala by covering road junctions with armored equipment.

Unprepared and undermotivated Libyan troops were quickly routed in attacks by foot soldiers. As many as 600 Libyans were estimated to have been killed during the Ugandan operation, and the remainder were hurriedly withdrawn. The troops had been led to believe that they were being airlifted into Uganda for training exercises with Ugandan units.


After nearly two decades, Col. Muammar Gaddafi's attempts to annex Northern Chad ended in 1987. In just the first three months of 1987, Libya lost almost all the territory it had held in Chad, between $500 million and $1 billion in weapons and one-third of its 15,000 troops. Over 4,494 Libyan soldiers were killed by Chad's forces between January and March 1987.

The Libyan Army was defeated by a force substantially inferior in numbers and equipment. Chad's victory was the result of a combination of Western funding, weapons and intelligence and Chadian courage, tactics and leadership. France provided air cover and troops to protect the Chadian rear areas, while the USA provided $240 million in equipment and weapons. The U.S. also contributed $75 million in emergency military aid, including transport aircraft and air defence systems.

The Chad forces displayed some remarkable tactical innovations: they used Toyota all-terrain vehicles, lightly armored French-made Panhard cars, and Milan antitank and Stinger antiaircraft missiles to destroy Libyan tanks and planes.

Libyan civil war

People on a tank in a Benghazi rally, 23 February 2011

Palmaria heavy howitzers of the Libyan Army, destroyed by French airplanes close to the west-southern border of Benghazi, Libya, 19 March 2011

In 2011 protests against the rule of Gaddafi started in Libya. They were inspired by similar protests in other Arab countries. Gaddafi used police and mercenary forces to violently suppress the protest.[18] This resulted in an armed uprising in Libya between pro-government and anti-government forces. Parts of the army joined the rebels and weapon depots were plundered by protesters.[19] After initial advances by the rebels, the Libyan Army began a counteroffensive and started pushing back the rebel fighters.[20][21] On 17 March 2011, the United Nations Security Council passed United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973, authorizing the use of "all necessary means" to protect civilians in Libya, "excluding a foreign occupation force".[22] On Saturday, 19 March 2011, France began enforcement of the resolution by deploying French fighter aircraft over Libyan airspace.[23]


  1. 1.0 1.1 International Institute for Strategic Studies, The Military Balance 2010, p.272-273.
  2. "SIPRI Arms Transfers Database". Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Retrieved 8 September 2011. 
  3. IISS, The Military Balance 2009, p. 256
  4. Library of Congress Country Study: Libya, 1988
  5. Harding, Luke; Davies, Lizzy (22 August 2011). "Libya: Gaddafi forces battle on after rebels enter Tripoli". The Guardian. London. 
  6. Williams, David (21 October 2011). "Who shot Gaddafi? New video shows blood pouring from dictator immediately before death but mystery surrounds coup de grace". Daily Mail. London. 
  7. Chris Hughes. "Gaddafi dead: 'Colonel Gaddafi captured but died of injuries', Libya transitional council official claims". mirror. Retrieved 21 November 2014. 
  8. IISS 2009
  9. Russia to upgrade 200 Soviet-era tanks for Libya
  10. Middle East Military Balance, (2005), "Libyan Military", Libya, Accessed April 24, 2007
  11. "Libya". Institute for National Strategic Studies. 
  12. "Libya Libyan army military power armoured vehicle tank missile gun weapons armament". YouTube. Retrieved 21 November 2014. 
  13. "Esoteric Armour Libya ShKN DANA". 
  14. "Esoteric Armour Libya M109". 
  15. "Когда говорят премьеры, пушки молчат". Retrieved 21 November 2014. 
  17. "DIY Weapons of the Libyan Rebels". The Atlantic. Retrieved 21 November 2014. 
  18. "Outside the rebels were jubilant. Inside the court I came face to face with Gaddafi's savage mercenaries: RICHARD PENDLEBURY files this dramatic dispatch from Benghazi". Daily Mail. London. 25 February 2011. 
  19. "Libya rebels gain arms, defectors". February 28, 2011. Retrieved 10 March 2011. 
  20. "Rebel forces retreat from Ras Lanuf". Al Jazeera. 10 March 2011. Retrieved 10 March 2011. 
  21. "Rebel push stalls outside Ras Lanuf". Al Jazeera. 10 March 2011. Retrieved 10 March 2011. 
  22. "Security Council Approves No-Fly Zone over Libya, Authorizing All Necessary Measures to Protect Civilians". United Nations. Retrieved 20 March 2011. 
  23. "French military jet opens fire in Libya". BBC. 19 March 2011. Retrieved 20 March 2011. 

Further reading

  • Kenneth M. Pollack, Arabs at War: Military Effectiveness 1948–91, University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London, 2002, ISBN 0-8032-3733-2

External links

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